In the days leading up to Independence Day, members of the Arkansas House of Representatives were reminded not only of the significance of the founding of our country but we were also given a lesson in the history of our state.
This week, due to ongoing construction in our House Chamber, we held an Extraordinary Session in the Old State House Museum. The museum once served as our State Capitol building and is now is the oldest standing State Capitol west of the Mississippi.
Not only were we the first members to pass legislation in the Old State House in over 100 years, but we advanced measures that will have an economic impact on the immediate future of our state.
Governor Beebe called for the session to address rising costs of teacher’s insurance premiums, prison overcrowding, and confusion surrounding what kind of games are allowed under our state’s lottery.
Without addressing health insurance, our teachers and school staff would have been facing a 35% increase in premiums this year.
A task force has been working several months to find a solution. Included in a package of bills were measures to save the program over $5 million by eliminating eligibility to part time employees. It was stated by the sponsor of the bill that the majority of these employees will be eligible for coverage either under the Private Option or the Health Care Exchange.
Another change to the teacher’s insurance program addresses eligibility of spouses of participants. If spouses are offered coverage by their employer, he or she will no longer be eligible for coverage on the state offered plan.
We also voted to increase spending to the Department of Correction this year by $6 million. This money will be used to fund 600 additional prison beds to alleviate prison overcrowding and overcrowding in our county jails.
And lastly, we passed a bill which would delay the start of any multi-draw screen based lottery games until March 13, 2015. Screen based games include keno and bingo.
Some legislators felt the expansion of the lottery to include those games went beyond what voters intended when they voted on a constitutional amendment to begin a state-wide lottery.
Lottery officials have predicted screen based games could create millions more for college scholarships.
The bill that passed is a compromise which will allow legislators more time to study the issue and address it in the next Regular Session.
If you would like to review testimony on the bills and watch the historic session inside the Old State House visit our video library at arkansashouse.org.