- Associated Press - Saturday, June 21, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - State legislative leaders say enough votes have been secured to approve funding for a teacher’s health insurance plan and to open 600 prison and jail beds, should Gov. Mike Beebe call a special session on those issues.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor wants “a significant” majority in both the state House and Senate committed to the proposals before he calls a special session. DeCample says Beebe has not said what specific number of votes he has in mind, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1wemvjN ).

“We are approaching 60 votes” in the 100-member House for two proposed bills aiding the public school employees’ health insurance plan, said Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro, vice chairman of the Legislature’s State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Program Legislative Task Force. Copenhaver said officials have yet to contact about a dozen members of the House.

DeCample said Senate leaders have indicated strong support for the teacher insurance bill.

The proposal would transfer about $4.6 million from school districts to the health insurance plans by using money school districts would save in payroll taxes by contributing to their employees’ health insurance.

It is meant to capture savings that would result from dropping about 4,000 part-time employees from the plans in addition to excluding coverage for employee’s spouses if they insurance through their employers. The proposal also limits a legislatively mandated program covering weight-loss surgeries.

These measures are aimed at reducing a potential 35 percent rate increase next year, according to supporters.

Both the House and Senate have also lined up enough votes to pass a proposal to move $6.3 million a year from the state’s Central Services Fund to open up 600 state prison and Pulaski County work center beds to relieve the backlog of state prisoners in county jails, DeCample said.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said county judges and sheriffs have done a good job of detailing the need for the funds.

“We are at a crisis,” and helping fund the opening of 600 beds “gets us a little further down the road to be able to handle the volume” of state prisoners in county jails and reducing the risk to the public by releasing fewer inmates, Dismang said.

DeCample said a decision on whether to call a special session seems likely during the next week.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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