LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday there's not enough support yet in the state Legislature for a plan to alleviate looming insurance rate hikes for thousands of teachers.
Beebe told reporters that there aren't enough votes to pass the measures intended to reduce the rate hikes, a condition he's set before calling lawmakers back to the Capitol to address the insurance rate increases. Beebe said there are enough votes in the House to pass a package of bills, but not in the Senate.
"While there's a majority, and while there's a super-majority apparently in the House, they're still a couple votes short in the Senate," Beebe said.
State officials have said an additional $54 million is needed to keep teachers' rates at the current level. A state board in August approved increasing premiums by as much as 50 percent for the 47,000 teachers on the state plan starting Jan. 1. For example, the premium for family coverage under the most popular plan will increase from $1,029 to $1,528 a month.
Legislative leaders have been measuring support for a plan where the state would use $43 million from its surplus this year and redirect state money in subsequent years. The new money would lower the premium increases to 10 percent.
Using the surplus money would require the support from 75 House members and 27 senators. Beebe said 77 House members and 25 senators back the move.
Beebe had said he wanted to decide by Tuesday whether to call lawmakers back to the Capitol to address the insurance issue. He said time is crucial because the state needs to provide materials to teachers about the rate hikes before open enrollment begins Nov. 1.
"I'm not demanding any certain timetable," Beebe said. "The timetable is being required because of the situation that you've got to get the word out to people."
Part of the obstacle is opposition emerging from some lawmakers to a proposal backed by Beebe unrelated to the insurance premiums that would phase out the excess property tax revenue a handful of school districts have kept and redirect those funds to the state. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last year that the state can't keep the excess funds from districts where higher property tax collections pushed the districts above total school funding levels set by state law.
Beebe said the proposal is stirring opposition from lawmakers who represent the districts, while others have said they won't vote for the package of teacher insurance fixes unless the property tax issue is addressed. Beebe has said he would still call a special session if there's support for the teacher insurance proposals, but not the property tax issue.
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