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Doty sees two bills head to governor

The Mississippi Legislature ended its 2017 regular session Wednesday, but will have to return later to pass budgets for the attorney general’s office and the Department of Transportation.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant will decide the start date for a special session and set the agenda. The new budget year begins July 1.

Among bills sent to Bryant include two by Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven.

Senate Bill 2680 allows domestic violence to be considered as a ground for divorce in court. Mississippi was one of the few states in the nation that did not specifically outline domestic violence as a ground for divorce.

Senate Bill 2689 brings more transparency to political expenses and places restrictions on spending to campaign-related needs. The bill includes a prohibition on personal expenses, payments to relatives and loans to candidates.

“Getting a bill all the way through the legislative process and to the governor’s desk is never an easy task,” Doty said Wednesday afternoon. “While we may have different constituencies and ideas on how best to address issues, I have no doubt that those I serve with in the Senate are focused on making Mississippi a better place to live and work.

“I appreciate the leadership and support shown by Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, and the sound fiscal policies reflected in the 2018 budget.”  

Spending proposals for transportation and the attorney general died because of disputes before a deadline late Monday.

The House and Senate wrapped up their other work Wednesday, four days before the scheduled end of the three-month session.

Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven, said this was a good session.

“It would have been better if we had taken care of everything in session, but sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we want,” he said. “What I want the people to know is that a special session is not going to cost them anything extra.  We finished the session early and we were able to take five or six Fridays off during session. We’ve got time built up to cover a special session.”

Legislators passed a few final bills Wednesday, including House Bill 1046, which will allow students with dyslexia to keep receiving state money through 12th grade to attend private schools. Under the current program, students can only get state money to attend through sixth grade at a handful of special private schools for children with learning disabilities that are accredited by the state.

Lawmakers had considered expanding the program to allow students to attend more private schools, and to take state aid to schools located outside Mississippi. But House and Senate negotiators stripped those provisions out while settling on the final bill. The Mississippi Department of Education said 160 children statewide currently get the aid.

The Senate continued work to shrink the number of school districts statewide, support children with special needs and strengthening the punishment for certain criminal acts.

Republicans also delivered on a promise to trim state government and lower taxpayers’ debt burden in Fiscal 2018, which begins July 1. Agencies will be forced to operate more efficiently under a $5.6 billion general fund budget.

“Voters sent us to the Capitol to make state agencies live within their means and trim the size of government,” Reeves said. “We’re not going to operate as they do in Washington D.C. and borrow money we cannot afford to pay back. I appreciate the leadership of Gov. Bryant and Speaker (Philip) Gunn as we work together to enact solid, conservative policies for Mississippi.”

For the second time in six years, the session ended without a bond bill, meaning no new projects will be charged to the state’s credit card. Also, the state will pay off about $300 million in debt.

“We’re trying to trim the budget so we can live within our means,” said Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven. “We ran on smaller government and low taxes and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Reductions in agency spending varied from 1 to 14 percent as legislators prioritized public education and public safety and reduced spending in other areas. The budget includes $20 million for the School Recognition Program, which rewards teachers for raising student achievement.

The Department of Public Safety also will host a trooper school to train more highway patrol officers within the next year.

The Legislature also implemented initiatives to find savings in agencies. House Bill 938 places a year-long halt on agency vehicle purchases. Similar moratoriums saved taxpayers $9 million annually.

The effort to reduce the number of boards and commissions continued as both Senate Bill 2572 and House Bill 1330 passed to eliminate those groups that are inactive.

Also, House Bill 1425, the Occupational Board Compliance Act of 2017, removes regulations on licensing agencies and directs them to support job growth in their fields.

Vince Mangold

Sally Doty

Becky Currie