Lawmakers: Session leaves unfinished business

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 2, 2007

Area lawmakers said the session that ended Friday was a goodone, but left a lot of unfinished business on the table.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak the session was typical of electionyear politics. In election year sessions, “hard issues are notpushed as hard” and legislators engage in more civility duringdebates, he said.

District 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett, who is not seekingre-election, said the session was “better than I had expected,” butleft too many issues unresolved.

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“We passed a lot of good bills, but we left a lot that needed tobe passed,” he said.

Barnett said he expects Gov. Haley Barbour to call at least onespecial session to resolve some of those issues.

The establishment of a state burn center on an upper floor atthe University of Mississippi Medical Center is one of the topicsleft unfinished that Barnett said needs to be resolved.

“We’ve just got to get that for the state,” he said.

The state has been without a burn center since the MississippiFirefighters Burn Center in Greenville was closed because of lackof funding. The center was dependent on public donations and moneyraised by firefighters.

Barnett said leaving the state without a medical facility withthe training to treat severe burns should not be an option,especially with the number of severe and life-threatening burninjuries the state sees every year.

Mississippi ranks first in the nation in the rate offire-related deaths at 4.12 per 100,000 state residents, accordingto published reports.

Moak, however, said he did not expect the burn center to spark acall for a special session.

“I didn’t see an awful lot of support on this from the topdown,” he said. “I would think a special session on this isunlikely. I would like to see one, though. We should develop a burncenter.”

One issue that dominated much of the attention in both chambersthat Barnett does not expect to resurface in a special session isan effort to increase cigarette taxes while reducing grocerytaxes.

The controversial bill died in committee days before the sessionended. Barbour, who is seeking his second term in office, vetoed apair of bills on the issue last year and has repeatedly said hewill not raise taxes.

Mississippi has the third lowest cigarette tax and the highestgrocery tax in the nation, Barnett said.

“I’m for cutting down smoking any way I can,” Barnett said.

Moak agreed.

“It’s a sad, sad thing,” he said. “I think we should have doneit.”

On a positive note, Barnett said, lawmakers fully funded theMississippi Adequate Education Program for the first time since2003, which was also an election year.

“The vast majority of our budget is going to education,” hesaid.

The lawmakers said full funding of the education program was notunexpected and both said election year politics had a majorinfluence on the bill’s passage.

Moak said the House has promoted full funding of the MAEP “foryears.”

“Certainly in an election year it’s not uncommon to see everyonehop on board,” he said. “We need to do it again next year. We needto fully fund it every year.”

The lawmakers also lauded the state’s passage of separate billsto provide 3 percent pay raises to state employees andteachers.

“In order to keep good people we’ve got to pay them,” Moak said.”I was not opposed to that.”

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was not available for commentfollowing the session’s end.