Legislators Address Budget, Conferences

By  | 

Speaker Billy McCoy said Wednesday the House will release a budget next week that will fully fund public schools, cover a teacher pay raise and pay all costs for state employees' health insurance, and he says they'll do it all without raising taxes.

McCoy said several chairmen have been meeting late into the night the past ten days to dig through budgets to find money to spread around.

Proposals by Gov. Haley Barbour and the Joint Legislative Budget Committee would leave public education about $161 million short for the year that starts July 1.

Barbour also has said he wants to change the state employees' health insurance plan to offer a variety of options. Some of those options could require workers to pay part of their own premiums.

In other business, Mississippi lawmakers Wednesday adopted the final version of rules to let the public attend all conference committee meetings, even those for money bills.

The joint rules of the House and Senate had passed each chamber earlier in slightly different forms. The rules do not need the governor's approval and take effect immediately.

Conference committees consist of three House members and three senators who negotiate final versions of bills.

For decades, conferences were conducted behind closed doors, but those for general bills have been open in Mississippi since 2001.

Appropriations conferences had remained closed because some lawmakers said opening them would complicate their work. The new rules say conferees can't use cell phones or e-mail during their meetings to communicate with lobbyists or other non-legislators about the bills.

But, a majority of conferees can ask a non-legislator to speak at the conference to provide information.