House OKs toll-road law before hitting road

The Mississippi House on Wednesday quickly approved bills that tweak a toll-road law and keep the state’s employment agency open, but its key leaders left the Capitol unwilling to return until Medicaid funding woes are added to the agenda next week.

Their abrupt departure after a 67-50 vote on the first day of a special session called by Gov. Haley Barbour leaves most of his other proposals unresolved.

Although the House reauthorized the state Department of Employment Security, Senate Republicans refused to accept the bill because it mandates the agency’s review in another year. They are expected to debate the legislation again today.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said Barbour’s “extended list has the potential to drag the session on for days, costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars each day.” He also objected to the omission of a bill that would hike the state’s $210-per-week unemployment benefits, the lowest in the nation.

House Democrats dropped their demand that the employment agency bill include accountability for advertising contracts, even though millions of dollars have been spent on contracts using no-bid processes and politically-connected companies. They then led the charge to leave four hours after the session began, frustrated that Barbour did not give more notice of the agenda.

Many are “sick and tired of being kicked around and being manipulated. They want to do business or go home,” said House Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville. Most House Republicans voted to keep working.

Senators also approved a bill that would limit the expansion of casinos, but House Gaming Committee Chairman Bobby Moak said it will die in his committee.

Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said Senate leaders held hostage a House bill that would give casinos incentives to build nongaming attractions.

Pay raises for Mississippi Supreme Court justices, judges and district attorneys stalled in a Senate committee after legislators questioned using Hurricane Katrina money to fund them. The raises would cost $3 million, Senate Fees and Salaries Committee Chairman Terry Brown said.

House Fees and Salaries Committee Chairman Linda Coleman, D-Mound Bayou, said the measure would die in her committee.

Barbour has said Medicaid funding issues could be added to the agenda.

Clarion Ledger
5/22/8