Mississippi lawmakers finish budget, end 2014 regular session

Mississippi lawmakers ended their 2014 session Wednesday night after passing the final parts of a state budget for the year that begins July 1.

During the three-month session, they passed a bill designed to make the criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive. They funded a training school for a new group of state troopers. They gave a pay raise to teachers and to some lower-paid state employees who haven’t had a salary bump in the past four years.

They also voted to do drug testing of some welfare recipients, to ban abortion at the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy and to add “In God We Trust” to the state seal.

Moments before the session ended, the House killed a bill that would have banned texting while driving. The bill had passed Tuesday, and Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson, put a procedural hold on the bill late Wednesday. The House voted not to remove that hold, so the bill died when the session ended.

Negotiators spent hours Wednesday working on a final deal to fund transportation projects. In the end, the House and Senate agreed to put an extra $32 million into a program that helps local governments pay for road construction — but only if tax collections continue coming in at a good pace. If the economy slows and tax collections falter, the $32 million would not be spent.

Earlier this week, the House balked at the first proposal for the transportation budget after saying the Senate had inserted $40 million worth of projects. Those included improvements to Mississippi 25 in Rankin County, near Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ home, and $11.2 million to upgrade a bridge on Mississippi 14 in Rolling Fork in the district of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Eugene “Buck” Clarke, R-Hollandale.

In the final agreement, the Senate got to keep those projects and the House got more money for local road construction.