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Area lawmakers keeping eyes on spending plans

A Tuesday deadline looms for committee action on general billsand constitutional amendments, but lawmakers say money issuescontinue to occupy much of their time.

General legislation bills and proposed constitutional amendmentsare considered dead unless there is committee action on them by theend of Tuesday.

One bill Barnett is watching is his Prescription Drug MonitoringProgram bill. In an effort to prevent abuse, the bill would createa statewide system to keep track of who is receiving and who iswriting prescriptions for drugs.

“It’s still in committee. We’ll know Tuesday,” Barnett saidabout the bill and its chances of passage.

One Barnett-authored proposed constitutional amendment dealswith same-sex marriages.

Earlier in the session, the House passed the bill that wouldprohibit Mississippi from recognizing same-sex marriages from otherstates. The House vote was 97-17, Barnett said.

“I was very pleased with that vote,” said Barnett, adding thatMississippi already has a ban on same-sex marriages.

The bill now goes to the Senate. If approved there and signed bythe governor, the measure would be put on the November generalelection ballot for approval by voters, Barnett said.

In the Senate, Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said herAgriculture Committee had passed all of the bills assigned to it.Two bills, one cleaning up some language involvingorganically-grown crops and another dealing with catfish, hadreceived floor action.

Barnett and Hyde-Smith, however, anticipated more work on moneyissues.

“We’re going to be looking at several budget items,” Hyde-Smithsaid.

Barnett said the Appropriations Committee subcommittee leaderswould be meeting Monday to discuss the budget situation. Barnettheads up funding for universities and community colleges on theHouse panel.

The lawmaker said $65 million must be cut from budget plans byMonday. He said he was developing some ideas on how that could bedone, but he did not go into specifics.

Despite gloomy funding forecasts, Barnett remainedoptimistic.

“I’ve said all along some good is going to come out of this,”Barnett said.

Barnett said there is too much “dead weight” in stateagencies.

“I don’t want to see anybody lose their job, but we need to makecuts everywhere we can as far as personnel,” Barnett said.

Hyde-Smith said senators are awaiting delivery of the educationfunding bill recently approved by the House. The senator expectedthe bill would see some amendments once it reaches the Senate.

“I don’t know what they’re going to be, but I think it will havesome amendments,” Hyde-Smith said.

While the bill by Speaker of the House Billy McCoy fundseducation, Hyde-Smith cited concerns about the amount of moneybeing borrowed for that purpose. She said the bill borrows $130million from various funds.

“We need to avoid paying our Mastercard with our Visa,” saidHyde-Smith, echoing a comment she heard recently from an areateacher.

In other funding areas, Hyde-Smith is handling Department ofHuman Services money matters on the Senate Health and HumanServices Committee. She said DHS funding for Temporary Aid forNeedy Families (TANF) is $27 million short.

Hyde-Smith said lawmakers will be facing some tough decisions asthey move through the legislative process.

“We’re just going to have to pin our ears back and get to work,look at the situation we’ve been given and deal with it,”Hyde-Smith said.