Opinion – 3/8/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The Panolian Opinions – Rep. Morris & Rep. Burnett

From the 3/8/05 issue of The Panolian :             

      Adjournment April 13,
      strike-alls abound

  Committees of the House of
  Representatives approved many
  Senate-inspired bills, rejected others
  and changed wording on several key
  measures to reflect House sentiment,
  during the 9th week of the 2005
  legislative session.

These actions came as we met a March 1 deadline for each chamber to consider general bills and constitutional amendments that originated in the opposite house. March 9 is the deadline for floor action on the measures that survived committee scrutiny. We are scheduled to adjourn sine die on April 3.

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Work also continued in a conference committee on budget problems surrounding the state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the needy, aged and disabled. Negotiators agreed to reduce the number of paid prescriptions for recipients from seven to five monthly. Drug costs have become the largest expense for the program serving about 780,000 Mississippians.

The full House this week unanimously amended SB 3107 to provide Medicaid with $49 million in extra funding for the current fiscal year, 2005, which, when matched with federal funds, would help get the cash-strapped agency past the end of March. It was the latest in a series of moves by the House to help solve Medicaid’s funding crisis, including a plan passed earlier to hike cigarette taxes by 50-cents per tax to net about $120 million.

Medicaid officials have said the agency will be out of money as of March 11 unless steps are taken to alleviate the situation.

Medicaid is a substantial economic generator in Mississippi, helping to create up to 85,000 jobs. Statistics show that for every dollar expended in state funds, it creates $5.52 in economic activity.

For each 23-cents the state puts in the program, the federal government adds 77-cents, highest in the U.S.

A major education measure, the Mississippi Education Reform Act of 2005, passed the House Education and Appropriations committees and the full House this week. The bill, SB 2504, is Gov. Barbour’s proposal for K-12 public education.

Due to current budget woes, funding was delayed at least one year. It would give local school districts more freedom from state agency controls and would create a system of merit pay for teachers to reward them when their students show improvement on certain tests. It also would pay them more to teach in critical subject areas.

The bill also would allow for top students to take courses at community colleges while still enrolled in high school. The House added several amendments to the bill it returned to the Senate, including a provision that would require athletes to post a "C" average to participate in sports and one requiring a 2.5 average for dual enrollment in high school and a community college.

Low-performing schools would require students wear uniforms, students would be separated by gender, daily homework from K-12 grades would be required, and reading and writing would be emphasized. Families would be urged to disallow the use of telephones, TVs, videos and trashy music for four hours, four days per week.

The bill also would promote healthy eating and drinking habits and create an online "virtual school" immediately.

An amendment to make kindergarten enrollment mandatory for 5-year-olds failed.

Many of the Senate bills approved by House committees and the full membership this week were in the form of "strike-all amendments," wherein the House took a Senate bill and struck all of the wording from it and inserted the wording of a previously passed House bill into the measure.

This move sends both bills to "conference committee" where three negotiators from each chamber seek a compromise.

Among other Senate bills that were either approved as-is this week by the House or whose wording was changed to reflect House sentiment were:

SB 2931 to create the Mississippi Disability Resource Commission as a clearinghouse of information and contact point for people with disabilities related to potential service programs;
SB 2453 to add the Department of Human Services to the list of agencies that must perform criminal checks on employees or volunteers working with children or vulnerable adults;
SB 2559 to create a disability trust fund for law enforcement officers, to be funded from an extra assessment on certain fines;
SB 2682, in a first-time agreement among eye treatment professionals, allowing optometrists to prescribe some oral medications like antibiotics and anti-inflammation agents;
SB 2747 forbidding the working of state inmates for private purposes;
SB 2239 to prohibit county supervisors from substantially reducing the county budget during the last year of their term, if a majority were defeated in the general election;
SB 2304 allowing the voluntary titling of all-terrain vehicles;
SB 2076 which includes naming part of State 19 in Neshoba County for three slain civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, and U.S. 49E and U.S. 82 in Leflore County in honor of teenager Emmett Till, killed there in 1963;
SB 2898 was amended to make the deer bag limit for bucks and does five per season, except in an area of South Mississippi south of U.S. 84 and east of Mississippi 35;
SB 2053 to prohibit sex offenders from owning or working in child-care facilities.

Gov. Barbour signed HB 607, designed to tighten access to certain over-the-counter cold medicines that are also used to produce the illicit drug methamphetamine.

Call us at the Capitol at 601-359-3770 or follow on the Internet at .

Burnett represents District 9 which includes portions of Panola, Quitman, Tate and Tunica Counties.
Morris represents Mississippi’s House District 11 which includes portions of Panola and Tate Counties.


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