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Plenty of work left for state lawmakers

Non-revenue bills with chances of survival in the 2002legislative session are becoming a little clearer following lastweek’s deadline for action by members of the House and Senate.

For some bills, the activity represents another step towardneeded reforms. For others, it means back to the drawing board orthe death of bills that shouldn’t have surfaced in the firstplace.

Surviving bills include ones to put teeth in the state’s openmeetings laws by allowing fines for public officials and collectionof attorneys’ fees for successful plaintiffs, another to allowinmates to produce license plates and also one to lower the drunkdriving blood alcohol level from .10 percent to .08 percent. Thepath to passage for these bills needs to remain clear.

Sadly, measures to reform the state’s tort and civil justicesystem appear dead for another year. Until meaningful reforms areenacted, Mississippi’s reputation as a lawsuit haven will grow andits legal climate will be a hindrance to business and economicdevelopment efforts.

Legislation to raise the salaries of certain state and localpublic officials also appears dead, but with good reason. SenateFees and Salaries Committee Chairman Billy Thames blamed newspapereditorials and talk radio for “fueling public sentiment to doom thebills.”

Common sense should have doomed the bills before they were everwritten.

Given the state’s struggling budget situation, which in turnaffects local governments, salary raises for elected andhigh-ranking agency officials should be the least of lawmakers’concerns. As Sen. Willie Simmons said while pointing out thatschool funding is being cut, “This is not the time.”

While another general legislation deadline has passed, lawmakersare still trying to get a handle on the state’s budget. In thatregard, the only thing that’s clear is there’s a lot of uncertaintyahead.