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Senate tackles Special Session

The Special session ended in record time last week. I had the privilege of taking the chair and presiding during the session. Normally the Lieutenant Governor presides as president of the Senate during sessions, but since the lieutenant Governor resigned, a Senate member is appointed to preside. We went into session Monday evening at 4 and adjourned in early morning hours on Wednesday. The chambers went into session just after midnight on Tuesday evening to approve matching versions of the bills passed Tuesday afternoon. The early morning session made it technically the third day of the session. The Arkansas Constitution requires the Legislature to take at least three days to approve a bill. The Governor called the special session after lawmakers assured him that there would be enough votes to pass the proposals on each issue. The bill sponsors had worked in committees and discussed the bills with other lawmakers prior to session and had enough sign on the bill or state they would support the bills to pass them. Two of the bills contained a package of proposals to avoid an expected 35% aggregate increase to school employees’ health insurance premiums and a $36.6 million deficit in the school employees’ insurance fund. Part of the provisions of the bills would make part time school employees ineligible for coverage, make spouses of school and other state employees ineligible if they can obtain insurance 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. The bill also limits coverage for treatment of morbid obesity. The State and Public School Life and Heath Insurance Board is also imposing some changes on the school employees. They include increases in co-pays, rates and deductibles. Another bill that passed would temporarily prohibit lottery monitor games. The prohibition would expire March 13, 2015. The legislature will be in session at that time and can address the issue on a permanent basis. The other bill passed was to fund up to 604 additional prison beds. The inmate population is about 17,000 and is growing steadily. Sate prison units and man county jails are filled to capacity. The legislature voted to increase the annual budget of the correction dept. by more than $6 million, which will allow it to operate the additional beds.. Most of the legislators believe that all three issues will have to be addressed again during the next regular session which will begin January of 2015. .

The state revenue report for June, which brings an end for the fiscal year, shows tax revenues barely up for the year. The year ended about .2% above forecast with a surplus of about $78.7 million. The trend is not holding with an increase as in June the gross revenue was $5.1 million less than same month last year. The state’s fiscal year ended in June. July starts an new fiscal year. If you would like to contact me, please email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov or call my office at 650-1884 or write me at P.O. Box 2387 Greenwood, AR 72936. Have a great week.

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