Optimism and Pessimism in Jackson

By: George McDonald
By: George McDonald

It seemed like a simple enough proposal; Gov. Haley Barbour called lawmakers back to Jackson for their third special session of the year. He wanted them to approve $108 million in bonds for economic-development projects.

Barbour said it would take a day or two. Now, nearly two weeks later, legislators are still in Jackson and the tab for the session is approaching $430,000.

"The senate has invited conference, which means there's a conference committee now of three senators and three representatives, that are negotiating the differences between the two bodies," said Rep. Greg Snowden of Meridian, who represents District 83.

The bill passed by the House covers the $108 million requested by Gov. Haley Barbour for a number of economic development projects across the state.

It also includes bond money for other matters, usually handled by lawmakers during their regular session.

"In the regular session back in January through May of this year, the regular bond package that included the universities' bond money, the community colleges, the roads, bridges, fire truck funds, all that unfortunately died," said Rep. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, who represents District 101. "So we didn't do any regular bonding during the regular session as we have in years past."

After crossing the hurdle of what should be included in the special session, the conference committee became necessary after Barbour threatened to veto the bill because of minority set-aside provisions that he says amounts to unacceptable racial quotas.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson says the set-asides are optional, not mandatory, leaving legislators hopeful that conferees can reach an agreement soon concerning the measure.

If they can agree, then Snowden and Fillingane say there should be something to vote on when lawmakers go back in session Monday.

A few optimists believe the session could wrap up Monday or Tuesday, but other lawmakers say there's no end in sight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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