Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mississippi Insurance Department on filing storm-related claims

Here's a press release from Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney that we received yesterday.

Mike Chaney, Commissioner of Insurance/State Fire Marshal
Mississippi Insurance Department
Jackson, Mississippi
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
For additional information, please contact
Donna J. Cromeans, Public Relations Director 601-359-3569

Staying Warm While Dealing with Storm Damage
MID offers tips on filing damage claims and cold weather fire safety

Jackson, MS * Mississippians dealing with assessing the damage from last night’s storms face more hardships in the coming days with icy conditions and snow predicted tonight and tomorrow. Commissioner of Insurance and State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney offers the following information on filing damage claims and urges caution as deadly heating fires become more of a real possibility as citizens find ways to stay warm.

If you suffered damage from last night’s storms:

* Contact the agent that sold you the policy. If you have trouble reaching your agent contact the company or the Mississippi Insurance Department (MID) at 1-800- 562-2957. Victims should go ahead and get their insurance company’s name and policy number to speed up the claim process.

* Keep all receipts for expenses for any damages to your home.

* Be careful before you enter any damaged property and be careful of escaping natural gas, live electrical wires and collapses.

* Take pictures of any damages before you repair both inside and outside. If possible, make temporary repairs to your property to prevent further losses.

The icy conditions and snow predicted tonight and tomorrow make deadly heating fires become more of a real possibility as citizens find ways to stay warm. Mississippians are strongly urged to take extreme precautions in the heating methods they use.

“Two of the most important things for people to remember are to exercise good common sense in finding heat sources and to make sure the smoke alarms in their homes are functioning properly. Unfortunately we are still seeing more fire related deaths in the state and too many of these deaths and fires are caused by faulty heating equipment or people using ill-advised methods to stay warm,” Chaney said.

The State Fire Marshal Division of the MID recommends the following cold weather fire safety tips:

* All heating equipment should be UL® approved and cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional prior to being used each year.

* Remember to keep clothes, drapes, people, and anything else combustible at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment especially space heaters.

* Inspect the power cord for damage, fraying or heat. If the cord inspection reveals any of these issues, the heater should be replaced. Proper cleaning is essential and should be done regularly.

* Never use space heaters while you sleep, when you are away from home, or in areas where children may be without adult supervision.

* Always unplug space heaters when they are not in use. The heater should also be equipped with a tip over shut-off switch.

* Use only traditional heating equipment. Never use a gas range to heat living spaces. Kerosene is a poor choice for heating as it will give off poisonous fumes.

If, in the event of a power outage and a fireplace must be used as a heating source additional tips include:

* Have flues cleaned and inspected by qualified personnel

* Have a spark screen that is age appropriate for all individuals using any area to be heated by a fireplace

* Burn only approved materials in a fire place or wood burning stove; never burn paper or trash in a fireplace or wood burning stove.

* Keep all flammable materials at least 36 inches away from the fire place

Should a fire break out in the home, have an emergency evacuation plan for the family to follow and have a designated meeting place for all family members. Once everyone is outside the burning home, call 911 and DO NOT RE-ENTER THE HOUSE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!!!

For more information concerning cold weather fire safety contact the State Fire Marshal Division of the MID.


Donna J. Cromeans
Public Relations Director
Mississippi Insurance Department
Cell - (601)826-9600

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney on Holiday Credit Insurance

Earlier this week, we received a press release from Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney giving advice on choosing whether or not to purchase credit insurance during the holiday season:

Mike Chaney, Commissioner of Insurance/State Fire Marshal
Mississippi Insurance Department
Jackson, Mississippi
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
For additional information, please contact
Donna J. Cromeans, Public Relations Director 601-359-3569

Credit Insurance Not Always Best for Holiday Shoppers

Jackson - For many Americans, the holiday shopping season officially begins on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving. At a time when many consumers are worried about paying for even their most basic needs, it's tempting to use credit to buy holiday presents. Many credit card companies know that, and are using the season to offer credit insurance for your account.

Credit insurance is insurance that is sold in conjunction with a credit obligation or loan. If you lose your job or become unable to work due to some type of disability -- and these events prevent you from making the necessary loan payments -- credit insurance protects the lender from your inability to repay the loan by making payments to the lender on your behalf.

“With today’s volatile economy, smart management of your credit is a vital step in your financial survival,” Commissioner of Insurance Mike Chaney said.

The Mississippi Insurance Department (MID) offers this advice to help you make a decision about your needs before purchasing credit insurance.

Before deciding to buy credit insurance from a lender, think about your needs, your options and the rates you are able to pay. Consider these questions before signing the application:

* How much is the premium?
* Will the premium be financed as part of the loan? If so, will it increase your loan amount and cause you to pay additional interest?
* Can you pay the premium monthly instead of financing the entire premium as part of your loan?
* How much lower would your monthly loan payment be without the credit insurance?
* Will the insurance cover the full length of your loan and the full loan amount?
* What are the limits and exclusions on payment of benefits? (Spell out exactly what's covered and what's not.)
* Is there a waiting period before the coverage becomes effective?
* If you have a co-borrower, what coverage does he or she have and at what cost?
* Can you cancel the policy? If so, what kind of refund is available and are there penalties?

Before purchasing credit insurance, check to see what a traditional term life insurance or disability insurance policy would cost. You might decide it is less expensive to purchase traditional life insurance or disability insurance rather than purchasing credit insurance.

Watch for aggressive sales tactics and make sure you understand all of the documents you sign. If you have any questions about the coverage or the company selling the coverage, contact the Mississippi Insurance Department at 800-562-2957. For more detailed information on credit insurance visit the Consumer Alerts page of the MID website at

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heights-Avenues Neighborhood Association Reorganizes

Tuesday night, I had the privilege attending the first meeting of the reorganized Heights-Avenues Neighborhood Association. This association expands on the previous Emerson-Pearl Neighborhood Association and represents the interests of residents living between N. 25th Avenue to Hutchinson, from Hardy Street to West 4th Street.

The turnout was amazing. It probably trumped any neighborhood association meeting I've attended thus far. Even better was the fact that the turnout was very diverse in terms of race and owner/renter. Monica Hayes, professor of theater at Southern Miss, was elected president of the neighborhood association.

Hopefully, the momentum of this new effort in the North Avenues will continue to grow. Neighborhood associations have experienced a renaissance in the last few years thanks to the efforts of Ms. Maxine Coleman, who works for the city of Hattiesburg, as well as the individual city councilmen. Neighborhood associations are definitely a competitive advantage for the city, especially when residents take ownership over the initiative.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Gas Effect

Over the last day, gas prices in Hattiesburg have jumped 80 cents.

I spoke with Meredith this morning at the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office, which thankfully was working on Saturday. It seems that price increases are hitting the entire southeastern United States. The latest estimates indicate that 20% of the country's oil production comes out of the Gulf Coast, and those operations were interrupted by Hurricane Ike.

In Jackson, some gas prices have hit $5/gallon. For full disclosure, however, it does appear that retailers are paying the same increase from their wholesale distributors. These wholesale price increases are hitting independent gas stations just as hard.

Still, we need to make sure that price gouging is not occurring in our state. If you have a question or wish to report possible price gouging, call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Agency at 601-359-4230. If you wish to report a specific station having high prices, you can email me the name of the station, location, price per gallon, time and date of the price. I'll be glad to pass it on to the AG's office for you.

It's important not to panic. Prices will fall again over the next few days as operations pick back up in the Gulf. However, the shock over gas price increases in just one day is totally understandable, and I'll be glad to help in any way possible. As this instance passes, we need to seriously look at some sort of long-term plan to prevent every storm that blows into the Gulf from becoming a major disruption.

And in the end, we need to keep it in perspective. While we're experiencing some minor inconveniences, there are thousands of people on the Texas coast who are dealing with major losses of property, and in the worst cases, life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gustav; Insurance Claim Information

I received this from Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney late this morning.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney wanted you to have this information and telephone numbers to help you provide assistance to your constituents. If you need any further information please don’t hesitate to call on the Mississippi Insurance Department for assistance.

MEMA Public Information Line: 866-519-MEMA.
MS road info MDOT: 866-521-MDOT (6368).
Lousiana road info LDOT:800-469-4828
Lousiana shelter info 225-358-5361
Volunteer information: 1-866-472-8265

Gulf Coast Office of the Mississippi Insurance Department
The MID Coast Office is mobilized and will be available to answer consumer questions and offer assistance in filing claims. To contact the MID Coast Office call 228-867-2202 and 228-867-2203.

Also, check the Mississippi Insurance Department website, which will be updated as information comes in.

The web address is:

Here Are The Known Points of Distribution Sites: Food, water and ice will be distributed to residents in Hancock and Harrison counties beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday from points of distribution sites from the following locations:

Harrison County:
* Crossroads Mall, U.S. Highway 49, north of Interstate 10,

* Menge Avenue, and Second Street, Pass Christian.
* Yankee Stadium, corner of Lee and Division streets, Biloxi.
* Rite Aid parking lot, 4031 Pops Ferry road, D’Iberville.

Hancock County :
* The Kiln ball field 18324 Highway 43, Kiln.
* Kmart, at the Fred’s old parking lot, 3044 highway 90, Waveland.

Here are insurance claim reporting numbers for your constituents:

Allstate suggests homeowners carefully inspect their homes after a catastrophe for damage. Allstate Insurance Company customers whose homes or automobiles have been damaged or destroyed can contact Allstate through The Good Hands
Network by calling their Allstate agent, dialing 1-800-54-STORM, or visiting

Farmers HelpPoint at 1-800-435-7764.

LLOYD’S of LONDON (Mostly Commercial Claims)
Lloyd's has taken the decision to activate its special hurricane helpline (866-264-2533) for the ease of Lloyd's policyholders in contacting Lloyd's. There will be a special announcement on Lloyd's web site as well.

Claim reporting number 1-800-421-3535.

Customers should contact their local agent or call 800 SF CLAIM.

Claim reporting centers are prepared to take claims 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Customers should report claims directly to Travelers at the numbers listed below. The company asks that they receive claim reports as quickly as possible so that they may provide the best possible response.
* Home, Auto and Boat/Yacht: 800.CLAIM33 (800.252.4633)
* Business: 800.238.6225
* Flood: 800.505.0193

Hurricane mitigation tips for customers are also available on the Claim Services area of the Traveler’s Web site


Policy holders should call this number to report a claim:

A claim can also be filed through the internet at:

If someone has a question concerning a claim that has already been reported they can call one of the following numbers for assistance:

601-957-3200, 601-977-4110, 601-977-4102
601-977-4106, 601-977-4196, 601-977-4103

All the numbers to report claims and contact information are posted on the website.

General Questions/Customer Service: 1-800-754-6919

For new claims:
Fax: 1-877-786-7275

Gustav Update; Second Special Medical Needs Center Open in Hattiesburg

Just in from the Mississippi Department of Health...

Mississippi State Department of Health

News Release
For Immediate Release

Contact: Liz Sharlot, Carol Jarvis Jones, Elizabeth Grey or Matt Staggs - Office of Communications 601-576-7667

Date: September 2, 2008
Time: 1:30 p.m.

Mississippi State Department of Health to Open Second State Special Medical Needs Shelter at Pearl River Community College (Forrest County Center)

Today the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) opened the second state shelter for Mississippians with Special Medical Needs at Pearl River Community College (Forrest County Center), 5448 U.S. Hwy. 49 in Hattiesburg.

Another state Special Medical Needs Shelter remains open on the campus of Hinds Community College in Raymond.

Directions to both state Special Medical Needs Shelters are available by calling Mississippi 2-1-1 or by visiting the MSDH website at

Special Medical Needs Shelters are available to citizens who suffer from a health or medical condition that meets the following criteria:
• Individuals who are in need of assistance for routine care such as eating, walking and using the bathroom.
• Individuals who require ambulatory care, with or without the use of assistive devices.
• Individuals in need of assistance for managing health care, including taking medications or using medical equipment.
• Individuals with the following stable or non-complicated medical issues: diabetes, Foley catheter maintenance, medication maintenance, blood pressure monitoring, severe arthritis, naso-gastric or gastrostomy tubes (home maintenance), ostomy, Alzheimer’s Disease, stable stroke, stable cardiac, stable cancer, stable oxygen and nebulizer therapy (e.g. COPD, Asthma), dressings (must have nursing care plan and supplies) and hospice, if there are no complex issues.

Special Medical Needs Shelters – Page 2

• Other individuals with disabilities including those who are blind, hearing impaired, mobility impaired or with any minor medical condition not listed above.

Residents may bring a caregiver with them to the shelter. The caregiver may be a family member or a healthcare provider. Those persons who are bedridden and require total care may be admitted to a Special Medical Needs Shelter if they are accompanied and cared for by a responsible caregiver and do not require a hospital bed. Conditions in the Special Medical Needs Shelters require that individuals be able to safely sleep on a cot or mat.

Individuals with medical conditions that require more complex care than is available at a Special Needs Medical Shelter should make arrangements with their physician for admission to a hospital or nursing facility.

Residents should bring their medication, medical supplies and equipment along with the contact information of their physician, pharmacy and, if applicable, oxygen supplier. At least seven days of prescription and non-prescription medication and oxygen, if used, is needed.

Additionally, residents should bring important papers and telephone numbers, sheets, blankets and pillows, personal hygiene items, non-perishable special dietary items, personal snacks and drinks, and a flashlight and batteries.

Single parents with young children who qualify for a Special Medical Needs Shelter may bring the children with them if no other plans can be made for their care.

There are no provisions for pets at this shelter with the exception of service animals. Service animals will be allowed inside the residents’ shelter area.
- 30 -

For more information on hurricane preparedness and safety, or if you would like to volunteer during emergencies, visit the MSDH website at or call us 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-HLTHY4U (1-866-458-4948).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Gustav Information; Dialysis/Medical Needs Info

Mississippi State Department of Health

Media Alert
For Immediate Release

Contact: Liz Sharlot, Carol Jarvis Jones, Elizabeth Grey or Matt Staggs - Office of Communications 601-576-7667

Date: August 31, 2008
Time: 12:45 p.m.


Dialysis patients with concerns about maintaining their routine dialysis schedule or the availability of dialysis facilities for evacuees should call the transient treatment travel line toll-free at 1-877-936-9260.

Special Medical Needs Shelters

At this time, the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) has opened one state special medical needs shelter at Hinds Community College, 501 Main Street in Raymond.

MSDH will advise the media when additional shelters are opened.

Anyone needing transportation to a special medical needs shelter should call their local emergency management agency or Mississippi 2-1-1.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gustav; Important Phone Numbers

Red Cross:

MDOT Traffic Information Line:

MEMA Public Information Line:

Gustav; Updated Shelter List

As of 3:00 a.m., Sunday, August 31, 2008:


Central UMC, 1004 23rd Ave., Meridian (Lauderdale County)
Batesville First Baptist Church, 104 Panola Ave., Batesville (Panola County) (Pet
Richland High School gym, Hwy 49, Richland (Rankin County)
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 13146 Hwy 51 South, Hazlehurst
Highland Baptist Church, 505 North Jackson St., Crystal Springs
First Baptist Church, Caldwell Dr., Hazlehurst
Sylvarena Baptist Church, Sylvarena Road, Wesson


Family Y, 3719 Veteran Memorial Drive
Forrest Co. Multi Purpose Ctr., Highway 49 South
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 1101 North Main Street
Petal Civic Center, 712 South Main Street
Oak Grove Sr. High School, 5198 Old Highway 11
Perry Central High School, Highway 98 (New Augusta)
Beaumont Attendance Center, 1300 Beaumont-Brooklyn Rd. (Beaumont)
Magnolia Baptist Church, 1040 Wansley Road, Laurel (Jones County)


St. Martin East Elementary, 7605 Rose Farm Rd., Ocean Springs
Vancleave High School, 12412 Hwy 57, Vancleave
East Central High, 21700 Slider Rd., Moss Point
East Central Community Center (those with special needs must go through Medical
Triage to be admitted), 4300 Hwy 614, Moss Point
Vancleave Vo-Tech (Pet Shelter)


Magnolia Baptist Church, 1040 Wansley Rd., Laurel (Jones County)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gustav Preparations; Correction on Medical Shelters

Here's a correction on the previous list, released by the Mississippi Department of Health, of special shelters for medical needs. The only shelter open at this time is the shelter in Jackson at Hinds Community College. Once that shelter is at 80% capacity, other shelters will be open.

Hinds Community College
501 Main St.
Raymond, MS 39154
Dr. Clyde Muse, President
Thomas Wasson, VP Facilities

Here's the official release from the Mississippi Department of Health.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) will open the first shelter for Mississippians with Special Medical Needs today (Saturday) at 4 p.m. at Hinds Community College, 501 Main Street in Raymond.

Special Medical Needs Shelters are available to citizens who suffer from a health or medical condition that meets the following criteria:

Individuals who are in need of assistance for routine care such as eating, walking and using the bathroom.
Individuals who require ambulatory care, with or without the use of assistive devices.
Individuals in need of assistance for managing health care, including taking medications or using medical equipment.
Individuals with the following stable or non-complicated medical issues: diabetes, Foley catheter maintenance, medication maintenance, blood pressure monitoring, severe arthritis, naso-gastric or gastrostomy tubes (home maintenance), ostomy, Alzheimer's Disease, stable stroke, stable cardiac, stable cancer, stable oxygen and nebulizer therapy (e.g. COPD, Asthma), dressings (must have nursing care plan and supplies) and hospice, if there are no complex issues.
Other individuals with disabilities including those who are blind, hearing impaired, mobility impaired or with any minor medical condition not listed above.
Residents may bring a caregiver with them to the shelter. The caregiver may be a family member or a healthcare provider. Those persons who are bedridden and require total care may be admitted to a Special Medical Needs Shelter if they are accompanied and cared for by a responsible caregiver and do not require a hospital bed. Conditions in the Special Medical Needs Shelters require that individuals be able to safely sleep on a cot or mat.

Individuals with medical conditions that require more complex care than is available at a Special Needs Medical Shelter should make arrangements with their physician for admission to a hospital or nursing facility.

Residents should bring their medication, medical supplies and equipment along with the contact information of their physician, pharmacy and, if applicable, oxygen supplier. At least seven days of prescription and non-prescription medication and oxygen, if used, is needed.

Additionally, residents should bring important papers and telephone numbers, sheets, blankets and pillows, personal hygiene items, non-perishable special dietary items, personal snacks and drinks, and a flashlight and batteries.

Single parents with young children who qualify for a Special Medical Needs Shelter may bring the children with them if no other plans can be made for their care.

Special Medical Needs residents may bring their pets with them, however, only service dogs are allowed inside the residents' shelter. Another nearby location on the Hinds Community College campus will be made available to house other pets and residents will be able to visit their pets at that location.

For more information on hurricane preparedness and safety, or if you would like to volunteer during emergencies, visit the MSDH website or call us 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-HLTHY4U (1-866-458-4948).

Gustav Preparations; More Communication Tips

Tips for Disasters from the Wireless Foundation

The link above also provides invaluable tips for wireless customers during a disaster.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gustav Preparations; Phone Numbers

Here's more information on phone numbers related to Gustav preparations. I'll pass on information as I receive it. So far, no evacuations have been issued.

MDOT. 1-866-521-MDOT (1-866-521-6368).
. . . . . &

American Red Cross . 1-866-GET-INFO (1-866-438-4636).
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

MEMA . 1-800-222-MEMA (1-800-222-6362).
. . . . . . . . . . . .

FEMA. . . . . . . . 1-866-877-6075.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

MS Hwy. Safety Patrol . 601-987-1212 (*hp from any cell).
. . . . . . . . . . . .

Lodging (Mississippi Tourism). 1-866-SEE-MISS.
. . . . . . . (1-866-733-6477)

Campsites (MS Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks) . 1-800-GO-PARKS.
. . . . . . . . . (1-800-467-2757)

Animal Shelters (MS Board of Animal Health). . 1-888-722-3106.
. . . . . . . . . . .

Louisiana DOTD. . . 1-877-4LA-DOTD (1-877-452-3683)
. . . . . . . . . . . .

Louisiana State Police . . . . . . . . . . . 1-800-469-4828.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

Alabama DOT. . . . . . . . . . . . 1-334-242-6358.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

MS Division of Medicaid . . . . . . . . . . 1-800-421-2408.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

MS Insurance Department . 1-800-562-2957.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Gustav Preparations; Governor Issues State of Emergency

Here's a press release from the Governor's Office.


Governor urges residents to prepare now for potential impact of storm

(JACKSON, Mississippi)—Today Governor Haley Barbour issued a State of Emergency for the State of Mississippi due to the threat posed by Hurricane Gustav, which has demonstrated potential to severely impact the entire state according to current predictions by the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center.

“I urge all Mississippians to please take this storm seriously. One of the most important lessons we learned after Hurricane Katrina was that there is no substitute for awareness and self-help, especially in the days before a hurricane is predicted to hit,” Governor Barbour said. “Now is the time to prepare yourself, your family and your friends.”

Residents should take preparation steps by developing a family communications and evacuation plan and ensuring that key items like bottled water, canned food, and flashlights are readily available, the Governor said.

Below is the full text of Governor Barbour’s State of Emergency:

WHEREAS, the current predictions of the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center demonstrate the potential for the entire State of Mississippi to be severely impacted by Hurricane Gustav, beginning on August 31, 2008, which may include sheltering of evacuees from other states, hurricane and tropical storm force winds, severe thunderstorms, flooding, and possible tornadoes; and

WHEREAS, this storm system is expected to cause personal injuries, damage to homes, businesses, public property, and threaten the safety of the citizens and property throughout the State of Mississippi; and

WHEREAS, in consideration of the health and safety of the residents and the protection of their property within the affected areas, and in the public interest, all steps should be taken to protect people and property:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Haley Barbour, Governor of the State of Mississippi, pursuant to the authority vested in me under the Constitution of the State of Mississippi and Sections 33-15-11(b)(17) and (18), Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended, and in the public interest and for the general welfare, do hereby proclaim a State of Emergency to exist in the areas of the State of Mississippi impacted by this tropical severe weather system; and, do hereby designate all areas south of the I-20 East/West corridor and located in the State of Mississippi as the emergency impact area as defined and contemplated by Sections 33-15-1 through 33-15-49, Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended. The provisions of this proclamation shall exist and remain in effect until such time as this threat to public safety shall cease to exist as prescribed in Sections 33-15-11(b)(17) and (18), Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended.

FURTHER, all agencies of the State of Mississippi shall discharge their emergency responsibilities as deemed necessary and as set forth in the State of Mississippi Emergency Operations Plan and Executive Order No. 653, dated November 16, 1990.

Gustav Preparations; Communication Tips

As I receive email from the Governor's Office, MEMA and other emergency-related entities, I'll post it on this blog.

This came in from Cellular South. While I'm not a customer, this information might be relevant to some people.

JACKSON, Miss., (August 28, 2008) – With Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast residents preparing for a possible onslaught by Hurricane Gustav next week, Cellular South is offering its wireless customers some important disaster planning and communications reminders to use before, during and after any storm.

Before the Storm
• Charge your primary wireless phone battery and secure back-up batteries and a vehicle charger in a dry, accessible location.
• Program emergency numbers and contact information for neighbors, family and friends into your mobile phone address book.
• Give your emergency contact information to those who may need it, including neighbors, family and friends.
• Track weather and storm-related information through the mobile web on your wireless phone.
• During an evacuation, use Google SMS and the mobile web to get news, maps and to find hotels.
• To find the best gas prices, use the Gas Buddy mobile web link.

During and After the Storm
• Place voice calls only when necessary. Limit your personal calls so that capacity is available for 9-1-1 calls and emergency responders.
• When possible, send text messages instead of placing voice calls. Text messages require less network capacity and are more likely than voice calls to reach their destination during periods of network congestion.
• Call #STORM or 1-888-CSOUTH5 for updates on the status of the Cellular South network, retail store operations and other information.
• Go to on your personal computer or via the mobile web on your wireless device at the Cellular South main page under an icon called “Hurricane Gustav” for complete updates, information and details on weather, traffic, power outages, gasoline prices, service restoration and hotel information.
• Charge your mobile phone in your car during commercial power outages. If a car charger is unavailable, buy an AC adapter for your vehicle and you can use your wall charger
• Turn off your Bluetooth, data connections, such as auto sync for PDA and smartphone users, turn backlight down to the minimum levels to conserve battery life. When the batter is extremely low, turn phone off unless in use.
Camera phone owners can use their handsets to document damage to personal property, homes or businesses and use Use Pic Sender to send them to insurance agencies or other contacts.

To help customers prepare for the Hurricane and its aftermath, the company is launching a website with links and information on hurricane resources, weather, traffic, gasoline prices, evacuation routes, emergency response details and hotel information. The site can be accessed through the Internet at or via the mobile web at the Cellular South main page under an icon called “Hurricane Gustav.”

Cellular South also is activating its #STORM hotline or 1-888-CSOUTH5 for customer updates on storm-related wireless service and network capabilities, store hours and openings for retail locations in affected areas and for other disaster relief information.

Gustav Preparations; MEMA Numbers

Hopefully you will not need these, but just in case:

866-519-6362 - Public Information
800-222-6362 - To report Emergencies i.e. hazardous spills, downed power lines, flooding, etc.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Here's to G.D....

Today, we were saddened to learn about the passing of former Hattiesburg mayor G.D. Williamson. Mayor Williamson died shortly after noon.

If you ever encountered G.D. around town, you'd walk away knowing you had never met a nicer guy. I first met him during the campaign last year. I called him up, and he graciously invited me over to his apartment. We sat outside and talked Hattiesburg politics, as he asked me about my background and shared the stories of Hattiesburg. On a couple of occasions I went over to the McDonald's on Broadway early in the morning to visit with his coffee group. I heard from several folks around town that G.D. had put in a good word for me.

The day before the election, I went over to Ward's around 6:30 in the morning (McDonald's was going through renovations). He was there alone, waiting for the rest of his group to arrive. We talked for a few minutes, with me sharing my impressions of political life and running for office and him responding with his own stories. Before I left, I remember him looking me in the eye, assuring me I had run a good campaign and that he was pulling for me, and he knew I was going to win the next day. He never knew how much I needed to hear that encouragement. The campaign had been ugly the last couple of weeks, and I was feeling more unsure than ever. He bolstered my confidence for the last 24-hour push.

I wish there would have been more opportunities to hear his stories and the history of Hattiesburg. Mr. Williamson was someone who shaped the Hattiesburg of today, someone who should be held in the same esteem as the founding fathers of the city. But moreover, he should be remembered as a great man, as someone every person, especially those in public service, could learn a great deal from.

Interesting Article on Mississippi's Fuel Consumption

In the next couple of sessions, I think we'll begin to see some discussion on fuel-saving initiatives. Our Transportation Committee is starting to study it this summer.

Here's an article sent to me from Larry Lee at Southern Miss.

Southern Drivers Stung Most by Fuel Costs

Saturday, July 12, 2008

PEER Requests Citizens' Input on Increasing Government Efficiency

During the 2008 session, the Legislature gave the PEER Committee (Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review) to responsibility of doing a comprehensive study of all state government operations. The goal is to make specific recommendations on saving money, improving efficiency and bettering customer service.

As part of this study, the PEER Committee wants to hear suggestions from the general public. If you have a suggestion, you can log on to, follow the email link and send your suggestion.

You can also mail your suggestion to PEER Committee, Attn: Statewide Performance Review, P.O. Box 1204, Jackson, MS 39215-1204.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Compromise Not Taken

Last night, after a day of endless Medicaid hearings, followed by a long Medicaid Committee debate on a "bill", followed by an overhaul by Ways & Means, followed by the Medicaid Committee concurring, a Medicaid bill came to the floor.

The previous House position on funding Medicaid was to increase the cigarette tax by $1 to $1.18 per pack.

The bill before us increased the cigarette tax to $1 per pack, as well as taking half of the Governor's plan for the hospital assessment. While this may seem like something in the middle, it actually raised far more money than was needed to fund the Medicaid program (by at least $100 million). Such a bill, while it may give the House a stronger negotiating position, was unnecessary. The conference committee process could have worked back in the regular session, but the truth is it didn't work.

At the beginning of debate, I offered an amendment on the floor that would pay for Medicaid, even giving about a $10 million cushion. It would have taken half of the Governor's plan, as well as increased the cigarette tax by 25 cents to a total of 43 cents. The cigarette portion alone would raise $72.5 million of new revenue. Half of the Governor's plan would raise $54 million, for a total of $126.5 million; sufficient money for the FY 09 and then some. Plus, if you only raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents, you still can increase the cigarette tax more next year and connect it with some other tax break.

It was a compromise that had a better chance than any other bill thus far at getting through the process. It was a compromise many of my colleagues, in conversation, had favored.

In the end, the House majority chose not to step to the middle towards achieving an actual solution and defeated my amendment.

Every day we're here, we spend at least $40,000 of taxpayer dollars. And what have we accomplished this week? We passed a revenue bill in 15 minutes. We still haven't reached an agreement on MDES. And when there was a common sense solution presented for Medicaid, it was shot down.

However, the House majority suffered the consequences of not choosing a compromise. After they Christmas treed an alcohol sales tax increase (which was completely unnecessary, would have create nightmares for restaurants, and only raised $5 million of a $90 million hole), the butchered Medicaid bill fell 10 votes short of the required 3/5 majority. 10 votes may sound small but will be large deficit to try and plug on the next try.

I assume that after their defeat, a separate compromise will be offered. But I think the best solution, at this time, in this special session, realizing that we're wasting $40,000 a day, is to pair half of the Governor's plan with a 25-cent increase in the cigarette tax. It's not the immediate $1/pack solution that many of us originally wanted, but it's a proposal that would actually demonstrate that the House is trying to achieve a solution for the people we represent. Right now, all we're demonstrating is that we are perpetuating a broken and dysfunctional system.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Special Session Update...

Yesterday, the House passed two bills. HB 12 provided $88 million in bond authorizations in case Mississippi is chosen as the site for the National Bio Defense Lab. If chosen, the lab would locate in Flora, MS. There's expected to be around 250 jobs, mostly going to researchers in the field.

The other bill was SB 2011, which would raise the weekly unemployment compensation from $210 to $255 over the course of two years. The original Senate bill would have raised the unemployment payments to $225 in the upcoming FY 09, and then to $235 in FY 10. However, the House amended the bill to raise it $45 over two years and then provide an annual cost-of-living increase.

One of the common misconceptions of unemployment compensation is that it equates to welfare payments to those people who don't want to work. Actually, unemployment compensation is only paid out to those people who were laid off (note "laid off", as opposed to "fired"...if you were fired, then you are not eligible for unemployment benefits) because of their plant closing, moving to Mexico, etc.

However, I think the smarter thing to have done was to use the Senate's version and raise it incrementally over two years to $235 and then revisit the issue again. When debate was going on, no one supporting the bill could answer the question of how much this was going to cost the unemployment trust fund. That in itself was really ironic, seeing as though we were asking the same questions two months ago, and they said they would get back to us. Well, here we are two months later, and they still can't tell us how much it's going to cost to raise it to $255 per week. So....

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On a personal note...

Over the weekend, I reached the pinnacle of over achievement by getting Kate to agree to marry me. We're planning for the fall.

Day 1: $59,895 for 3 bills

We ended up not getting much of anything done today.

There were 11 items on the Governor's call for special session. The House took up three of these items, and an attempt was made to take up a fourth.

1. MDES (Mississippi Department of Employment Security) was reauthorized for one year. It gives the House a year to further study the whole advertising oversight thing. That may sound good, but if you're going to grill one agency over its choice of advertising mediums, you could probably have a field day with the rest of them as well.

The problem with the bill is that the Senate will pass a different version of the bill, which will most likely delete the repealer on the agency altogether, so they would not have to come to the legislature for renewal. I sort of see both sides to it. I have a few questions about the quality of MDES's customer service to the businesses it exists to serve, but I don't think holding the agency's existence hostage in order to answer those questions is the only, or the best, way to handle things.

2. The toll road bill passed the House. This bill has a great deal of potential to help Hattiesburg.

3. We paid ourselves for our two-plus hours of work. But the bill was held on a motion to reconsider, so we'll see what happens with that. The sad irony was that while I was listening to the proceedings in the Senate chamber after the House had adjourned, the main parliamentary inquiry one senator had was whether or not he was going to get paid.

4. There was a clever attempt to attach voter ID to our pay for the special session, and surprisingly, it only failed by a 8-vote margin, which equates to 5-person spread. Mark Baker and Philip Gunn were the architects of this near-successful attempt at getting an actual vote on voter ID.

The House adjourned Sine Die just after 2 p.m. The Senate is still in session and will probably work tomorrow as well. We'll be called back in Tuesday for an additional special session.

My one hope is that maybe, just maybe (and I know it's a long shot), but it would be so great if the House, Senate and Governor's Office could actually talk and come to some consensus on what we will or will not take up. Each day they don't costs you anywhere between $39,420 and $59,895.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Special Session Called for Wednesday, May 21

Today, we received the text message from the Governor's staff that we would indeed be going back into a special session next Wednesday at 10 a.m. The main items will MDES and Medicaid, even though it hasn't officially been added.

The Hattiesburg delegation is also hoping that our Assistant DA bill (which was vetoed last week) is added as well.

I suppose it's part of the process, but you would hope in future years, that we would be able to get in, do the job we were elected to do and go home in the time allotted- without the need for special sessions that cost taxpayers ridiculous amount of money.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sine Die

Friday, we adjourned sine die, which is a fancy phrase for the legislative session being over. We'll be back sometime in May to try and figure out Medicaid.

There’s a tinge of sadness. I suppose I expected it but was so eager to have it all done with that I didn’t really notice during the week. But most things are wrapped up. I finished getting everyone’s signature in my legislative picture book, except for Danny Guice, whom I'll have to wait and see in the special session. Maybe the signed book will be worth something one day- though I doubt any of us, with the exception of maybe Norquist, Janus, Brandon or Jessica Upshaw, will ever be elected to statewide office. But I’m glad to have a piece of Mississippi history of my own making.

The tomato plants were out. Chairman Charles Young, still effective despite some health problems, said the opening prayer. Both of those occurrences, the prayer by Young and the tomato plants for all the members, signal the last day. There were the handshakes and promises to visit around the state over the summer. I introduced my college friend-now-Lt. Governor's office staffer Adam Buckalew in the gallery. I called Kate to let her know there would be thunderstorms that afternoon, so I told her get on the road, even if we couldn’t meet in Meridian.

I suppose you try to think about all the lessons you learned your first term and make sense of them, in hopes of doing even better next year. As I prepare to wrap up my freshman year, I think of the more prevalent things I know now. Always tell the truth to your fellow member. Don’t get too emotionally involved on any one issue. Don’t get too upset if your bill doesn’t fly the first time- you’ll have three or four opportunities to add your stuff later. Always vote how you want, as if it’s your last day, your last week, your last term in office- and let the chips fall where they may, despite the threats and promises of future retribution. Try not get too discouraged, if in the end, your bill doesn’t fly the first year (thought that’s a really hard one). Finally, know that revenge cometh quickly.

I learned to vote my district (thanks Jessica, Forrest, Wanda and Ray). I learned the art of building consensus amongst people who see things differently (thanks Preston, Mark and Greg Ward). I learned how to handle myself on the floor (thanks Percy). I learned to pick my battles (thanks Philip and Johnny). I learned that Mississippi's future is still bright (thanks to my freshman class).

It was not the most spectacular freshman year imaginable. But it was okay, probably better than some expected of me. The ADEPT School is going to get a good bit of funding. The DuBard School’s funding is up $100,000. The Children’s Center got an increase of $70,000. Southern Miss, in a bad budget year, scored well in bond money. The assistant DAs, legal assistants and criminal investigators for the Forrest/Perry County circuit district, and the Lamar County circuit district, survived. We did not get our judge, and that was a downer. But in the end, I did get a major piece of legislation through- the Mississippi Taxpayer Transparency Act, even if my name wasn't on the final product. So- not a bad year.

My days will now consist of finding a job for the rest of the year, finishing my house, doing long overdue yard work (apologies to my Parkhaven neighbors) and being able to hang out with Kate and other friends on a much-more regular basis. It's going to be hard to defuse myself from the legislative mindset. But in the end, I'll appreciate walking around without having to think about tough votes or the status of my bills. I'll enjoy waking up on Monday morning knowing that I don't have to drive to Jackson. I'll be satisfied just being home- well, at least for a little while.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Circuit Judge for 12th Circuit District Dead

We reached dead, dead, dead status.

When the bill came to the floor for final approval, a representative made a point of order, saying the final bill had sections that were not in the original bill, which is something you're not suppose to do. However, people use this method all the time in order to get things through all the time; and it's a tactic, because of our first bill was killed because of the same fight, that we had to use to get it to this point.

However, because there was an internal dispute in the Madison/Rankin county delegation on how their new circuit judge would be elected, one of their representatives made a point of order and sent the whole bill back to conference. Knowing that the point of order will be made again if it's brought back out with our circuit judges still in, all of the judges were taken out of the conference report.

So because this representative didn't like the way a judge in his/her county would be elected, he/she effectively killed the entire bill and seemed perfectly fine with doing it. So both the Forrest County circuit district (12th) AND the Lamar County circuit district (15th) will miss out on judges, because one person thought that his/her own local fight was worth making all of us miss out on something we desperately needed.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Staring Contest

Tonight, the clock ran out on Medicaid being funded by the end of the 2008 Legislative Session.

On Friday, an agreement had been reached on how money would be spent (not on how we would find that money). Today that agreement went before each chamber of the legislature. The House, despite our opposition to taking out face-to-face, passed the agreement easily. However, a member of the Senate made a point of order on the agreement when it went to the Senate. The point of order was well taken, and the bill went back to conference.

At 11 p.m., with a midnight deadline looming, the conference committee between the House and Senate was held again. For the Senate, it was Nunnelee, Smith and Burton. For the House, it was Dedeaux, Holland and Stringer. After a few sharp disagreements, a sudden calm came over the whole room. Everyone knew an agreement was out of reach, and for the remainder of the hour, the six conferees from the House and Senate just looked at each other, knowing that neither side was going to budge.

So it's midnight, and we have no agreement. There will be a few who try to extend the session, but it's a ridiculous thought. We've spent three-and-a-half months looking at each other, knowing we had to make a decision, and we didn't do it. All that money we were going to save in shortening the session isn't being saved anymore. We shouldn't kid ourselves to think that suddenly someone will soften their line and reach a compromise by extending the session a few days. Nope, I think we can pretty much punch our tickets to come back in June- which is something that no one should be proud of.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Watching Paint Dry

For the majority of the week, the House convened at 10 a.m. and took up motions to concur or invite conference on House bills that were amended in the Senate.
We were usually done by noon.

For the rest of the day, conference committees met throughout the Capitol. Conference committees consist of three House members and three Senate members. Each conference committee takes up a bill from which the Senate and House have both passed; however, there are small (and in some cases big) differences between the House and Senate version. If a compromise can be reached, the bill will return to the House and Senate for final approval.

If you're not a conference committee, your day consists of sitting in the House chamber, checking email or trying to track down a committee chair to make sure your bill is still alive. Freshman legislators can be seen returning long overdue emails or roaming the Capitol halls aimlessly. However, this year, we're joined by several senior members. The sad yet mildly amusing truth is that if you walk in the House chamber around 3 p.m., you see a chamber full of Republicans, both old and young, with nothing to do.

Transparency Act Heads to Governor's Desk

Once it hit the Senate, HB 725 was put into HB 101, which was a bill dealing with DFA. The Taxpayer Transparency Act was now the bulk of HB 101 and passed the Senate 51-0.

The amended bill (with the Transparency Act) then came back to the House, and Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer concurred with the Senate amendment, and the entire bill passed 122-0.

The bill will now go to the Governor's desk for his approval.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Messy, Ugly and In Your Face Way of Getting It Done

Last week, we lost a bill on Committee Deadline Day. The bill would have given an additional circuit judge to the Forrest/Perry Circuit District. We lost because of a dispute between representatives of a separate circuit district that was also included in the bill.

Over the last few days, we knew our options were limited in continuing the effort to get this judgeship. One idea was to do a suspended resolution. This resolution would have suspended the deadline rules so both legislative bodies could have considered the judge bill further. The odds of successfully passing this are remote, because you have to get a majority vote in the Rules Committee and a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. I liken a suspended resolution to throwing a hail mary pass at the end of the game.

However, I felt it was worth a shot, because so many counties were affected. It would have been hard to pull off. Luckily, there was another option.

A separate bill (SB 2751) regarding assistant district attorneys and criminal investigators (which also affected Forrest/Perry counties) passed committee and was on the House calendar. The only other option was to amend this related bill. However, this could also backfire and be subject to a point of order, because the exact code sections were not in the district attorney bill.

We prepared an amendment to this bill, and Percy Watson introduced it on the floor yesterday. It passed. Other circuit/chancery districts suddenly got the same idea and also amended the same bill. The final bill then passed.

The more I go through this process, it reminds me of a really long football game. After all of your set plays that have been practiced and drawn up for months are stopped, in the end, you end up just running the ball up the middle and doing what it takes to move the ball across the line. It's hard and smash-mouth and ugly, but you try and get it done.

So the circuit judge bill makes it to the next step in the process. The bill now goes to conference, and hopefully, the circuit judge for the 12th Circuit District will survive. However, I've been told you never let up until the Governor's ink is scratched across the page to sign the bill into law.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Comeback I Missed

Last night, I had the rare opportunity to watch the Southern Miss baseball team in action. Because the game was held at Trustmark Park in Pearl (home of the Mississippi Braves), I was able to make the game. Lucky enough, they were playing Ole Miss, and it turned out to be a great game.

Over the 2008 legislative session, I have become conditioned to go to sleep by 9 p.m. So you can imagine, after the game started at 7 p.m., around the 5th inning I started getting restless and ready to drive back to Jackson. However, my freshman counterpart from Pascagoula and fellow Southern Miss enthusiast, Brandon Jones, beckoned me to stay until the end of the game, promising me Southern Miss would come back and win.

At the end of the 8th inning, after Southern Miss left the bases loaded, Ole Miss led 2-0. It was getting close to 10 p.m., and I wanted to beat the traffic out of the park, so I took off, despite the heckling from Jones and other legislators.

I arrived home and checked before I went to bed. There, at the top of the page, it was reported that Southern Miss junior Corey Stevens hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to win the game for Southern Miss 3-2.

As I knew I would be ragged unmercifully the next morning by Brandon for giving up and going home prior to the comeback, I went ahead and humbly texted Brandon, recognizing my fairweather attitude towards my alma mater. His response: "I can't believe we left."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

New College Board Appointees

Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the Governor's press conference announcing four new Board members to the Institutions of Higher Learning, better known as the College Board.

Four people were appointed- Alan Perry of Jackson, whom I didn't know; C.D. Smith of Meridian, who actually helped coach me in soccer when I was a young lad in Meridian; but most importantly, Christy Pickering of Biloxi, and even more importantly, Dr. Doug Rouse of Hattiesburg.

Dr. Rouse is a Southern Miss alum and a constituent of mine. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have someone of his intellect and passion for Southern Miss on the College Board. In a time where many people have moved out to the western suburbs, Dr. Rouse and his wife have chosen to stay in the city of Hattiesburg and invest their lives there; that kind of commitment says a great deal about their character.

Christy Pickering is also a Southern Miss alum.

To borrow a line from the late legend Powell Ogletree, it is a great day to be a golden eagle. With three Southern Miss alums now on the College Board, Southern Miss can begin to truly say it is receiving a fair shake in matters of higher education. When I was in student government at the University (only five years ago), there was not a single College Board member who had earned his/her undergraduate degree from Southern Miss. Now we have three, and it's something to celebrate as we approach Founder's Day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Progress Hattiesburg

I’ve been asked to weigh in on Progress Hattiesburg. As I’ve said before, I’ll always to try to tell you what I think. I’ll never try to pretend that I don’t struggle with a decision if in fact I do. This is an instance where I have conflicting views.

I’ve watched over the last several years as the idea evolved, narrowing its focus to investments on infrastructure. When the proposal appeared a couple of years ago in the form of $60 million for some infrastructure, some recreation and other vague projects, I was definitely against it.

This year, however, the concept brought to the table was something much more concrete. The money would only go to infrastructure. When I campaigned last fall, I said there had to be an investment made. To sustain our city and our region’s growth, we must make an investment in the roads, bridges, water, sewer and drainage. We have grown too large, too fast- which is not a bad thing at all, and no specific person or administration is to blame. The older parts of our city, such as downtown and Ward 4, have infrastructure that is nearing 100 years old.

I still believe the investment has to be made.

Is Progress Hattiesburg the best way? You could make the argument either way and have a valid point.

When the Hattiesburg delegation met about the issue, a majority felt that we needed a 5-0 vote from the Council to justify putting the measure on the ballot in November. As meetings with the mayor and council members progressed, I really thought the possible 1% sales tax increase would be accompanied with some property tax relief. Both of those conditions fell short, and if my decision was based on solely on those two factors, I would have to vote no.

However, I’m one of two delegation members who actually live in the city. I’m proud I live in Hattiesburg. I love the Parkhaven Neighborhood in the Avenues. I would live nowhere else. I believe there’s a sense of community you don’t find anywhere else.

From living in the city, I can tell you with absolute certainty that an investment in the core of our city is ten years past due. It’s an investment that will cost a lot of money, money that we won’t find by cutting a few city employees here or eliminating some waste there (though I do think both of those actions are a good start).

From an economic development standpoint, I can tell you that if the central city of a region (the “hub” if you pardon the pun) starts to falter, the entire region will begin to fail. It’s a proven concept, and there are several examples in our own state to which you could point.

Whether or not we want to do it, the investment has to be made.

However, there are certain realities we need to acknowledge. We are overtaxed. Sometimes our services are not what they should be. This proposal would hurt some small businesses in the area.

Furthermore, our people are discontent that we passed a 2% convention center tax on restaurants and liquor several years ago, and we don’t know where that money actually goes. We know it goes to pay off the convention center, but when was the last time a person could get on their computer and see the breakdown of where all the different monies go? How much more do we have to pay on the convention center? Which projects will the money to go to fund next? What accountability and transparency are readily available? These questions could also apply to the 1% tax on hotels.

I will tell you from watching it first-hand that our Mayor did everything he could to make a property tax cut happen for the people living in Hattiesburg. While I haven’t agreed with him on everything, I do not think it’s healthy for people to oppose everything Mayor DuPree proposes just because he is Mayor DuPree. This does not help us to move forward.

Two things are likely.

Progress Hattiesburg will most likely die in the Senate this year.

Mayor DuPree and the entire Hattiesburg City Council will most likely be re-elected next year.

We must decide what our fate will be. Partisan and racial bickering will not save the city and move the region forward. Cooperation and compromise, paired with fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability, will reverse the cycle. We must choose. If we continually fail to respond to the warning signs of a crumbling infrastructure, then we make that choice, albeit the wrong one.

Hopefully, both sides will continue to talk and churn out a proposal we can all rally around next year. In the mean time, I will commit to helping achieve some transparency on where our tax dollars go- so that basic, ordinary citizens who live on Venetian Way or Arlington Loop or in the Oaks District or in Palmer’s Crossing can again trust that they indeed have a local and state government who works for them. Once that trust is again established, then a proposal such as Progress Hattiesburg will have a more receptive audience.

A Hard Lesson

Yesterday, I left the Capitol thinking we had a real shot at the getting a circuit judge for the 12th Circuit District (Forrest/Perry counties). SB 2756 was amended to include the Forrest/Perry county district (as well as two other circuit districts and three chancery districts) and was funded by the Appropriations Committee. However, the bill went back to Judiciary A for final approval.

The legislature operates on a "deadline" schedule. Tuesday at 8 p.m. was the deadline for House committees to report out Senate bills and vice-versa.

However, during the committee meeting around 4:30 p.m., there was a disagreement between two representatives in a different circuit district on how to draw the judicial sub-district lines within that district. When no solution was reached, one member amended the bill, and with no time for the amended bill to go back to Appropriations for approval prior to the 8 p.m. deadline, the bill died.

Basically, a local disagreement led to four circuit districts and three chancery districts losing their chance to gain a much-needed additional judge. The bill affected 15 counties total.

After fuming a while, I suppose you try and evaluate what happened and take some lesson from the event. As with any setback, you try not to become too cynical about the process, though that is much easier said than done.

The bill appears to be "dead dead," which is slightly more dead than just "dead." So, it looks like we may waiting until next year to see something happen.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Circuit Judge Bill Passes Appropriations

SB 2756, which would add an additional circuit judge to the 12th Circuit District, was passed unanimously by the House Appropriations Committee. This is huge for the delegation's efforts to gain another judgeship for the Forrest/Perry County District. The 12th Circuit District has the highest caseload per judge ratio of any circuit district in the state. The problem has only amplified since Katrina.

If passed on the floor of the House, it would then go to conference with the Senate version, which does not include the 12th Circuit District.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Charter School Bill Goes Before Subcommittee Today

Today at 10:30, the Senate version of the charter school bill, which failed in subcommittee earlier this session, will return for a second chance at passage. SB 2721 will go before the Education Charter School Subcommittee. Locally, SB 2721 would clear the path for the new Adept School to achieve charter school status and gain pass-through funding for its students.

Medicaid: The Need for Face-to-Face

Last week an appropriations bill (HB 1601) came up to fund the Medicaid program. The content of the bill mirrored individual bills I had already supported, such as the cigarette tax bill (HB 1013). However, the difference was that near the end of the bill, a provision was added that said no money would be released to the Division of Medicaid for FY 09 until they did away with the face-to-face re-certification program. I opposed this provision, but the entire bill ended up passing 74-41.

In case you didn't know, in 2005, the legislature instituted the face-to-face re-certification for Medicaid recipients to verify there eligibility for the program. Currently, everyone has to see a local Medicaid official every year to be re-certified in the program.

According to the Division of Medicaid, it turns out that 78,000 Mississippians were receiving Medicaid benefits who were not eligible for the program. Once face-to-face was implemented in 2005, this has equated to $236,727,606 of total savings. With the federal-state match that Mississippi receives, Mississippi has a gross savings of $56,814,625. After hiring the people who do re-certification, our total savings comes to a total of $42,919,450.

The House has now sent a bill over to the Senate to do away with the program that has reaped substantial economic benefit.

However, to be fair, the people proposing the program's cancellation point to the burden that is put on working parents to try and bring their children into the Medicaid office once a year. Children whose parents don't bring them in to be re-certified lose eligibility temporarily, which increases the number of uncompensated cases for hospitals. The children do, however, gain back their Medicaid eligibility when their parent finally goes through the face-to-face process. It's not that parents don't care about their children; it's the reality that parents have a lot going on and sometimes a legitimate hardship exists so they cannot renew their child's eligibility on time. The advocates of the program's cancellation also point to the hassle for disabled and elderly people to have a face-to-face visit with a Medicaid representative for re-certification.

This may be true.

However, besides the economic benefit, I think the social benefit of this program is worthwhile. The face-to-face program requires people to take ownership over their affairs. In a time where government is doing more and more things for people (which is not always a bad thing), the danger is that people begin to lose the ability to do things for themselves. We cannot create a cradle-to-grave system where people are not empowered to take responsibility for themselves. We deprive them of their liberty by perpetuating that system.

The goal of government assistance, with obvious exceptions, is to give a hand-up to the disadvantaged, in hopes that they will seize the opportunity and make a better life for themselves. If we can help parents become more involved in their child's life by making sure their child is re-certified every year, then we should.

Do we have a long way to go in health care? Absolutely. Should we seek opportunities to facilitate a better market system to provide better quality to more people? Of course. But should government do everything for those persons receiving benefits? I don't think it's wise for us to create that expectation. Face-to-face requires people take ownership of their personal and family affairs, and that is why we should keep the program.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Immigration Bill SB 2988, The Mississippi Employment Protection Act, Passes

Yesterday, the House passed the Mississippi Employment Protection Act 112-9. It would require employers, starting with large companies this year, mid-sized companies in 2009, and smaller companies in 2010, to use E-verify before hiring any employee. It makes it a felony for a company to knowingly hire and illegal immigrant and for an illegal immigrant to take compensation for work. The exception is work around a private home for non-commercial work.

There is no doubt there are holes in the legislation. I had reservations about how the state would begin to enforce the law (the legislation called for DHS, the Secretary of State, Attorney General's Office, Department of Employment Security; however, the exact coordination of such was not specified) and what to do if a business does not have access to the internet in order to access E-verify. However, the point was well taken that small steps were better than no action at all.

In the end, hopefully we can see positive results over the next couple of years. It is important to remember that we are to use this law to solve the economic, public safety and social problems that come as a result of illegal immigration- but not simply to satisfy a demographic-based fear and the all-too-often human desire to separate "them" from "us."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Black Tuesday

In what will always be known to myself and all of the Southern Miss faithful as Black Tuesday, March 4 will go down as the terrible day that legend Brett Favre retired from the National Football League.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Immigration Bills in the 2008 Session

I've been emailed several times inquiring upon bills dealing with combating illegal immigration. I put together a briefing on the different bills being considered, and those bills are detailed below.

Which ones will see the ink of the Governor's pen? Based on what I have seen thus far, you could make an argument that all, some or none of them will make it all the way through the process (my money would be put on some or none).

The bills being considered are:

SB 2037; puts immigration enforcements on those companies who do business with the state.
(Passed the Senate 46-5; referred to House Judiciary B Committee)

All contracts entered into by agencies and institutions of the State of Mississippi shall include a provision requiring the contractor to be in compliance with all federal and state laws, including Section 31-5-17. A knowing or willing failure to comply with such provision shall be grounds for cancellation of all contracts with the contractor. The contractor shall be liable for any additional costs incurred by the agencies or the state because of the cancellation. The Office of Purchasing, Travel and Fleet Management, as well as the Personal Service Contract Board, shall adopt rules and regulations to carry out this law.

It also punishes public officers who commit a violation, unless reasonable effort to ensure compliance was made.

SB 2564; requires state agencies to verify the lawful presence in the U.S. of any person who applies for state, local or federal public benefits.

(Passed the Senate 52-0; referred to House Judiciary B Committee)

This law would also require any person that applies for public benefits to present an affidavit declaring he/she is in the United States legally. It would make it illegal to make a false statement regarding legal status, and it would require each state agency to present an annual report to the attorney general’s office concerning the compliance of this law.

SB 2823; provides criminal penalties to the aiding and abetting of immigration offenses.
(Passed the Senate 52-0; referred to House Judiciary B Committee)

This law would make it illegal to aid an illegal immigrant or resist cooperating with authorities in sharing information regarding immigration status. It would also allow for cooperative law enforcement between state and local entities regarding immigration matters. It would also require verification of citizenship of persons who are arrested.

SB 2988; creates the Mississippi Employment Protection Act.
(Passed the Senate 52-0; referred to House Judiciary B Committee)

This law would require all employers to use the E-verify system when hiring employees. It would exempt those employers who use E-verify from any liability, investigation or suit arising from this law. It also requires third-party employers that conduct business in Mississippi to also provide proof of registration and verification to any Mississippi employer with whom they do business. It gives employers to a July 1, 2011 deadline.

It exempts anyone who hires people to work on his/her private property for non-commercial purposes. It will make it a felony for any person to accept or perform employment for compensation knowing that the person is an unauthorized alien.

SB 3034; enhances the penalty for creation or use of false ID and creates crimes of aiding, abetting or transporting an unauthorized alien.
(Passed the Senate 52-0; referred to House Judiciary B Committee)

This law mixes some direct and indirect ways of combating illegal immigration. It enhances the penalty for illegal immigrants using false identification. It charges them with a felony and fines them up to $10,000 and/or 10 years in prison. It also makes it illegal to transport or harbor an unauthorized alien. Some vague exceptions include providing medical care, legal services, food and shelter to those immigrants. It would also not prohibit or restrict private charities from providing health services.

HB 1327
(Passed House 81-38; referred to Senate Economic Development Committee)

This bill would create a task force to study the impact of immigration, both legal and illegal, on poverty in Mississippi.

Roots Reunion Show

Saturday night, I had the opportunity to attend the biannual Mississippi Roots Reunion show at the Saenger. It's a great show of different musical genres, from blue grass to gospel to blues. Best of all, admission is free. Molly Thomas headlined the show this year, and as always, it was a solid event.

I'd encourage everyone to catch the next show this fall.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New Entrepreneurial Development Website

Friday, I left Jackson and passed through Meridian on the way home to Hattiesburg. Well, it wasn't really on the way, but I had to take care of some things for my grandfather, so it worked out alright.

Anyway, while I was there, I had lunch with Chris Reed, who is one of the project managers of the WIRED initiative at the Montgomery Institute. Chris and I worked together when I interned at the Institute during the summer and fall of 2005. One of the projects we worked on was the Mississippi Entrepreneurial Alliance, which sought to network Mississippi's entrepreneurs with the resources and agencies that could assist them.

The website that has just launched (the current site serves East Mississippi/West Alabama) has caught the attention of many people. A couple of weeks ago, the Mississippi Development Authority announced it was providing funds to take the website statewide. It's great to see MDA place greater focus on small business and entrepreneurship.

Chris has done an amazing job with its development, and I'm looking forward to seeing many entrepreneurs take advantage of this valuable resource as it continues to evolve.

The website is if you have a few minutes to check it out.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Chess Game

Maybe it was because it was Deadline Day in the House for general bills. Maybe it was because we had spent every day this week in the Chambers debating and questioning every detail in some of the simplest legislation. Maybe it was because it was the last day, and we could draw our line in the sand.

Each faction (whether organized or not; some were not based on party or region, just a few folks who found a common cause together) seemed ready to get their individual shot in today. Bills were killed with procedural rules. Random amendments were brought up to revive them. Objections were raised and then withdrawn. Lots of parliamentary inquiries were made. Shouting (in the form of "aye" and "no") filled the air. The gavel had to have been pounded a couple of hundred times.

If you were an objective, outside observer, these scenes might take you back to elementary school when different groups competed for rule of the playground.

It was at times severely frustrating to see certain bills (some good- such as one that would have helped districts take better care of kids with asthma, or one that would have studied the long-term possibility of state-supported pre-K in Mississippi) bite the dust on procedural votes. However, there were a few bad bills that were defeated in the same manner, some of which I helped go down in a fiery inferno.

Before I took office, people told me the making of laws closely resembled the making of sausage- you may enjoy the final outcome, but the process is one of the uglier scenes you'll ever endure. This week of handling general House bills definitely affirmed the argument.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Public Records Bills Pass

HB 474 passed this morning 114-3 to provide some much-needed clarification to laws concerning the public's access to public records. It gives the public access to incident and investigative reports and puts teeth to the law.

HB 993 passed yesterday by a margin of 120-0. This requires the Attorney General's office to disclose more information about its contracts with outside counsel.

It appears quite fashionable this year to support sunshine legislation. If these laws are enforced, it should allow for the public to have real conversations about the workings of their government.

The Problem with the 85% Reduction

On Monday, House Bill 729 was passed. Before the bill was called up, I had received weeks of emails and phone calls supporting reducing the 85% rule to 25% on nonviolent offenders in state prisons. The misconception was that this bill would reduce the sentences of only first-time offenders of minor crimes and drug convictions. I was prepared to support it, because this would give people who had made stupid mistakes a second chance; it would also allow the state to save millions of dollars in correction costs.

However, this was not the case. The bill does not apply simply to first-time offenders. A person would be ineligible only if:

1. If the prisoner was convicted as a habitual offender.
2. Prisoners convicted of sex crimes.
3. Those convicted of violent crimes and certain drug and theft crimes.

The problem is that "habitual offender", as referenced in number one, would only apply if the prisoner had been convicted three times in Mississippi. This does not take into count if the person had been convicted in some other state.

However, I would have supported the bill if the 85% reduction had only applied to first-time offenders.

I introduced this amendment, and it failed 57-63. So, basically, you could be a multi-time offender and still only be required to serve 25% of your sentence.

It was disappointing that the rest of the House wouldn't limit this reduction of the 85% rule to first-time offenders. The bill ended up passing in its original form, 69-52.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Cigarette Tax

Yesterday, the House voted 74-42 to raise the state's cigarette tax by $1 to $1.18.

I voted for it. I was one of five Republicans who did.

I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. There's a Medicaid shortfall. We know this, and $169 million is the House's magic number to avoid cutting services. There are two options being touted (though there are probably many more that haven't been thought of yet). One is to raise the cigarette tax. One is to institute a gross revenue assessment on Mississippi's hospitals.

Both sides have valid points. The cigarette tax is too low. A large portion of our Medicaid costs come from tobacco-related illnesses. For me, it's a matter of personal responsibility. If a person is doing damage to themselves by smoking, and the taxpayers of this state will one day have to pick up the tab for taking care of them, there's no reason why they can't place a small down payment on this health care every time they buy a pack of cigarettes.

The Governor also has a point. Back in the mid-90s, the Mississippi Hospital Association did advocate taking a part of the public hospitals' revenue for a Medicaid match. They upped their giving earlier this decade. Now, the plan is to spread that contribution out over ALL of the hospitals, public and private. The private hospitals have a problem with it, and it's easy to understand why. The small, rural hospitals have a problem with it, and it's easy to understand why.

When I ran for this office, I never campaigned on a particular "tax swap". I advocated raising the cigarette tax by $1. I signed a pledge during the early months of my campaign. It was risky, but for me, it was the common sense thing to do. I would love for the people of this state to get some tax relief, whether it be groceries, a break on their car tags, giving more room on the homestead exemption for seniors, or an earned income tax credit for our working poor. It would be great, but it won't happen this session. I also said, during the last week of the campaign (and I was quoted in the HA), as saying that Medicaid appeared to have a shortfall, and might have to raise the cigarette tax just to cover it. On a rare occasion, this prediction proved correct.

Will a $1 cigarette tax increase help pay for Medicaid? Yes. Do I believe it's really going to raise $174 million and be a sustainable funding source for Medicaid? Not a chance. We can look at Tennessee and see that the hope of $174 million annually just won't work. I also believe some people will actually cut down on their smoking due to this increase, and that means cigarette tax revenue will be a declining revenue stream. So even if it does hit $174 million, it won't keep us afloat forever.

It's also safe to say the bill is dead as soon as it gets to the Senate. However, I believe by the House voting on it, it draws each Chambers' line in the sand and gets the parties working towards a compromise.

To cover the rest of Medicaid, I do believe we'll have to institute some sort of gross revenue assessment. But I don't believe in taxing the hospitals as much as the Governor is proposing. I would be okay with a much smaller assessment, balanced among private and public hospitals; and an assessment that would exempt small, rural hospitals. I sympathize greatly with people like Rep. Becky Currie, whose small hospitals, which are the main economic development engines in these rural areas, would be harmed by having to carry the burden of an assessment.

In the end, I believe this balanced compromise will happen. The cigarette tax will get us 60-85% of the way there, depending on how much the final increase is (and I do believe there will be an increase), and a small assessment will do the rest. But that's just my take on it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

MS Taxpayer Transparency Act Passes

This morning, the Mississippi Taxpayer Transparency Act passed the House 118-0. I was actually a little surprised it passed by that margin.

The bill was sponsored by most of my freshman class. It would require the state government to create and operate a website that would make government contracts, subcontracts, grants and bonds accessible to the public.

HB 725 now goes to the Senate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Win/Lose of Deadline Day

Today was deadline day. Since I arrived at the Capitol this morning, I've been going non-stop. While it may consist of just sitting in meetings and asking questions or giving comments, it is nonetheless mentally and emotionally taxing.

Today, the Mississippi Taxpayer Transparency Act passed the Appropriations Committee. This would create a website that would put all state contracts, subcontracts, and grants online, as well as provide information on bond projects and revenues. The Dept. of Finance and Administration would oversee the sight. Over course, their objection is to the work and how much it will cost. Two states most recently (Missouri and Kansas) have done it for no additional cost and using existing staff. This is a big deal. Taxpayers could have instant access to these documents. Transparency allows us to the have conversation about government efficiency and spending. I'm pleased that most of my freshman class has also sponsored the bill.

However, I also suffered a setback today. HB 1365, which is an identical bill of my HB 774, would grant exemptions to school-mandated vaccinations for children who have a certificate from a doctor that states such vaccination would be injurious to the well-being of the child.

HB 1365 was stripped down to an appeal process for children with autism to try and get exempt from school-mandated vaccinations. The new stripped-down version of HB 1365 passed the Public Health Committee 15-5, but then failed in the Education Committee 11-10. I can't even begin to state the outpouring of emails, phone calls and letters of stories of parents whose child has been injured by a vaccination. Mississippi is one of two states who do not allow for a religious exemption. 48 states allow this. 20 allow for a philosophical exemption. And there are children who have suddenly been injured after receiving a vaccination, or have been diagnosed with autism shortly after vaccination, whereas before they were perfectly normal. I don't know the specifics of the science. No one does. But there is no doubt there is a correlation for some children. Obviously, the State Medical Association, Dr. Ed Thompson and other pharmaceutical companies vehemently oppose my position- and that's fine. I represent parents in my district whose children have been injured, and honestly, I believe they are right. I think we will be proved correct in the future.

The whole argument that opening the door for these few hundred children with autism could result in some sort of outbreak is ridiculous. Tell that to the other 48 states with exemptions for religious beliefs. I haven't heard of any new outbreaks of measles or diphtheria. And Mississippi cannot get a doctor-approved exemption for children with autism. The other argument was that Mississippi is leading the nation in terms of immunizations. Well, guess what- we also lead the nation in child mortality. So our wonderful immunization success rate isn't curing the real issue after all.

In the end, I was grateful to have bipartisan support in the Education Committee, especially from Reps. Sherra Hillman Lane, Bob Evans and Brandon Jones.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Pay Raise

So the House voted 62-59 for the payraise. You probably heard 61-60, but one of the representatives said afterwards that his vote wasn't counted correctly, so that made the margin 62-59.

I voted against it. In lean budget times, the bottom line is we have to cut spending. I always said my priorities for this year were education (MAEP, teacher payraise, etc.), solving the Medicaid issue and ensuring stability for the trauma network; and more locally, getting us a second circuit judge and securing pass through funding for the ADEPT dropout recovery school.

I will vote to spend money on things like these. But we can't pile on appropriations as if the situation we find ourselves in does not exist. There will be more times in the next few weeks where I'll find myself voting against good things. However, I have to believe one of the greatest responsibilities we have is to remember we don't spend anything that we haven't first taken from the taxpayers. Anyway, just my thoughts.

Monday, February 11, 2008

First Time in the Well

Today I handled my first bill on the House floor. House Bill 839, which extends the repealer on allowing hairbraiders to practice with just a registration passed today. Mississippi is staying open for hairbraiding business. After two questions from the floor, the bill passed.

Actually, there are 310 registered hairbraiders in the state. The registration is good because it allows for the legal practice of hairbraiding, which creates yet another skill and job opportunity in a segment of the population that has higher rates of poverty. So, you could say the legislature, through this act, created 310 new jobs in the past year and didn't have to give a single tax incentive.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

House Votes to Fund MAEP, Teacher Pay Raise, Other Reforms

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted to fund MAEP and other educational programs. The kicker was a 3% raise for K-12 teachers and what comes out to be around a 4% raise for teacher assistants.

It was a contentious debate with two differing viewpoints on the subject of the teacher pay raise. The question was not whether teachers deserve a pay raise; the dividing point was whether we should approve a 3% raise now before we have a handle on how other programs will be funded. One school of thought was the idea that the House should wait to see how revenues come in before allocating money to a 3% raise that will cost the state around $60 million annually. With the Medicaid funding crisis looming, this side thought waiting to see how other funding problems shake out would the responsible thing to do. It was a valid point.

However, the other side of the coin was the perspective that by voting on it now, the House would be proactive in setting its priorities. A line would be drawn in the sand to state that above all else, we would continue to make a further investment in our human capital. This is the viewpoint I held, and thus, I voted for the pay raise and the entire education appropriation.

I believe education is the priority for Hattiesburg, South Mississippi and the entire state. I did not run on merely funding MAEP. I campaigned on turning our educational pursuits toward excellence, not simply adequacy. I campaigned on vocational training, early childhood education and paying our teachers what they're worth. I campaigned on continuing state support of the DuBard School. All of these were funded with Thursday's House bill, and that's why I voted for it.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Deadline for Legislation Requests Passes

Last night at 8 p.m., the deadline for filing legislation requests with the legal staff downstairs passed. In the next few days, they'll deliver our bill proposals to us, where we then try to find legislators who will agree to be co-sponsors (it somewhat resembles yearbook signing parties back in high school), and then we drop them in the "House Bills" box in the front of the House Chamber.

After that, our bills are assigned bill numbers and are referred to the appropriate committee(s).

I ended up getting eight requests in for bills in which I will be the lead sponsor. I'll probably co-sponsor several more.

Tuesday in Public Health we had a report from the Autism Task Force. Today, we'll hear from the Mississippi Trauma Care Task Force.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Funniest Moment Thus Far

As I was gathering something from my desk to take to the Legislative Services Office, I heard something unusual resonating on the House Chamber floor. At first I dismissed it, because surely this would not be sounding from the Mississippi House of Representatives' floor. But alas, it was so. Coming from a desk one aisle over from a senior representative's laptop was the song "Soulja' Boy." While this representative will remain nameless, after he noticed my double-take, he asked passively:

"Toby, you know that Soulja' Boy?"
"Me too."

It was random- but the word had already spread to the pages, and by the time we convened at 2, there were several other representatives around learning the song as well. It was something to behold. What generational gap?

First Committee Meetings; Promotion

Yesterday afternoon we had our first committee meetings. Transportation met at noon, Education convened at one and Universities and Colleges came together after adjournment around 2:30. We're starting to run around so much, the Capitol is, as Rep. Norquist pointed out, as "tore up as a sack of monkeys." He also came up with several other metaphors from which I will draw in later posts.

I also learned today that I was being promoted to Vice-Chairman of the Special Committee on Poverty. I'll be working with Chairman Reecy Dickson.

Finally, my pages are up this week from Hattiesburg. I've got two Hattiesburg High students- Taylor Willis and Claire Ratliff. Both have done a fine job and are making new friends.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bill Proposal Deadline Set

Our deadline to meet about drafting legislation has been moved up to next Wednesday, three weeks earlier than the previous deadline. So far, I've put two in the pipeline, with possibly another 9 to submit over the next week. So- this will be a busy rest of the week.

Three of my committees will commence tomorrow. Transporation, Education and Universities and Colleges will all have their first meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Yesterday, the Hattiesburg delegation met with representatives from the Mississippi Highway Patrol about making our driver's license station more efficient and less time-consuming for citizens. It was good information, and there were a number of different ideas discussed; we'll see what comes of it. I'm learning the obstacle to nearly every new idea is finding the money to carry it out.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Committee Assignments

Our committees were assigned today. Mine were:

Special Committee on Poverty,
Public Health,
Public Property,
Universities and Colleges,

House Adopts Rules for 2008-2012

Today, after two debates on amendments, the House adopted its permanent rules for procedure for the 2008-2012 term.

The first debate centered on what percentage of the House membership it would take to poll a bill out of committee. This is used in instances where a committee, or committee chairman, might keep a particular bill from a full vote from the House membership.

Until 1987, it took a two-thirds vote to poll a bill out of committee. It 1987, the system changed to a majority vote and held there until 2004. During the tort reform debate, the rules changed back to a two-thirds vote, making it more difficult to poll a bill out of committee.

Today, the amendment was offered by Rep. Herb Frierson to revert back to the pre-2004 "majority" rule. Mr. Frierson, Philip Gunn and Danny Guice made the most powerful arguments for the amendment, while Steve Holland and Percy Watson made the most convincing arguments to keep the present rule.

My thoughts were similar to Mr. Gunn's. I believe in majority-rule, but I believe also that the majority must always protect the rights of the minority. I believe having a majority vote to poll a bill out of committee makes the House more democratic. A prime example of a "pocket veto" from a committee chairman happened just last year in the Senate with Senator Robertson not allowing the tax swap bill to go to the floor. While I am unsure of what the Senate rules to poll a bill out of committee are, I know that these instances occur. Good legislation for Mississippi's progress is kept from seeing the light of day, and making it easier to poll a bill out of committee is key to giving the people a greater voice. However, the amendment failed, along lines similar to the Speaker's vote last week.

While I cannot speak for my other colleagues that voted for the amendment, I'd like to think that even if the Speaker's race had turned out differently, I would still have voted to change this rule to a "majority" vote instead of two-thirds.

One thing concerns me. If you look at the members spoke for and against the amendment, it broke down on party lines. Again, the vote broke down on lines similar to that of the Speaker's race. I am ready to move beyond petty disputes on procedure to the issues that affect the lives of Mississippians.

However, the second amendment presented encouraged me. Rep. Bill Denny presented an amendment to broadcast the House proceedings on the Internet, similar to what the Senate did last week. This creates transparency, allowing viewers to watch both the Speaker's podium and the well (lectern) of the House chamber. After Rep. Denny, a Republican introduced the amendment, Bo Eaton and Tommy Reynolds, both Democrats, also spoke in favor the amendment. It was encouraging to finally have a bipartisan, majority-vote.

The House Rules finally unanimously passed after the amendments.

In closing the week, Rep. Mark DuVall would like to let my readers in Mantachie (I had to ask him out to spell it) know that he enjoyed participating in democracy at work through this very spirited debate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

House Votes to Shorten Session to 103 Days

Today, the House voted to shorten the session to 103 days. While this pretty much assures us of closing up shop in early to mid-April, we do not yet know if our session will end in 103 days or 104 days. The Senate has passed its version of the Joint Rules (which governs things like the length of the session) and the House has passed its own version.

Now, the two versions will be resolved in Conference, with three members from the House and three members from the Senate.

After the Conference Committee reconciles the two, one version will go to both the House and the Senate for final passage.