Lottery, mergers die in legislature

Published 11:43 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2010

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippians won’t get to vote on a lottery this year, and none of the universities will be forced to merge.

The proposals were among those that died as Mississippi legislators passed their first major deadline of the 2010 session.

Tuesday was the final day for committees to act on bills filed in each chamber. The surviving bills move to the full House or Senate for more debate.

With the state in a budget crunch because of lagging revenues, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour had proposed merging Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State and merging the three historically black universities into one school, with Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley becoming part of Jackson State.

The proposal angered students and alumni, including hundreds of supporters of Alcorn State, Valley and Jackson State who marched on the Capitol last week.

Senate Universities Committee Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said legislators weren’t convinced that combining universities is a good idea now.

‘‘I still think that there is a belief that we can continue to serve eight universities, even though we’re in a tough economy,’’ Davis said Tuesday.

A bill filed by Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, would have let people vote in November on whether to create a state lottery to help pay for college scholarships. Clarke said she’s tired of seeing Mississippians going to Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee to play lotteries when she believes that money should be spent at home.

Her bill died because the House Gaming Committee didn’t bring it up for a vote. The committee discussed the bill Monday, but only five of 15 members attended — not enough for a quorum.

Other controversial proposals are still alive, including a bill that would move the Mississippi School of the Arts out of Brookhaven and put it on the Mississippi University for Women campus in Columbus. The state’s other public, residential high school — Mississippi School for Math and Science — is on the MUW campus.

Brookhaven civic leaders say moving the arts school would hurt the local economy and would not save the state money, but Barbour and some lawmakers see the proposed move as a way to trim expenses.

Bills that angered some funeral directors also died under Tuesday’s deadline. The House and Senate bills would have waived the exam requirement for reinstatement of a funeral services license for anyone whose license has been expired at least five years. The bills would’ve directed the state Board of Funeral Services to reinstate the person’s license when the person reapplies and pays a fee of no more than $500.

Charles Riles of Vicksburg, chairman of the state Board of Funeral Services, said the bills were written to help one politically connected person in central Mississippi who was trying to return to the funeral business after having been out of it for a few years. He said no one should get a special exemption to the rules others follow.

‘‘That would destroy funeral services as we know it,’’ Riles said.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who’s a funeral director, said Tuesday that embalming hasn’t changed much since he was first licensed in 1979.

‘‘There’s not much more this guy could learn about embalming,’’ Holland said of the man who could’ve gotten the exemption from taking an exam.

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The bills are Senate Bills 2794, 2701 and 2710; House Bills 337 and 599; Senate Bill 2924 and House Bill 649.