The Arkansas Legislature has convened for a special session expected to last until Saturday, and local state Sen. Jason Rapert is one of the primary sponsors listed on the supplemental appropriation bill to take $43 million in surplus money to lessen the increase in public school employee insurance premiums.
Gov. Mike Beebe called for the special session to take up several bills to lower the teacher premium increases, and Rapert said that "under the circumstances, we had to have consensus before we ever even agreed to go in."
Rapert said part of the solution relates to the appropriation bill taking $43 million out of surplus funds to keep the premiums from spiking by as much as 48 percent starting Jan. 1, 2014.
"For a family, that could mean a little over $1,000 was now going to be a little over $1,500," he said. "The plan has simply not been taken care of for over ten years."
Rapert said he hopes to not only salvage the situation in the short term, but reform the system, partially by installing more accountability.
"The Life and Health Board — that had been responsible for not making the decisions they should — our legislation disbands the board entirely at the end of November and there will be all new appointments to the board," he said.
Rapert also said they hope to increase utilization of the health saving account plans and state Bronze Plan while giving teachers more information on how they work.
By the end of the session, Rapert said he expects they will pass four core bills concerning teachers as long as legislators stay with their pledges.
"For the members of the legislature to dig in on this issue at a four to five week period and for us to find bipartisan support to come together at 75 percent is a huge task and everyone is to be commended and patted on the back for that," Rapert said.
Additionally, there will be a proposal to allow the state to reclaim excess property tax revenue from some school districts and a separate water bill that Rapert said he hopes is repealed because of poor wording.
(Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1212. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)