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Lawmakers prepare for 2002 legislative session

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
Dec. 31, 2001
State employee pay raises, legislative redistricting and tort reform are among many issues the Mississippi Legislature could consider in its 2002 session.
Some lawmakers say a pay raise could be possible if legislators freeze unfilled positions and cut back on equipment purchases and travel.
The pay raise would come at a time when sluggish state tax revenues have created one of the tightest financial situations for the state in nearly 10 years.
State Rep. Eric Robinson, R-Quitman, said the raise would be based on a projected growth rate of 4.3 percent in tax collections.
Session convenes next week
Six members of the area's legislative delegation met with The Meridian Star editorial board to talk about issues likely to surface during the 90-day session.
When the session begins Jan. 8, lawmakers will face an immediate issue of state finances.
State Rep. Videt Carmichael, D-Meridian, questioned whether any frozen state employee positions are even needed.
Education
Rep. Charles Young, D-Meridian, chairman of the House Universities and Colleges Committee, said the needs of institutions of higher learning would be a priority.
Young said the searches for new presidents of three institutions Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi and Mississippi University for Women are under way. He also said the Legislature must be attentive to other needs of colleges and universities, including faculty pay.
Redistricting
Lawmakers generally agreed that congressional redistricting is far from over, even though Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise approved a map backed by Democrats.
Republicans plan to appeal the chancellor's decision, claiming that the map is slanted in favor of the Democrats.
Mississippi will lose one of its five U.S. House districts next year due to slow population growth. When state legislators failed to redraw congressional district lines in November, the case went to trial.
State Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, added that a three-judge federal panel has said it will consider the redistricting issue Jan. 7.
Snowden also noted that the Legislature will redraw its own districts this year. The Senate will redraw its districts, while the House will redraw its districts.
Tort reform
Lawmakers noted a concern in the medical community about the availability of liability insurance. They said possible changes will be discussed.
Burton said legislators have "talked about the inability of doctors, other medical personnel, nursing homes and other facilities to get insurance at a reasonable price because of the climate in Mississippi for lawsuits for big jury awards."
Area lawmakers also expressed concerns about the state Department of Corrections including the "85 percent sentencing rule" and the house arrest program.
Mississippi law requires prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for early release.
Corrections
Burton labeled the DOC as the "Department of Incarceration," not corrections. Burton and others expressed concern about repeat offenders and the failure of programs in place to reform them.
Snowden pointed out that the 85 percent rule doesn't determine how much prison time someone convicted of a crime will do. It only forces them to serve 85 percent of the time of the sentence.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3217, or e-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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