MISSISSIPPI HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Jackson, Mississippi

House Information Office
Contact: Mac Gordon,
601-359-3323
April 12, 2005

HIGHLIGHTS OF 2005 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

JACKSON, Miss. – A struggle to secure the funds needed to run state government in FY 2006 began on the opening day of the 2005 Legislature on Jan. 4, and continued to the last day on April 6.

However, a compromise on the estimated $3.8 General Fund billion budget for FY 2006 could not be reached at the end of the session and members of the Legislature are expected to return to the Capitol in May to finalize work on the budget for the next fiscal year starting July 1.

Between the start of the session and sine die adjournment were two of the most unusual days in the history of the Mississippi Legislature: an unprecedented "special session within the regular session" called by Gov. Haley Barbour to address funding for the Division of Medicaid for FY 2005 ending June 30. The Legislature appropriated $240 million from the Tobacco Trust Fund during the weekend special session for the program, using a plan to repay it through a 1-percent set aside from the state's General Fund starting in FY 2007 of about $38 million per year.

As the session entered its final two weeks, the House of Representatives voted four times to extend the deadline to file final versions of state agency appropriation bills, as key fiscal leaders struggled to fund such vital areas as K-12 and higher education, mental health, Medicaid, corrections and public safety. Most of the legislative work days during the final three weeks of the session ended past normal hours and members of the Legislature worked an unusual three successive weekends before sine die adjournment arrived.

The session was also marked by an unusual and generous offer as Mississippi native Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape and a former FedEx official, told the Legislature he would set aside $50 million for graduates of the Barksdale Reading Institute to be given out as grants of $5,000 when they graduate from high school and college. His offer had a catch -- the Legislature had to give full funding to the K-12 education system.

The House of Representatives maintained throughout the regular season that it desired to fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the K-12 system, as close to 100 percent of full funding as possible. The House consistently offered to put more money in that budget than the Senate. However, a compromise could not be reached.

The House approved eight separate measures during the 93-day session that would have produced enough new revenue to allow negotiators to reach a budget comprise. HB 410 passed on Jan. 31 would have generated $120 million by adding a 50-cents per pack increase on cigarette taxes, while HB 1409 passed on Feb. 9 would have generated $55 million through increases on fees and licenses for state agency services.

However, the Senate toed the line set down by Lt. Gov. Tuck and Gov. Barbour, both of whom were against raising new revenue. Thus, Senate members never voted on the revenue-enhancing measures. In the final days, the Senate also rejected the deep cuts to many agencies that would have been necessary to produce a balanced budget, based on the expected state revenues.

Senate leaders said they were banking on higher-than-expected revenue that might arrive through the normal collection process. House fiscal leaders referred to this as "phantom money" and said that they were not willing to fund government with revenues that might or might not arrive, possibly creating deficit appropriations that would have to be funded in January 2006.

There were many achievements made during the session, despite the breakdown in budget negotiations during the regular session that will force the special session to be called likely in May.

Following a trend of enhancing economic development in recent years, the Legislature approved incentives through HB 1668 to help bring a steel plant to Lowndes County that will make a product used in the Southeast's burgeoning automobile industry. SteelCorr will deliver 400 new jobs at $70,000 per year, reports said. The proposed plant was nearing a groundbreaking date as the legislative session ended.

While all measures that pass a legislative session and are signed into law by the governor are meaningful, many do not garner the attention of the public as does a budget crisis.

Here is a summary of some of the more high profile "non-revenue" issues that were passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Barbour:

> HB 607 should put a crimp in the state's illicit drug trade by tightening access to substances that are used in the manufacture of crystal amphetamine, a growing problem in the state. Retailers must store the substances behind counters and only limited amounts may be sold at any one time under the law. The Bureau of Narcotics is to develop a program to inform retailers about the methamphetamine problem and devise procedures for retailers to use in reporting to suspicious purchases of regulated precursors including over-the-counter, nonprescription pseudoephedrine products.

> HB 238 to create a commission to study the feasibility of the charter school concept in Mississippi. It will include an assessment of the educational, economic, cultural and social impact of establishing a comprehensive charter school system for Mississippi's traditional public schools. The state has one charter school now.

> SB 2480 should lower unemployment taxes for businesses while maintaining funding for jobless workers. The state's unemployment trust fund contains about $650 million, yet pays out only about $150 million annually in jobless benefits. The bill also creates the Workforce Training Enhancement Fund to provide $20 million a year to supplement workforce training through the two-year college system.

> HB 1341 will allow tax credits for developers who clean up contaminated "brownfield" sites and return them to viable redevelopment properties; HB 1711 will provide income tax credit for business enterprises that locate in economically distressed communities where 30 percent or more of the citizens have incomes below the federal poverty line; and SB 3026 to exempt from sales tax enterprises that engage in the repair and servicing of aircraft used in interstate commerce.

> SB 2009 reenacts the State Department of Human Services and extends it to 2009. The agency had been operated under executive order by the governor for the previous year.

> HB 500 allows the state to enter into contracts with local tourism commissions to develop regional strategies for tourism promotion. The Mississippi Development Authority may require audits as a condition for receiving any state grants to promote tourism.

> HB 1268 allows state-regulated casinos to move onto permanent concrete structures in an effort to protect the public and the businesses from storms. The new law stresses that inland gaming will continue to be strictly prohibited.

> SB 2076 to rename a portion of U.S. 19 in Neshoba County for slain civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner and a portion of U.S. 49 in Tallahatchie County for Emmett Till, a Chicago teenager killed while visiting his family in Mississippi in 1955.

> HB 454 governing the cosmetology industry was one of the most controversial bills of the session. It mandates persons who engage in braiding hair to register with the State Department of Health for a $25 annual fee and to receive training on infection control.

> SB 2864 strengthened the penalties for the sexual exploitation and neglect of children, raising some fines up to $20,000 and making jail sentences up to life for subsequent violations.

> HB 1034 requires convicted sexual offenders to register in person at driver licensing stations, and SB 2053 prohibits sexual offenders from owning or volunteering at child care centers.

> HB 524 clarifies the residence of minor students at universities and community colleges to be that of the father, mother or a legal guardian appointed by a court. If a court grants custody to either the father or the mother, the residence is that of the appointed parent.

> HB 143 allows municipalities to regulate the rental of hotel and motel rooms on an hourly basis in an effort to cut down on such activities as prostitution and drug dealing.

> HB 722 increases the statutory minimum for motor vehicle liability insurance coverage in any one accident from $10,000 to $25,000 for bodily injury to or death of one person, from $20,000 to $50,000 for bodily injury to or death of two or more persons and from $5,000 to $25,000 for injury to or destruction of property.

> HB 1132 allowing the state fire marshal's office to inspect fraternity and sorority houses on state-owned university campuses. This was in response to a tragic fire at a fraternity house at the University of Mississippi that killed three students.

> SB 2486 permitting the display of the Ten Commandments, the motto "In God We Trust" and the Beatitudes in any public building. The bill also allows the old farmer's market in Jackson to remain open under a lease arrangement with vendors who have sold goods there for years.

> HB 734 requiring annual tests of auto window tints, a safety issue with law enforcement personnel. Certain types of emergency and public service vehicles will be exempted.

> HB 1545 waiving the 30-day waiting period to adopt children from foreign countries.

> HB 1238 allows law enforcement to check for liability insurance at roadblocks where all passing motorists are checked to enforce traffic laws or upon stopping a motor vehicle for any other statutory violation. Municipalities may share in the fee assessed for not having the insurance if the stop is made within the city limits. Motorists can be fined $500 for violating the law, but the fine can be waived if the insurance was in place at the time of the ticket. The fine will be $100 if the insurance is purchased between the time of the offense and the court hearing.

> SB 2931 to create an informational clearinghouse to provide information to persons who need health, special education or disability information or services.

> SB 2239 to prohibit county supervisors from reducing a county budget by more than 20 percent in the last year of the members' term of office if a majority of the members of the board are not reelected.

> SB 2682 to allow optometrists to prescribe some oral medications such as pharmaceutical agents to treat glaucoma; oral antibiotic medications; oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medications; over-the-counter allergy medications; and oral medications to treat viral infections.

> SB 2894 to overhaul the state's juvenile detention program by creating more community-based centers as an alternative to incarceration. Under the plan, only a court can sentence a youth to a juvenile detention facility and the Department of Public Safety will be responsible for inspecting the facilities. The law is in response to a lawsuit filed against the state by the federal government which claimed youths were being subjected to harsh conditions at the state's two juvenile detention centers.

> SB 2864 revises the law and stiffens penalties for the sexual exploitation and abuse or neglect of children, and also prohibits the displaying of sexually-explicit material on a video screen inside a vehicle.

> SB 2731 creates a commission to study the effectiveness and equity of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which determines the amount of state funding for the 152 public school districts.

> SB 2514 to create the Wireless Communication Commission to promote the efficient use of resources to ensure that law enforcement personnel and public health and safety personnel have effective communications services available in emergency situations.

> SB 2339 redistricts the state's chancery and circuit court districts and creates nine new judgeships statewide to be elected in 2006 and 2010.

> SB 2559 to create a disability trust fund for law officers and firefighters injured in the line of duty.

> HB 887 will permit separate hunting seasons for an area of Southeast Mississippi, to be established by the State Wildlife Commission.

SPECIAL SESSIONS, 2005

> March 12-13, Medicaid funding for remainder of FY 2005, appropriating $240 million from the Tobacco Trust Fund with repayment through a 1-percent set aside from the GF starting in FY 07 of about $38 million per year.

> May 18-28, Set GF budget for FY 2006 of $4.623 billion.

> June 28 - July 2, Pass "Momentum Mississippi," including the "At Risk Industries Act" to help companies stave off foreign competition.

> July 15, Pass $14 million bond for Baxter Healthcare of Cleveland.

> Sept. 27 - Oct. 7, Move gaming 800 feet inland, readjust tidelands leases, pass small business loan program, help school districts and local governments deal with aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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