Slow start lets lawmakers focus on new bill requests

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One week of the 2011 legislative session has passed with littleactivity, and another week will likely pass just as slowly aslawmakers prepare for the first set of deadlines.

The deadline for lawmakers to request the Capitol’s attorneys todraft new legislation is Wednesday, and the deadline forintroducing new legislation comes next Monday. While mostlyhousekeeping and ceremonial duties are performed on the chamberfloors, legislators are busy honing their bills and will continueon quietly until next week, said District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak,D-Bogue Chitto.

“I don’t think you’ll see much this week. We’re just draftinglegislation at this time,” he said. “Different groups will come byand say, ‘Will you introduce this, will you introduce that,’ andI’ll look at those and, for the most part, introduce them. A lot oftimes I don’t agree with everything I introduce, but I believepeople have a right to get their legislation introduced.”

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As of Jan. 10, Moak has filed 43 bills in the House, many ofwhich deal with uniform laws and income tax adjustments. Among hisother bills are House Bill 481, which would allow county andmunicipal prosecutors to carry weapons; HB 514, which wouldincrease the salaries of sheriffs; and HB 488, which would increasethe penalties for election crimes.

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, has filed 11 billsso far, but her biggest piece of legislation has yet to berecorded. Later this week, she plans to file an immigration reformbill identical to that passed into law in Arizona, a law that givesthe state authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

“I haven’t (filed) it yet because I had a lot of otherRepublicans who wanted to sign on,” she said.

Currie said she would begin rallying for support of her billonce it’s filed – a task that might not be easy for a first-termRepublican in the Democratic House. She said House Republicanscould petition her bill onto the House floor if the chairman of thecommittee that gets it refuses to bring it up.

“I’d rather not have to do that. I believe all bills deserveequal time for discussion and a vote, and if it lives it lives, andif it dies it dies,” she said.

While Currie readies her own legislation, she also has her eyeon HB 42, the third attempt in as many years by House EducationCommittee Chairman Cecil Brown to move the Mississippi School ofthe Arts from Brookhaven to Columbus. A similar bill was soundlydefeated in 2009 and another died on the calendar last year.

Currie doesn’t believe the third time will be a charm. The costof undertaking such a move will be too great in a tight budgetyear, she said.

“This year, we’re doing a lot of things to save money, and thisbill is not even close,” she said. “We’ve already spent $25 million(on the MSA campus). Why in the world, with the economy today,would we consider starting over to rebuild something the taxpayershave already built?”

Even if HB 42 passed out of the House, its chances of becominglaw may be limited.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, is drumming upopposition to the bill in the event it passes over to the Senate,meeting with select chairmen and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.

“If the bill does come out of the House, it will probably not goanywhere in the Senate,” she said.

So far, Hyde-Smith has only filed one bill in the Senate. SenateBill 2155 would authorize the State Department of Health to issue acertificate of need for 20 nursing beds to an assisted livingfacility planned for Brookhaven by Franklin County builder GayleEvans. The beds would be transferred from an existing facility inAdams County.

“Those are beds that have never been acted upon, that aren’tbeing used at all now,” Hyde-Smith said. “We’re introducing a billto get them here so this facility can go forward.”