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House approves state job agency and goes home

What was expected to be a three-day special session turned intoa question of procedure Wednesday afternoon when the Houseadjourned and left the Senate to work alone in Jackson.

The House passed only three bills during the four hours it wasin session: approving the Mississippi Department of EmploymentSecurity, adjusting an existing law governing toll roads andappropriating funds to pay for the special session. Representativesalso defeated a voter ID amendment inserted into the appropriationbill before leaving the Capitol on a 67-50 vote to adjourn.

Most of the issues on Gov. Haley Barbour’s agenda were not dealtwith in the House, including Medicaid, which had yet to be added tothe agenda.

Meanwhile, Lincoln County’s legislators are pondering, attackingand defending the House’s adjournment.

The approval to adjourn took District 92 Rep. Becky Currie,R-Brookhaven, completely by surprise. Arriving at the Capitol lateafter attending the funeral of a family member in Meadville, sheentered the House just in time to see it adjourn.

“I sat down, got myself situated and the next thing I knew theywere voting for sine die (the session’s end),” she said. “Everyonestarted looking around, wondering what was going on and then it wasover. Looking at the agenda, I thought we’d be there quite sometime.”

Currie, who was absent for all the House’s votes duringWednesday’s short session, did not approve of the decision toadjourn, which was taken closely along party lines.

“We’re just gonna have to come back,” she said. “As I wasleaving the Capitol, I got a text message from the governor’soffice that said, ‘See you Tuesday.'”

Currie interpreted the message to mean House members would bereturning next week – one way or another.

If the Senate continues on for three days, then the specialsession will not be over, and the House will be required toreconvene per Mississippi constitutional law.

If the Senate also votes to adjourn, then the special sessionwill be officially over and the governor may immediately call asecond one.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said there was noneed for the House to stick around Wednesday.

Moak left for California for a speaking engagement as soon asthe gavel dropped. He said work left behind was not a pressingmatter to the state.

“The House took care of business, we did what was necessary andwe left,” he said. “All of the chairmen looked at those issuesgoing to their committees and decided they didn’t need to beaddressed.”

Moak said most of the items on the special session agenda wereof no substance, and that the session only served as a means to”take the heat off” the governor for his recent vetoes.

“There was no need for us to stay around in Jackson and spend$50,000 a day,” Moak said. “What were we gonna do? Weaken theimmigration law? We weren’t gonna do that. Go back and work on thecopper theft law that Haley vetoed? No.”

Moak said he hoped the Senate would follow the House’s lead. Hesaid the remaining issues should be dealt with during regularsession and lawmakers should only have to return for Medicaid.

“When the Senate finishes spending money over there, I guessthey’ll decide when they want to call us back and look at theirwork,” he said.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, will beawaiting the House’s return since Senate options for dealing withHouse bills are now limited. Any amendments added to Houselegislation by the Senate will have to be examined and approved bythe House, or the Senate can pass House legislation as is.

Hyde-Smith pointed out the House bill funding MDES – which wasapproved by the Senate – may contain an error that could result inthe program going unfunded. The mistake deals with the startingdates of state and federal fiscal years.

“There’s problems with that, and we’re going to have to workthrough those problems,” Hyde-Smith said. “We had to vote tosuspend the rules to change it, and the House will have to comeback and look at it again, unless MDES tells me tomorrow they knowhow to get our federal money as is.”

Hyde-Smith said she was not surprised at the House’s vote to gohome, although she thought that body would at least stay until theSenate adjourned.

“Evidently, they finished what the House leadership wanted themto accomplish,” she said. “They did what they came to do and said,’Adios.'”

As for the Senate, Hyde-Smith said the future of the specialsession should become clear by Thursday afternoon.

“My gut feeling is that we will work through tomorrow and thegovernor will call another special session on Tuesday and bringeveryone back,” she said Wednesday night. “Right now, it’s just aday-by-day operation. Nothing is really definite until we adjournThursday.”

The Senate will continue to work Thursday. On Wednesday, theSenate adjusted the toll road law, passed the bill limiting theexpansion of gaming and allowed utilities on the Gulf Coast fasterright-of-way acquisition to speed up the rebuilding ofinfrastructure.

Hyde-Smith limited the length of time that utilities would havethis increased power by adding an amendment to the bill, which theSenate approved unanimously. Such companies will have the authorityfrom 2009 to 2013.

“They way the legislation was written, it didn’t clarify whenthis authority would begin and end,” she said. “I just did not wantto leave an open ended authority that could last indefinitely. Ihand-wrote an amendment, put it on the screen and it passed.”

What is clear, however, is that the House will be coming back,and soon.