Citizens raise variety of topics with legislators

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 26, 2001

WESSON — From budget woes to power deregulation to a huntingand fishing license dispute with Louisiana, area lawmakers touchedon a variety of topics during Monday morning’s chamber of commercelegislative breakfast.

About five weeks remain in the 2001 legislative session andthere are many issues still to be addressed, lawmakers said today.Tuesday is the deadline for lawmaker action on general bills thatoriginated in the other chamber of the legislature.

“The vast majority of the work is still to be done,” said Dist.36 Sen. Lynn Posey.

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The most pressing concern is the state’s budget crisis, thesenator said.

“Revenue projections did not come through the we way we thoughtthey would, and we’re at a very critical time in our statebudgeting process,” Posey said, adding the outlook for an economicupswing in the near future was not promising.

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett said he may be the only lawmakerto believe some good may come the budget situation.

“I believe it’ll make us tighten our belt a little bit,” Barnettsaid.

Florence Rep. Tom Weathersby, whose district includes part ofCopiah County, said lawmakers are trying to limit state plans toborrow money using bonds to pay for various projects. Projectionsindicate debt service on bond measures is approaching $300 milliona year.

“That’s one area we’re trying to control,” Weathersby said.

One financial area of concern is prison and inmate incarcerationcosts.

“We’ve really gotten ourselves in box now,” Barnett said inresponse to a question about truth in sentencing laws.

Barnett said he would support early release for white collar andnon-violent offenders. However, he stuck by the phrase “do thecrime, do the time” for rapists and other violent offenders.

“They should stay right where they are now,” Barnett said.

Power woes facing states like California brought a question onderegulation of utility companies.

“We’ve been real fortunate in Mississippi that we haven’t jumpedon that bandwagon,” Weathersby said.

The representative said Mississippi has some of the lowest powerrates in the country.

“There’s no need for us to hurry and deregulate,” Weathersbysaid.

When considering deregulation, Weathersby said it will beimportant to remember the rural homeowners and ensure their ratesdon’t rise.

“We want to make sure the homeowner, the one at the end of theline, is not forgotten about,” Weathersby said.

A feud over out-of-state hunting and fishing license feesbetween Mississippi and Louisiana also prompted a question from theaudience of around 25 people this morning. Many Mississippians goto Louisiana to fish while Louisiana residents come here tohunt.

Last year, said Posey, chairman of the Senate Game and FishCommittee, Louisiana raised its out-of-state resident fishinglicense from $67 to $110. In response, Mississippi raised itsout-of-state hunting license fee from $225 to $425, which was aboutthe same percentage increase, Posey said.

Game and fish officials from both states are trying to work outan agreement. However, Posey said the ball is in Louisiana’s courtand prospects of a deal are uncertain.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to reach any kind of compromiseor not,” Posey said.

Barnett was hopeful for compromise. He mentioned the impact ofout of state hunters and the benefits they have on small businesseslike convenience stores.

“It’s a two-sided story,” Barnett said.

Other subjects mentioned this morning included a Copiah Countylake project, elimination of a warehousing tax, a bill to allowretired teachers to return to the classroom, and the possibility ofa higher taxes on gaming. Lawmakers said the thought of raisingtaxes on gaming was not being given any serious consideration thissession.

Revenue from the state’s lawsuit against the tobacco industrywas another topic. Barnett said the settlement is generating about$60 million a year and, despite efforts otherwise, lawmakers areholding to their plans to spend the interest on health careissues.

“Every agency is trying to get their hands on it,” Barnettsaid.