Legislative Forum

"I'm concerned as much about his legal gambling, the way it's being forced upon us."

This is what retired pastor Arlis Nichols of Enterprise had to say to lawmakers Tuesday night during a public forum in Meridian sponsored by the Mississippi Legislative Conservative Coalition. Made up of members from the Mississippi House, the half dozen or so members in attendance addressed concerns presented by constituents.

Most of the concerns involved how the state plans to cope with mounting costs and other recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. The proposal to allow coastal casinos to rebuild 800 feet inland was one of the topics discussed. Although the bill has passed in both the Mississippi House and Senate, it's still getting mixed views from lawmakers.

"We worry about people getting addicted to gambling. I think we as a state have sort of become addicted to it also, to the point that we've been convinced that we can't survive without it," says District 43 Rep. Gale Gregory.

"You know all of the votes that we deal with in the legislature; we have to exercise our best judgment on them. We seek the opinions of people we respect but ultimately it's your decision to make one and you have to live with it," says District 83 Rep. Greg Snowden.

Figures for last show that coastal casinos generated more than $75 million for the state and $73 for local governments in taxes last fiscal year.

Meanwhile, as for how the state plans to handle other money matters in the wake of the storm officials say.

"We're in sort of a wait and see right now, "says District 84 Rep. Eric Robinson. "We're waiting to see what the federal government is going to do before we jump in. We don't want to muddy the waters or mess something up. We don't want to spend some money that the federal government might be going to spend on our behalf."

"If there's ever been a time in history when we have to pull together, now is that time," says District 60 Rep. John Moore.

The Legislative Conservative Coalition plans to hold three more forums in other parts of Mississippi. Ultimately, group members say they will use concerns brought up by constituents to help form a preliminary agenda for next year's legislative session.