- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record, July 6, 2014

Special session a preview of next year

Our state lawmakers met last week for a very short but historic special legislative session, addressing issues they will consider again in their next regular session.

The Arkansas Legislature met Monday and Tuesday to vote on measures affecting three issues:

- To avoid a $36.6 million deficit in the public school employees’ health insurance fund.

- To temporarily bar the state lottery from adding monitor games.

- To fund new prison beds.

They wrapped up shortly after midnight in the early hours of Wednesday after approving all three.

On the insurance issue, legislators approved a package of proposals that would, among other things, eliminate coverage for about 4,000 part-time school employees; eliminate coverage for spouses of school employees and state employees if they can obtain coverage through their employers; and transfer to the school employees’ insurance fund an estimated $4.6 million a year that school districts have been saving in federal payroll taxes by contributing to employees’ insurance. Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, chairman of a task force that recommended the proposals, told the Arkansas News Bureau that more will need to be done in next year’s regular session.

Said Sen. Hendren: “We didn’t know what this bill would look like six months ago, so we don’t know what the long-range bill will look like six months from now. Hopefully, we will find some changes that give us long-term stability, and that’s what we are going to look for.”

Last week’s action followed a special session in October during which the Legislature infused the school employees’ insurance fund with one-time money.

During debate in the Senate on Tuesday, Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, said he was “frustrated” that the Legislature has to address rising insurance premiums nearly every year but cannot seem to fix the problem.

“These are just small bandages on gaping wounds,” Tom Dooher, executive director of the Arkansas Education Association, said after the session. “We need to have some thoughtful leadership from the Legislature and the next governor to really come up with a solution that makes sense in the long term and makes this program viable fiscally and viable for people to join.”

On the lottery issue, legislators voted to prohibit the state Lottery Commission from introducing monitor games - where drawings are held every few minutes and results are displayed on monitors at lottery retailers - until March.

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