Ceremony dictates Legislature’s start

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 9, 2002

The Associated Press

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

JACKSON (AP) – Legislators saw little action on the opening

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day of their 2002 session, but starting Wednesday they’ll seek

solutions to budget problems.

First up: A House subcommittee meets to discuss a Medicaid

shortfall of at least $124.6 million for the current fiscal year.

House Appropriations Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, said

the deficit might be larger for the agency that covers health

care costs for the needy, aged, blind and disabled.

”It’s just mind boggling,” Capps said.

The Department of Corrections is seeking $15.1 million to cover

a shortfall, but Capps said that won’t be a priority.

Speaker Tim Ford and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck gaveled the House and

Senate to order at noon Tuesday, kicking off a three-month session

with policy options limited by a slumping economy and a tight


Besides patching holes in the current year’s budget, lawmakers

are setting spending levels for fiscal 2003, which starts July


Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has promised to outline his budget ideas

in his State of the State address early in the session. Ford said

the governor probably will give the speech in the next two weeks.

Legislators next week are expected to adopt a resolution supporting

a proposed $500 million settlement to a 27-year-old college desegregation


U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. has said he’ll approve

the settlement only if legislators say they support it.

Mississippi over 17 years would pay cash, issue bonds and establish

endowments to help its three historically black universities.

Plaintiffs say the schools have suffered from decades of neglect.

House Universities and Colleges Chairman Charles Young, D-Meridian,

said he expects smooth sailing for a resolution supporting the

settlement that was proposed last spring.

”We need to go on and be about the business of educating our

people,” Young said.

As lawmakers filed into the Capitol on Tuesday, about 65 nursing

home employees from around the state sought support for legislation

to tighten rules on lawsuits and jury awards.

”We are being hit by a landslide of lawsuits by out-of-state

trial lawyers who are capitalizing on loopholes in existing law

to manufacture claims,” said Lissa Collins, administrator of

Yazoo City Health and Rehabilitation Center.

In a later interview, David Baria of Jackson, president-elect

of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, said he didn’t know

what Collins meant by ”loopholes.” He said attorneys who sue

nursing homes don’t manufacture cases, and they must verify the

medical claims they make.

”The tort reformers often use slogans and they don’t really

have any basis for what they’re saying,” Baria said.

The House and Senate met only briefly on their opening day,

but many members lingered in the Capitol to catch up with friends

they hadn’t seen for weeks. Lawmakers met in special session in

early November.

The West Jones High School choir, more than 100 strong, serenaded

Capitol visitors with patriotic numbers. The teen-agers also helped

open the House session with ”The Star Spangled Banner.”

Rep. May Whittington, D-Schlater, reminded House members that

legislators are building a Habitat for Humanity House this week

and next in Jackson. She said she’d be helping install a floor

Tuesday, and she implored her colleagues to show up and help.

”I’ve never put a floor in before,” Whittington said. ”But

what the heck – I need to learn sometime.”