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Miss. legislature working at fast pace

Committees of the House of Representatives worked at a fast pace this week as the 2011 legislative session entered its third week. Our committees face a Feb. 1 deadline to approve or reject the bills that were introduced, and there is a Feb. 10 deadline for original floor action on these proposals.

Many of the general bills have already cleared House committees and began appearing for action before the full House. One high profile bill passing the House this week was HB 455, which will give persons who borrow from “payday lenders” more time to repay their loans and will reduce the high interest rates charged to them. The payday-loan industry employs approximately 3,000 workers in the state. Borrowers will also be provided information about their rights and responsibilities in the transaction.

Advance practice nurses, also known as nurse practitioners, from across the state packed a House public health and welfare committee hearing seeking an end to forced collaboration with physicians.

Nurse practitioners can prescribe certain medicines and often are the only health care providers in some areas of the state. Current law requires that these highly trained nurses sign an agreement with a physician no more than 15 miles from their clinic. Some doctors disapprove of the extra autonomy requested by the nurse practitioners. Almost 20 states do not require a collaborative pact between the nurses and physicians.

The House Appropriations Committee heard from leaders of the state’s eight universities complaints that Congress’ two-year moratorium on special funding known as “earmarks” will cause much financial havoc to the colleges. The lack of earmarks will cost some campuses up to $50 million and could cost the entire IHL system about 1,000 jobs. “People say do more with less, but at some point less is less,” IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds told the committee, which is planning a budget for FY 2012.

Legislative leaders and the American Cancer Society had a smoke free day at the Capitol to highlight the diseases and high costs caused by tobacco products. The evidence from three health officials shows second hand smoke impacts all ages, but especially young children prone to asthma attacks and airborne illnesses.

A CDC official pointed out that separate seating sections and “filtered” air have no impact on making a place smoke free. A restaurant official opined that this is government interference with private business and said that people choose where they want to eat.

The battle over illegal immigration, expected to be one of the hottest issues during this session, passed the full Senate and moved to the House for consideration. The Senate version is similar to that in Arizona giving law enforcement officers the right to check persons they suspect of being here illegally.

A bill that would authorize a distinctive car tag to commemorate the 2009 NFL championship of the New Orleans Saints and that would help the Infinity program in Hancock County passed the ways and means committee and the full House. HB 705 would award $44 of the $50 license tag fee to Infinity, which is an interactive science center being built as a partnership with the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County. It is a $40 million, 72,000-square foot facility located on 200 acres adjacent to the welcome center at Exit 2 on I-10.

The House apportionment and elections committee passed out HB 853 to validate the state’s current four congressional district lines. The committee also expressed hopes it will have U.S. Census information in time to allow legislators to avoid a special session later this year, and to have just one round of legislative elections

On Monday, Gov. Haley Barbour announced celebrations beginning May 22, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides and Freedom Summer of 1961. More than 165 of the original Freedom Riders who played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights Movement have been contacted, and about 125 are currently planning to attend events in Mississippi, which was the epicenter of the 1960s movement aimed at securing voting rights.

Barbour made the announcement while addressing a ceremony on the holiday set aside to honor the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Barbour noted “school integration did not put an end to racial problems or prejudice. However, the 100-plus Freedom Riders participating in the 2011 celebration will find Mississippi an enormously changed state as to race relations.”

Rep. Angela Cockerham is a Democrat from Magnolia representing a portion of Adams County in the Mississippi House.

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