Arkansas Lawmakers Consider Special Session

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe would be open to the idea of a special legislative session to address health insurance plans for public school employees - but only as long as there's a consensus among lawmakers about it, his office said Monday.

"You don't want to call a special session unless you're sure that you can get it done in three days and that the required votes are already there to pass something," Beebe's spokesman Matt DeCample said. "Because otherwise it can stretch on and cost the taxpayers a lot of money."

Public school workers, totaling around 47,000 across Arkansas, would face a 35 percent increase in their health insurance premiums if lawmakers don't take action before the next school year starts in August, according to Republican Sen. Jim Hendren. He is the chairman for a legislative task force - composed of both House and Senate members - that was established last October to study health insurance plans for school employees.

That legislative body has recommended dropping part-time employees from plans and excluding spouses from coverage if they can receive insurance from their own work. The proposals would affect about 4,000 school employees and save at least $10.2 million, according to Hendren.

In an interview Sunday with KATV, outgoing House Speaker Davy Carter said he intended to recommend that Beebe call lawmakers back to Little Rock so legislative action could be taken. But on Monday, Carter, a Republican, said he is checking with Senate leadership before making a request to the Democratic governor.

"We're just all talking about it," he said. "We're trying to hammer out all the details. ... The task force that was formed during the last special session, their work has produced recommendations that leave me to believe that we're going to have to take some legislative action before August."

Republican Senate President Michael Lamoureux said he is consulting with all chamber members to see what they want to do.

Legislators must meet for at least three days in a special session and can continue for up to 15 days, according to Carter's office. The House leader says he doesn't anticipate a special session lasting more than a few days.

"Everybody's got to be on the same page," Carter said. "Just for me, personally speaking, I don't necessarily want to but from what I know today, we're going to need to."

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