The Mississippi Legislature ends 2017 regular session, will have to return to pass some budgets

UPDATE: 03/29/2017 5:41pm   JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – 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. Lawmakers expect to return before July 1, when the new budget year begins. It’s possible Bryant could ask them to consider other issues such as borrowing for construction projects, rewriting the state school funding formula or finding long-term financing for highways and bridges.

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

“I think you can go home and be proud of what you did this semester,” Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, told the House.

Spending proposals for transportation and the attorney general died because of disputes before a deadline late Monday. House members sought to have some taxes on internet sales directed toward roads and bridges, but Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves balked. Reeves said it is unconstitutional to try to force retailers to collect internet sales taxes, but House members say their plan is legal because it relies only on taxes that sellers voluntarily agree to collect.

Other achievements cited for the session included curtailing public officials’ ability to spend their campaign funds on themselves; enhancing penalties on people who commit crimes against police, firefighters and emergency responders; and changing state death penalty law to make it harder for lawsuits to block executions.

Besides the dispute over transportation funding, other major business left undone included a GOP-touted rewrite of the 20-year-old public school funding formula and agreeing on how to spend economic damages money from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Despite efforts to study Mississippi’s tax system last summer, no major efforts were made for tax reform. Instead, lawmakers struggled with declining revenue and pushed through spending cuts for most agencies. Legislative leaders say they expect some employees will be laid off and some agencies will curtail programs. Democrats blame hundreds of millions in tax cuts that Republicans have enacted since 2012, but Republicans say they’re following voters’ mandate to cut taxes and spending.

“We prioritized state spending on public education and we prioritized state spending on public safety,” Reeves said. He touted $20 million that will pay bonuses to teachers in schools rated A or B or in schools that improved by a letter grade. He also noted lawmakers found enough money to pay to train a new class of state troopers.

Just before leaving the Capitol, House members said farewell to longtime Republican Rep. Mark Formby of Picayune. He is leaving the Legislature to join the three-member Workers Compensation Commission – a post to which he was nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

“I’ve learned that you and I are way more alike than we are different,” Formby told his legislative colleagues.

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 through sixth grade to attend a handful of state-accredited special private schools for children with learning disabilities.

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


Original Story:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi Legislature has ended its 2017 regular session but will have to return later to pass budgets for the attorney general’s office and the Department of Transportation.

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

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.

Just before leaving the Capitol, House members said farewell to longtime Republican Rep. Mark Formby of Picayune. He is leaving the Legislature to join the three-member Workers Compensation Commission.

 

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