Legislators call for short term fix in school employee insurance rates

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) - Many Arkansas lawmakers are calling for a short term fix to a big problem for public school employees.

A joint legislative meeting at the capitol Monday focused around education, insurance and commerce. The Bureau of Legislative Research gave a history of funding for school employee insurance. The Employee Benefits Division, or EBD, explained why they voted to increase school employee premiums anywhere between 20% and 400%, depending on their plan. GCT Superintendent, Jerry Noble also spoke at the meeting.

While suggestions on how to fix the problem were discussed, Senate Chair, Johnny Key made clear from the beginning that right now, they cannot do much of anything.

"Today is a informational gathering only. Since the legislature is not in session, we have very little power to enact laws...well...we have no power to enact laws or appropriate funds," Key said. "I just want the audience to be aware, if they were expecting that after today, they'd actually see some immediate changes, we just do not have the authority to do that."

However, legislators did call for a short term fix to the problem.

"We have to provide short term relief for these teachers by January 1, because they simply cant sustain the increases they're going to be faced with," Senator Jason Rapert said.

Representative Fredrick Love agreed. Especially when the EBD explained to him that state employees will pay $96 a month for insurance, while public school employees will pay $336 a month for the same plan.

"We're gonna have to get together and work on this one. This is just unacceptable," Representative Love said.

Jerry Noble spoke to the legislators, asking them to consider multiple suggestions on how to fix the plan.

Some of those suggestions included no longer having the EBD control their insurance plan as well as creating open competition for school employee insurance.

Many GCT school employees were in attendance, supporting Noble.

GCT teacher Lori Dial told Region 8 News she and her husband are both teachers and her household will be affected dramatically.

"I felt like it was important for us to show a strong show of support, not only for our superintendent, but that we are, there are so many of us affected by this issue and in dire straights because of it," Dial said.

Greene County Tech did not have school Monday after a committee petitioned to the GCT Board of Education for a calendar revision.

Though Dial, along with many school employees from across Region 8 and Arkansas were at the meeting, not everyone was happy about their presence.

"I wish those school teachers that were out there though were at school teaching our students," Representative Tommy Wren said. "I know there were a lot of parents today that were looking for sitters for places for their children to go."

Representative Charlotte Douglas disagreed.

"I think you guys being criticized for being here today is inappropriate," Rep Douglas said.

There was discussion of having a special session to address the issue. Senator Rapert said he doesn't think the legislature can wait until it convenes to address the issue.

That decision will be up to Governor Mike Beebe.

Region 8 News will continue to track this story and let you know what happens.

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