Senators from both parties are meeting Friday afternoon (Oct. 11) to discuss the increasingly likely special session to deal with rising teacher insurance rates.

During and after taping Friday’s episode of AETN’s “Arkansas Week,” state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who is also chairman of the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee, said that a session appears likely to occur mid-month. Senators were planning to meet in the Senate’s quiet room this afternoon.

“We think within days,” he told host Steve Barnes regarding the timing of the session. “In fact, just a couple of days ago, I was there in the office with the governor, and he said, ‘By the 15th, you guys need to be thinking about having your documents ready.’”

Gov. Beebe has insisted that legislators must have consensus before the session begins. Rapert said, “I think we’re very close (to a consensus). … The thing that we’re fighting is people invoking new issues.” Those would include school funding issues.

Without legislative action, teachers face a 48 percent increase in premiums this cycle. Rapert said a consensus exists to limit increases to 10 percent. That would require an infusion of $43 million, which Rapert said should come from the state’s $170 million surplus of unallocated funds.

Failing to do that would encourage more educators to flee the plan, contributing to its downward spiral, he said, but having no increase is not an option because other Arkansans are also facing increases in their premiums.

Rapert said legislators hope to limit the the session to three days.

“We have no intention of going into session if we do not have the votes to take care of the short-term funding as well as the long-term systemic changes,” he said after the taping.

Rapert called for the creation of a legislative task force to study the issue. Long-term solutions would include a deductible in educators’ more expensive gold plan, as well as increased participation in health savings accounts with the cheaper bronze plan.

Some lawmakers have also called for potential ethics reform as part of a special session.

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