Budget, Etc., on Table

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Lawmakers have filed dozens of bills designed to do everything from turn down the volume on television commercials to force kids to respect their teachers.

There's even one to force counties to fly the state flag or lose their homestead exemption.

House Appropriations Committee chairman Charlie Capps said those kind of issues don't amount to much and lawmakers are focused on trying to find a way to survive on limited funds.

The purpose of some bills are to make a point rather than force a change.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Johnnie Walls would eliminate the death penalty for those who are mentally handicapped, as the state of Texas did in 2001.

House Speaker Tim Ford said legislators are likely to leave that decision to the courts.

Higher education officials hope the Senate will act swiftly on a bill freeing up $7 million for program enhancements at two historically black universities.

The House voted last week to send legislation to the Senate to allocate funds to Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State. U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers, Jr., froze the funds in 2000 because he said he didn't think the money was being spent as he wanted. He approved the funds for Jackson State University.

Biggers signed a settlement of the case in February 2002, a month after the Mississippi Legislature pledged to fulfill its requirements.

Assistant higher education commissioner Pam Smith said Biggers now has a clear sense of how the money will be spent. She says lawmakers should act quickly so the universities can use the money this year.

The money will be used to make upgrades in Alcorn's nursing, teacher education, math and sciences and computer science programs.

The money will be spent on biology, chemistry, computer science, math and special education programs at Mississippi Valley.

Smith said the program improvements will meet accreditation criteria and the demands of growing student bodies at both schools.

The $503 million settlement remains tied up in appeals before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Higher education officials say the appeals are slowing down some work and delaying other projects at the three schools.