Legislators expect busy 2000 session

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 3, 2000

Local legislators are expecting a packed house for the opening of the 2000 Legislative session this morning in Jackson.

House members are expecting a full chamber today as the representatives cast their votes for either Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove or Republican challenger Mike Parker as the next governor of Mississippi – locked in a dead heat since the Nov. 2 election.

&uot;Hopefully I can get through the door to get in and cast my vote,&uot; said Rep. Phillip West (D-Natchez). &uot;There will probably be people there early in the morning.&uot;

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&uot;Hopefully the room will clear out after the vote and we can get down to business,&uot; said Dist. 95 Rep. Andrew Ketchings.

Sen. Bob M. Dearing (D-Natchez) agreed with Ketchings’ desire to get down to business.

&uot;When the house answers the roll call, and says who they’re going to vote for, then everyone can get down to work,&uot; Dearing said.

Meeting with the Senate PEER committee on Monday, Dearing said much of the attention of the first day will likely go to settling the issue of the state’s new governor.

Returning representatives from the southwest region of the state recognize that the early hours of the new session will be consumed with &uot;housekeeping&uot; duties such as electing officers and setting up operational framework for the session, Dearing said.

&uot;We’ll get down to work electing a secretary of the Senate and other housekeeping,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve always gone in very optimistic, regardless of who the governor and lieutenant governor are.&uot;

Dearing is looking at some pressing local issues in this term.

&uot;We’ve got some local issues that the mayor and attorney Walter Brown have been talking to the Adams County delegation about,&uot; he said.

Dearing said he would be pre- filing bills Monday to fund security at the Visitor’s Center, and appropriate money to extend the Natchez Trace Parkway into downtown Natchez.

Following through on four-laning projects on U.S. 84 and U.S. 61 is also high on Dearing’s &uot;to do&uot; list.

&uot;Work is progressing very well on both of those,&uot; he said.

Open primaries and tax reform are likely to be hot statewide issues for this term, Dearing said.

&uot;Just saying we’re going to have an income tax cut or sales tax cut is all well and good, but the budget process depends on the sales tax around the state,&uot; he said.

Opening up the tax codes can allow for dangerous precedents that could injure the state’s financial health, he said.

On Friday, Dearing will learn which committee assignments he will have for this term in office. He has requested appropriations, public health, highways, insurance, oil and gas committees.

West said he is focused on getting good jobs for District 94.

&uot;I’m trying to identify and perhaps pass some legislation that would facilitate economic development in terms of quality jobs in the district I represent,&uot; West said.

An equally important priority for West is education.

&uot;Education is always a priority,&uot; he said.

&uot;I’m going to try to be a part of any legislation as it relates to improving quality of pay for teachers and more specifically innovative ideas to provide for a better learning environment for all the children.&uot;

Ketchings said Monday that he is going to Jackson with jobs on his mind, too.

&uot;Whoever takes Jimmy Heidel’s place, I’d like our delegation to set up a meeting with them,&uot; Ketchings said, referring to the outgoing director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development.

Before Heidel left, Ketchings said the Adams County area &uot;just got to the point where we were getting business prospects from the state.&uot;

Ketchings said he is concerned that if Ronnie Musgrove is elected that he will replace too many people at the Department of Economic and Community Development, erasing years of networking within the department.

Sen. Robert L. Johnson, III (D-Natchez) has also placed economic development and education as his top priorities in the next term.

Among the educational issues Johnson hopes to address are elected school boards and appointed superintendents for school districts across the state, and a move away from &uot;zero tolerance&uot; discipline policies.

&uot;There can be no hard and fast rules on everything,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;Kids are different, and you must make adjustments accordingly.&uot;

Mississippi does not spend enough of its money on education, he said.

&uot;We want our best minds going into education,&uot; Johnson said, and current teacher pay does not reflect the priority status education deserves.