CL – Special Session update

Legislation that allows the state’s utility regulators to resume full-scale operations is headed to Gov. Haley Barbour as a special legislative session ends today.

House and Senate leaders reached agreement on House Bill 1 and House Bill 2 before leaving the state Capitol this afternoon. The legislation sets budgets for the Public Service Commission and Public Utilities Staff.

It also gives the commission the flexibility to hire more personnel. Commissioners want to hire staff to help them scrutinize utility companies’ financial records and make determinations on consumer-related issues — such as whether utility companies should be allowed to raise rates.

Because of a dispute over staffing levels, the two agencies have been without budgets since the fiscal year began last Wednesday. About 80 state workers have been furloughed since.

The Senate made some changes to the House bill. But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said the changes have the “unanimous” support of the Public Service Commission.

A bill that would provide more funding for the state’s community mental health centers died, though.

House Bill 3 cleared the House amid protests that it should not have been considered because Barbour did not include the item in the session’s agenda.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who oversees the Senate, said it would be unconstitutional to consider the bill.

Mississippi sheriffs are warning that without proper funding, more mental health patients will end up in jails.