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State Representatives Report

Report from the House

House looks at cigarette tax to fund Medicaid; governor looks at hospitals

A bill to raise funds for Medicaid narrowly passed the House of Representatives last week.

HB 1013 would make some technical changes. It would also increase the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes from 18-cents per pack to $1.18 per pack, raising upwards of $200 million for the program serving one-fourth of our population. Backers of the bill preferred this method of raising more revenue over a plan by the Governor’s Medicaid Office to raise taxes on hospitals.

We also voted to construct a new public health laboratory, considered a major priority of the revitalized State Department of Health, under HB 1053. New State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson made replacing the current, 50-year-old lab one of his top goals for ’08.

The full House also passed HB 212 to establish a “tax holiday” on the weekend of July 25-26 to exempt from sales tax articles of clothing and footwear with a price tag of less than $100, ostensibly to help parents buy items for school children.

Among the other bills that we considered and approved on the full House floor this week:

•HB 763 helps to balance the state’s budget for fiscal 2009 by making about $287 million available for appropriation during the budget-setting process. Other options include severe spending cuts or raising taxes.

• HB 609 would initiate a hiring and equipment freeze throughout state government. The move would save about $22 million annually. This is another move to help balance the books for FY 2009.

• HB 1357 puts restrictions on the use of motorized vehicles in creek and river beds without the permission of the adjoining landowners as a conservation measure.

• HB 829 criminalizes the use of fake identification cards in obtaining alcohol.

•HB 1196 allowing casinos to gain tax credit incentives for non-gaming attractions.

• HB 1006 creating a 15-member Mississippi Tourism Advisory Board to develop a long-range plan to develop the state’s tourism industry.

• HB 19 extends the time that dwelling houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina are considered homes for homestead exemption purposes.

• HB 737 to create a Task Force on Underperforming Schools and School Districts to hopefully enhance the effectiveness of such schools.

• HB 973 requiring extra training for members of school boards in districts that have either failing schools or financial problems.

• HB 975, the “High School Redesign Pilot Program,” would phase it in through 2013-2014 with funding subject to appropriations.

• HB 1089 legalizes the hunting of deer over bait statewide as long as the feed is protected from the weather elements. It must be done only on privately-owned land.

• HB 1227 allowing the use of a webcam to make an appearance in some court appearances.

• HB 755 raising certain fees charged to insurance companies doing business in the state.

• HB 952 allows jobless benefits to be paid immediately, if the worker is eligible for them.

• HB 498 creates the Mississippi Insurance Policyholder Bill of Rights to put the burden of proof on insurance companies as relates to any exclusions in policies and any exception to coverage claimed by the company.

• A lottery/scholarship bill died in committee.

• Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps told the Juvenile Justice Committee he could use the Columbia Training School facility as an alcohol and drug treatment facility for inmates. Columbia city leaders said excess land at the campus could be used as a site for economic development.

• The House Poverty Committee this week hosted Marian Wright Edelman, founder and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund and the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. Mrs. Edelman spoke about the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” project trying to keep children out of prison.

Late last week, the full House approved HB 558 to require the use of booster seats when transporting children if they are at least four but less than eight years of age, measure less than 4 feet, 9 inches or weigh less than 80 pounds. Mississippi’s death rate for children in accidents leads the nation.

(Call us at the Capitol at 601-359-3770, or follow us on the Internet at www.mpbonline.org <http://www.mpbonline.org>  and click on “House video” for webcasting.)