Special funds sweep patch passes House

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Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Legislators at work in the Mississippi House.

 

The House of Representatives passed a Senate bill on Wednesday designed to resolve problems arising from legislation passed last year that swept millions in special funds into the state’s general fund.

Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, presented Senate Bill 2625 and said it would fix some of the unintended consequences of the sweeps law.  After debate, the bill passed on a 84-33 vote.

The bill adjusts language to free up around $9 million in funds that cannot be spent as a result of rulings by Attorney General Jim Hood’s office.

The 2016 law, often referred to as the “sweeps law,” immediately pulled $187 million of fees and assessments from some agencies’ special funds into the general fund. The law also eliminated inter-agency transfers, such as one agency charging another for rent or technological support.

In a roughly 50-minute debate, several representatives brought up how the 2016 law affected the state’s trauma care system.

Originally, the trauma care system was directly funded by a variety of funds and fees assessed for what was deemed “risky behavior” by the Legislature, like speeding tickets or ATV purchases.

These “criminal assessment” fees included moving vehicle violations, which comprise a third of the $22 million trauma care system budget annually, as well as the entirety of the $2 million emergency medical systems budget. The other two-thirds of trauma care fees remained untouched.

When asked by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, about the system’s sustainability moving forward, Barker said he was not entirely confident.

“I think it will be sustained, but will it have the resources to maintain the same quality of excellence 20 years from now? I hope,” Barker said.

Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, questioned Barker about the use of special funds and described the legislation as a bad bill, adding she wished the sweeps law never passed. Barker replied “a first down is better than nothing,” reiterating his point that fixing some of the problems was better than nothing at all.

Barker continued with his football analogy towards the end of the debate, urging his colleagues to vote for the bill if they were concerned about the repercussions of the sweeps bill.

“If you’re concerned about that, you want to vote for this bill. It doesn’t fix every consequence of (SB) 2362, but it does fix a lot,” Barker said. “And so you want to move the ball down the field even though you can’t get all the way to the endzone in one year.”