Opinion – 1/31/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Panolian: OPINIONS – Rep. Morris & Rep. Burnett

 From the 1/31/06 issue of The Panolian       

Issues range from smoke-free buildings to motorcycle tags

Committees of the House of Representatives this week studied hundreds of bills introduced by members for consideration during the 2006 legislative session, soon to enter its second month.

Much of the session’s fourth week was taken up in these committee meetings, where members’ ideas for new laws or improvements to old laws either take on life or fail to advance. Today, Jan. 31 is the deadline for committees to "report," or act, on these proposals. Feb. 9 will be the deadline for the full House to act on the measures that survived the committee action.

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Almost all of the House’s 36 standing committees met during the week – many of them several times – to discuss issues ranging from increasing unemployment compensation, requiring public insurance adjusters to register with the state, providing legislative oversight over Katrina-related aid coming to the state, extending the law allowing special permits for overweight trucking loads to help get rid of Katrina debris, giving motorcycle owners a property tax break and implementing a "money-follows-the-person" process to use more Medicaid nursing-home dollars for home and community-based programs.

IN THE WEEK AHEAD, these committees will complete their work and the full House will consider many of them. A special highlight of week five will be a ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 2 in the House chamber to honor the 155th Brigade Combat Team of the Mississippi National Guard that recently returned from deployment to Iraq. We passed HCR 56 this week honoring the more than 3,000 "citizen soldiers" from 49 Mississippi communities and several other states who participated in "Operation Iraqi Freedom" under the guidance of Brigadier General Leon Collins. Fourteen soldiers from the group died while fighting for their country.

The state’s higher education leaders appealed to the House Appropriations Committee this week for increased funding to help stave off the loss of more professors to out of state institutions. It was stated that the eight universities have lost about 1,300 staffers in the past three years, mainly due to income issues. The IHL leaders strengthened their cause with statistics that show how college graduates generally earn about $1 million more in their lifetime than high school grads. They also pointed out how much less it takes to educate a college student each year than to house a state prison inmate. It was also revealed that several colleges have outsourced bookstore and cafeteria operations to save money. Also, Katrina caused some $185 million in estimated losses to the universities over the next four years.

On a related matter, House Speaker McCoy this week appointed a House Select Committee on the University of Mississippi Medical Center to focus on the facility’s future. UMC turned 50 years old this year and has itself struggled with financial resources in recent years.

SEVERAL ISSUES COMPLETED the committee process and then passed the full House, including:

HB 192 to tighten restrictions on sexual offenders by using electronic monitors to track their movement. Those adults convicted of an offense against children younger than 16 years old would have to wear the device for life, while others would use them while on probation or parole. Offenders would be required to pay $75 monthly for the "GPS" device to help offset the state’s cost for the program.
HB 123 to ban smoking in government buildings, but counties, cities and other agencies may designate areas where workers and visitors would be allowed to smoke.
HB 1479 to restore the old method of applying property taxes to motorcycles. The State Tax Commission had changed the taxing method without legislative approval, and this bill would put the old method – saving cyclists hundreds of dollars on their tags – back into effect almost immediately.
HB 1252 would limit the regulation of telecommunication utility companies, allowing them to better be able to compete in the marketplace.

BACKERS OF THE BILL known as the "Hurricane Katrina Response and Recovery Oversight Act" said it would allow the Legislature needed input into how state agencies deal with the recovery from Katrina. It would require agencies to submit copies of any plans to the Legislature. The 14-person committed appointed by the House speaker and the lieutenant governor would give the full Legislature an annual report on any findings or recommendations it may have on the recovery process. The panel would cease to exist on Jan. 1, 2009.

Backers of the act said the Legislature traditionally has oversight on such plans and that the state’s citizens would look to its members to report on how the massive federal funds are spent.

NUMEROUS ISSUES SURFACED IN HOUSE committees and in other settings:

Gaming approved HB 242 to tighten regulations on charity bingo operations and HB 707 to make illegal telephone cards sold in convenience stores that are in reality scratch-off gambling devices.
At least one hearing was held on how to deal with the thousands of illegal immigrants who have poured into the state in recent years. The education arena is particularly impacted and one bill, HB 1073, attempts to ensure that all persons applying for enrollment at a state university prove they are either U.S. citizens or have legal immigration status. Other issues are driver’s licenses and eligibility for various state-backed health care programs including Medicaid.
Labor passed out HB 207 to increase the maximum weekly unemployment compensation benefits to $230 on July 1 of this year and to $250 on July 1, 2007.
Education approved HB 318 to create a pilot program to teach the Italian language in two districts to be selected by the state department.
Universities and Colleges created a task force to develop a strategic plan for revitalization of the Mississippi Delta region. Ways and Means also approved the plan.

The House and Senate each week also approve resolutions honoring Mississippians for their achievements. This week we honored the service of National Guard Sgt. Travis S. Cooper of Macon, who died fighting in Iraq. We also saluted U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran for his work in securing the congressional agreement on Hurricane Katrina relief for victims of the Aug. 29 storm. We also commended the life of Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks and recognized the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

A special guest in the House chamber was Dr. Edward Hill of Tupelo, a family physician who is the reigning president of the American Medical Association, the first Mississippian to hold that post.

To follow the Legislature on the Internet, go to: . To contact a member of the Legislature at the Capitol, call 1-601-359-3770.

To follow the Legislature on the Internet, go to: . To contact a member of the Legislature at the Capitol, call 1-601-359-3770.




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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