Black Caucus listens to residents

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 1999

The Black Caucus of the Mississippi Legislature hosted a forum Saturday morning at the Alcorn State University School of Nursing to hear the public’s concerns and inform them of gains made in the 1999 session.

&uot;We want to hear the voices of the people so that when we speak in the Legislature, we’re speaking based on the concerns people have told us, not just what we think,&uot;&160;said Rep. Phillip West (D-Natchez), who co-hosted the forum and attended along with 14 other legislators.

Saturday’s forum was the last of five such meetings black lawmakers have held this year. The others were in Laurel, Greenwood, West Point and Biloxi. This is the fifth year the Black Caucus has held the forums.

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Evelyn Hutchins of Natchez, one of about 125 attendees, said she always tries to stay informed about what elected officials are doing.

&uot;But I’m here today to stay more abreast of what’s been taking place in the Legislature,&uot; Hutchins said.

Hayes Harris of Natchez, who also attended last year, said he came to the event to ask questions of local legislators – but one-on-one, not during the question and answer session.

&uot;My main concern is education,&uot;&160;Harris said. &uot;Why can’t some of that tobacco settlement money be set aside for education? Also, why are we one of the few states who don’t have a lottery to help pay for education?&uot;

During much of the forum, several legislators and officials of state departments explained highlights of the fiscal 2000 budget the Legislature passed this year. Several gains were made in education, said Rep. George Flaggs Jr. (D-Vicksburg). They included continued funding of the Adequate Education Program, teacher scholarship programs, teacher pay raises and more building money for state universities.

Gains made in health care included expansion of children’s health insurance, more nursing home beds and more funds for community health care centers, he said.

But legislators still have a long way to go, said Sen. Willie Simmons (D-Cleveland).

For one thing, he said, lawmakers must push for federal funds, tobacco settlement money and gaming revenues to be used to give more benefits to the working poor.

&uot;That would give them access to preventive medicine so that they can continue to be breadwinners for their families,&uot;&160;Simmons said.