LITTLE ROCK — Draft bills addressing the troubled public school employees’ health insurance system have enough support to pass in the Senate in a special session, the Senate’s president pro tem-designate said Wednesday.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, said Senate leaders were still polling members Wednesday, but already enough "yes" votes had been counted to pass the measures by "a fairly wide margin."
Dismang also said a majority of senators support addressing prison overcrowding and imposing new restrictions on the state lottery during a special session, although House support appeared to be lacking on the lottery issue.
Two draft bills aimed at avoiding large increases in teachers’ insurance premiums have been circulating at the Capitol as legislative leaders seek to gauge their level of support. A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday the governor was satisfied with the proposals but needed to see that the measures had strong support before calling a special session.
Rep. Harold Copenhaver, D-Jonesboro, vice chairman of a task force on teacher insurance, said Tuesday he expected to know by the end of the week how much support the measures had in the House.
The measures include several cost-saving steps recommended by the task force, such as making part-time employees ineligible and make spouses ineligible if they can obtain insurance through their employers.
Dismang said Wednesday a third proposal, which would shift $6.2 million in annual funding from the state Central Services Fund to the state Department of Correction to make 600 additional prison beds available, also has the support of a majority of senators.
Copenhaver said Wednesday that House members had been largely supportive so far of the measures on teacher insurance and prison overcrowding, but he said the polling was continuing.
Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, has asked that a special session also include consideration of a measure to bar the state lottery from offering monitor games, in which drawings are held every few minutes and results are displayed on monitors at lottery retailers.
The lottery plans to launch its first monitor game in September in an effort to boost sagging revenue. Critics say the games go beyond what voters had in mind when they approved a lottery in 2008.
"There’s broad support (for restricting monitor games) in the Senate," Dismang said. "In fact, when we were polling members it was probably one of the most well-received issues that we were looking at. … We’ve just not gotten any traction from the membership on the House side."
Copenhaver said he was not polling members on the lottery issue. He said he believed members were not inclined to support expanding the session beyond teacher insurance and prisons.
"We feel for the special session to operate in an efficient manner, the less we have on the agenda the better for the taxpayers," he said.
Beebe has said he wants a special session to last only three days, which is the minimum amount of time in which the Legislature can approve a bill.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said Wednesday the governor is satisfied with the proposal on prison overcrowding, which the state Department of Finance and Administration was involved in developing. He said Beebe has not seen a proposal on the lottery.