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Currie, Moak learn committee posts

Friday saw committee appointments handed out in the MississippiHouse of Representatives, and now lawmakers in that chamber knowwhere they stand for the remainder of the term.

For District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, the penaltiesfor voting for the losing side in the speaker of the house racewere not nearly as severe as some had predicted. As a freshmanlegislator, Currie said she never expected to receive achairmanship, but she was most pleased that she requested andreceived her two top committee choices.

“I’m really happy with my committees,” she said. “I had asked tobe on the Health and Human Services and Medicaid committees, and Iam. I felt hopeful after the good conversation (House Speaker)Billy McCoy and I had, but I wasn’t sure what was going tohappen.”

McCoy was re-elected speaker in a 62-60 vote, with all HouseRepublicans opposed. In making committee assignments Friday, McCoygave all chairmanships to Democrats.

Currie said McCoy kept his word regarding thier committeeconversations.

“He did exactly what he indicated he was going to do,” shesaid.

Currie’s position on the Medicaid committee will put herfront-and-center for the upcoming adjustments to that program, atopic that has become one of the biggest issues the legislator willface this session. With Medicaid facing a $90 million shortage, shesaid the work done in that committee was “gonna be tough,” but shebelieves her background in the medical field will allow her to makethe right choices when the time comes to restructure theprogram.

“As a nurse, I’ve been in the health care field and worked withMedicaid issues for 30 years,” Currie said. “I felt strongly aboutthe fact that I needed to be on that committee to make sure thatpeople who deserve Medicaid benefits get them. And if you don’t,then we need to get you off of it.”

While Currie said Health and Human Service and Medicaid wereprobably the two most important committees she serves on, she alsofinds herself the member of another committee of that may grow insignificance – Colleges and Universities. Gov. Haley Barbour toutedthe importance of strengthening the state’s community colleges inhis State of the State address Monday night.

“I’m on the Colleges and Universities committee, and I thinkI’ll be in a good position to help with Co-Lin Community College,”Currie said.

Currie said that Barbour, who championed the funding ofcommunity colleges during his first administration after thoseinstitutions were cut in years prior, views community colleges asan important step in his plan to change and restructure the state’seducation system, a process that begins in high schools.

“The plan is that we’re going to change a lot about highschools,” she said. “The governor wants to change the curriculumfor some kids who may not be interested in going on to a four-yearcollege – offer them technical courses. Then, they can graduatefrom high school with a skill and go on to a community college tofurther their skill and get a better paying job.”

Currie said this system will help the state’s economicdevelopment by creating a force of skilled workers.

“Then, we can say to these industries, ‘Bring your company orfactory here – we have skilled workers, ready to go.'”

While the freshman Currie is pleased to find herself inhigher-tier committees for her first term, it will be business asusual for District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak. D-Bogue Chitto. He will onceagain serve as chairman of the Gaming committee.

“The Gaming committee will continue its efforts to rebuild theGulf Coast,” Moak said. “Gaming has been an economic engine for thecoast, and the state as a whole, after Hurricane Katrina.

“Gaming has just hit $2.89 billion in gross revenue across thestate, making us third nationally,” Moak continued. “And that’swith our casinos not even at full speed yet. Some are still workingout of temporary locations.”

Moak also pointed to the growth spurt currently experienced bythe gaming industry, specifically the construction of Harrah’s new$750 million Margaritaville Casino – the largest building projectin the state. Moak not only serves on the committee that overseesprojects like that, he also serves on the committee responsible forselling those projects to travelers – the Tourism committee.

“Tourism is the largest employer in the state; a lot of folksdon’t realize that,” Moak said. “It works hand in hand with theGaming committee, because gaming makes up the majority of thetourism in the state.”

“You have to take the different tourism spots in the state andpiece them together to get the big picture,” he continued. “Youjust look at all those small areas as a whole to see how tourismimpacts not only those areas but the entire state. It’s a hugeindustry.”

Moak was also appointed to the Insurance committee, which hedescribed as “another big one.” He said the committee faces thechallenge of rebuilding the state’s wind pool, a fund of insurancepremium percentages from insurance transactions, held by the stateinsurance commissioner for use during times of crisis, such asextraordinary natural disasters.

“Hurricane Katrina really depleted our wind pool,” Moak said.”We will be looking at how to rebuild it in a way that’s fair toour citizens and our insurance companies.”

Moak, like Currie, will also face the state’s Medicaid dilemmaas a member of Public Health committee.

“We’ve got such a huge shortfall in Medicaid. What we have todo, I think, is go back to the budget and take care of needs thatgovernment should fund, like health care, and everyone else canfight for what’s left,” Moak said. “We have to do those things inthe beginning and let everything else fall in place. It’s justprioritizing state spending.”

Moak realizes the difficulties, and shortages, facingMississippi’s budget this year. However, he is confident the statewill pull through.

“We’ll get there, we’ll make it work,” he said. “We’ve only gotabout 3 percent real growth this year, so the numbers are going tobe relatively the same, as far as income coming into the state. Butthe needs always grow, it’s always a challenge.”