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Before Thursday’s special session on transportation began, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves warned legislators could be in Jackson days or even a week to address the issues Gov. Phi Bryant placed on the agenda.
On Friday, the House and Senate adjourned for the weekend with all of those agenda items progressing – albeit slowly – through the legislative process.
When legislators convene at the state Capitol Monday, they still will be working to enact a lottery and to pass the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act, which diverts a portion of state use tax funds to local governments for infrastructure needs and issues $300 million in debt for transportation needs on both the state and local level.
Both the lottery and the use tax bond bills have passed both chambers of the Legislature, but in differing forms. On Monday, one chamber will have to agree to accept the changes made in the other chamber of go to conference to try to work out the differences from the two chambers.
Enacting a lottery has elicited the most debate during the first two days of the special session.
After little floor debate in the Senate on Thursday night, the House passed an amended version of the Senate’s lottery proposal on Friday by a vote of 71-43.
Democratic House members raised many of the same concerns the Senate did on Thursday night, including concerns over the bill’s rushed process, unanswered questions, lack of transparency practices, and general confusion over key elements of the proposal.
“This is too important a bill to not debate it,” said Bob Evans, D-Monticello. “It’s just not the way to do something that’s gonna have a lasting effect on this state. This is not what this body is supposed to do. I wasn’t sure how I was going to vote, but because of the lack of discussion we’ve had, I’m going to vote against it.”
Several amendments unexpectedly passed on voice votes. Some of the amendments were introduced by Democrats, including Rep. David Baria, who is running for U.S. Senate this fall against Sen. Roger Wicker. These amendments included:
• Loosening restrictions on video lottery games that could be played in truck stops and gas stations – contradicting the governor’s stated desire of tightening those same restrictions and serving as a scare to the powerful casino lobby.
• Directing any lottery revenue over $80 million per year to the existing pre-kindergarten fund, the Early Childhood Learning Collaborative.
• Depositing lottery revenue into the Education Enhancement Fund for the purpose of providing funding for the existing Classroom Supply Fund.
• Changing the name of the bill to the “Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Law,” named after Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, the veteran lawmakers who has unsuccessfully authored bills that would create a state lottery for 16 straight sessions.
Republican leaders refused to consider amendments to the House bill at the Gaming Committee meeting earlier in the day, and they limited floor debate to the minimum times required under the rules.
The House did take out a controversial Senate proposal that would exempt the group selected by the governor to oversee the lottery from the state’s public records and meetings laws. Bryant said he supported that move.
The Legislature is in session – to a large degree – because of the about 500 county bridges closed throughout the state because of safety reasons.
Of the proposal to help the counties with those bridges, Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said, “This is not a quick fix, but it will provide a fix – to a degree.”
The money the counties with bridge needs will have the opportunity to access the quickest if the legislation becomes law is from the $250 million fund established by issuing bonds or incurring debt. The money in the fund will be controlled by the Mississippi Transportation Commission with input from an advisory committee consisting of private sector members, such as the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Mississippi Economic Council.
That money could be available this fall, but some county government leaders expressed concern that the Transportation Commission would focus on fixing state needs instead of helping them with their infrastructure woes.
In total, if finally passed, the program will provide more than $100 million annually for the local governments when fully enacted in four years and about $100 million per year eventually from a lottery and other items for the state transportation system.
Earlier the Mississippi Department of Transportation said an additional $400 million per year is needed to deal with state transportation system problems.