Area legislators tout education funding plan

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 17, 2003

WESSON – Area lawmakers hailed passage of an historic educationfunding bill and offered differing views on tort reform measuresMonday during the Wesson Chamber of Commerce’s Annual LegislativeBreakfast.

Dist. 76 Rep. Greg Holloway touted the funding bill as a”tremendous commitment” to education. He said there can be noeconomic development or jobs without education.

“I’m very glad to see the state make a commitment to education,”said Holloway, a member of the House Education Committee.

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The bill, which pumped in an additional $235 million for K-12,community colleges and institutions of higher learning, washistoric in that lawmakers addressed education early in the sessionrather than at the end. Holloway and other legislators at themeeting, held at the Thames Center on the Co-Lin campus, supportedmaking funding education first a routine event.

“I don’t want to see us do this every four years when it’s timefor an election,” Holloway said.

Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett said the funding plan had beenwell-received.

“I believe it will be a routine thing. After all, education isthe basis of success for the state of Mississippi,” he said.

The education funding represents 62 percent of the state’sgeneral fund budget. Lawmakers were quizzed on where the money iscoming from for the bill.

“We robbed Peter to pay Paul,” Barnett said.

Barnett, an Appropriations Committee member in charge ofcommunity college funding, was one of a handful of lawmakers towork out the funding bill. He said the money came from specialfunds, such as wildlife and parks, and a number of othersources.

“I can’t tell you where all we borrowed money from,” Barnettsaid.

Lawmakers also fielded several questions related to last year’sspecial session on tort reform and pending measures this year toaddress the subject.

House Dist. 62 Rep. Tom Weathersby said he believed in the tortreform action and credited the Senate with being the driving forcebehind passage.

“It seemed like if it hadn’t been for the Senate, we wouldn’thave been able to get anything truly accomplished,” Weathersbysaid.

Weathersby said tort reform measures will need to be fine tunedto help to the state’s business and medical communities. Hollowaysaid last year’s actions did not go far enough and he called forstiffer penalties for filing frivolous lawsuits.

“I think that would help deter lawyers from bringing in a bunchof garbage and spending time on frivolous lawsuits,” Hollowaysaid.

How soon businesses and doctors could see benefits of the tortreform measures was another aspect of Monday’s discussion.

Dist. 36 Sen. Lynn Posey mentioned taking an overall view of theissue. He cited one estimate that it takes three to five years forbenefits to be seen.

“You put a system in place and have to give it time to workitself out,” Posey said.

Posey mentioned an insurance risk pool for hospitals anddoctors. The legislation has passed the Senate this year and goneto the House for consideration.

“I think that would start trying to alleviate some of theproblems we’ve got out there,” Posey said.

Holloway said the tort reform measures represented greatstrides, but that a lot more needed to be done. He said doctorsneed immediate help.

“It’s very important we keep doctors in the state and keepinsurance affordable and accessible to our doctors,” Hollowaysaid.