Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The Senate had another busy week, passing full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program Tuesday. With Gov. Haley Barbour finally onboard with fully funding MAEP—in an election year—the Senate got with the program and approved SB 238.
Sen. Gloria Williamson, D-Philadelphia, said she approved the full funding of MAEP but frowned upon the Senate's re-distribution of the funding. "We had $16 million going to the state's 27 high growth districts (such as Madison) and $13 million going to (over 100) at-risk districts, including many rural Delta areas. They cut the at-risk districts and left the money intact for the high growth areas," Williamson complained.
The Senate passed other bills that will likely be stomped down by the House in upcoming weeks.
The Senate passed SB 2617 this morning, a voter I.D. bill almost identical to one killed across the hall last year. The bill makes it mandatory for a voter to present a form of identification in order to cast a vote.
Republicans and some conservative Democrats say the law will prevent voter fraud. Sen, Alice Harden, D-Jackson, says the bill fixes a problem that isn't there.
"The problem in Mississippi is actually the opposite," Harden said. "In Mississippi, our biggest problem is getting people to vote. This bill really isn't necessary."
The Senate also passed SB 2801 and 2391. Both bills discourage abortion—the first, by forcing a patient to view a sonogram and to hear the heartbeat before the abortion can occur; the second by barring abortions to minors without parental consent or court permission. They join SB 2795, which bans abortion outright except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman is at risk.
House Health Chairman Steve Holland, D-Planterville, stated last week that he will not consider abortion bills this session.
The Senate also dealt with justice system bills, such as SB 2772, which makes it mandatory to have a permit in order to carry a stun gun. It also passed SB 2804, a relaxation of state law making it possible for first-time drug offenders to be eligible for parole—so long as they are guilty of selling only a small quantity of controlled substances.
The Senate continued to scrutinize the AG's office this week, sending SB 2482 to the House. The bill requires review of contracts for outside attorneys the AG's office hires to prosecute cases. Senate Republicans are pushing the measure, although the Democrat-run AG's office and those contracted attorneys have earned millions of dollars for the state through lawsuits against violators.
The House moved along with its own agenda, passing HB 1079, a bill that authorizes municipalities, like Jackson, to impound or tow vehicles for failure to pay certain fines or for outstanding warrants.
Rep. John Reeves, R-Jackson, said he had his hometown in mind. "The (Jackson) City Council says $31 million is owed to the city in fines—parking fines, criminal fines and that sort of thing. People won't pay, we don't have the manpower to arrest all these people, and we don't have a place to put them if we do arrest them. This bill gives the authorities the power to boot the vehicle of any person who owes an outstanding fine, and that boot isn't coming off until that bill is paid," Reeves said.
The bill also gives the city the power to regulate or prohibit any mill, laundry or manufacturing plant from disrupting the use of public or private property with smoke or other kinds of air pollution.
Reeves said the House also created a bill that finances a 300-bed regional jail in Hinds County. HB 985 authorizes the Department of Corrections to contract with the board of supervisors to provide for housing, care and control of the facility, and mandates that the facility meet federal, state and American Correctional Association standards. It also increases the $24.90 daily fee MDOC pays to regional facilities to $29.74.
"Two-hundred state inmates can be housed there, which will pay for it, and there'll be a 100 beds for county misdemeanants," Reeves said.
Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin said he would prefer the regional jail be under his direction.
The House also passed HB 528, which temporarily plugs a $90 million hole in the Medicaid budget. Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, said the bill allows the state to slice $45 million off the general fund and skim another $45 million from Katrina federal money to bridge the gap.
The House passed an amendment to Medicaid bill HB 528. which would allow Alzheimer's victims, senior citizens or the otherwise handicapped to fund home-care through Medicaid's Elderly and Disabled Waiver, and the Traumatic Brain Injury/Spinal Cord Injury Waiver.
The House voted establishing a committee to study autism and make recommendations to the Legislature on how to handle the growing problem.
House members, meanwhile, tabled an employee verification bill, submitted by Rep. Mike Lott, R-Petal, HB 1379, this Monday. The bill would have required businesses to see and validate new employees' Social Security numbers.