Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Farmers' Market Bill Passes House

Long day today- finishing up the last "to do" before I head home.

HB 1566 was a bill that received a lot of interest from folks in Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is home to the state's largest farmers' market (according to Agriculture Chairman Greg Ward from Tippah County) and home to a pretty swell seasonal market next to Town Square Park. HB 1566 would clarify that food you grow in the ground and then sell at farmers' markets are indeed sales tax-free.

The bill passed overwhelmingly at now heads to the Senate.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Work Begins on FY 2011 Budget

Well, we've hit the halfway point...maybe...hopefully. After a dizzying 3-4 weeks taking up House bills in committee, and then debating them on the floor, this week signals a point when everything slows down. The Appropriations Committee and Ways & Means Committee start taking up appropriation and revenue bills. It's the first semblance of a budget for fiscal year 2011, which will begin July 1 of this year. One misconception I had before running was that the Mississippi Legislature passed a budget in one fail swoop via one gigantic bill. However, what I discovered is that every agency, no matter how small, has an individual bill with its own appropriation.

So K-12 Education via MAEP- one bill. The Gaming Commission- one bill. The Board of Pharmacy- one bill. And they all have to be voted on individually, both in committee and on the House floor. Once the House passes all of its appropriation bills, those bills head to the Senate, where many of them will be amended, and the final details and amounts will be hashed out in conference on the last week of session.

Since the infamous Rules Change back when Buddie Newman was Speaker, generally any appointment to one of the two money committees (Appropriations and Ways & Means) comes only through seniority. Occasionally, you'll have a second term legislator get one of the coveted "wild card" appointments from the House Speaker (an example of this is Ways & Means Vice Chairman David Norquist; or Appropriations Vice Chairman Preston Sullivan).

So if you're like any in our freshman class and much of the House membership, you really can't get a grasp on the budget by waiting to vote on its individual pieces when they come to floor. Much learning comes from attending Appropriations Committee meetings, by sitting around the room on the wall with the rest of the agency heads, budget staff, lobbyists and press.

Today, Appropriations Committee subcommittee chairman presented their proposed appropriations for each agency. Information comes in these really thick printed packets, showing what the agency received last year, what the Legislative Budget Recommendation (LBR) proposed for this year and what the House "position" will be (what we're proposing). This allows legislators to compare numbers with previous years and what was previously "agreed" upon via LBR.

So work has begun on the FY 2011 budget. All appropriations and revenue bills must be passed out of their house of origin by Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Friday, February 5, 2010

John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act Headed to Senate

Today, HB 1487, the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act cleared its last hurdle in the House and moved to the Senate. Yesterday, the bill passed overwhelmingly but was held on a motion to reconsider. We anticipated an effort to reconsider the bill and offer two amendments, but Chairman Warner McBridge (D-Batesville) moved to table the motion to reconsider, and the motion to table passed, sending the bill over to the Senate.

It was one of those times where I anticipated a big fight on the motion to reconsider, prepared throughout last night and this morning with all kinds of research, only to have it move on without any obstacle. But we'll definitely take it that way anytime.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act Passes House- But Held On Motion to Reconsider

HB 1487, the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act passed the House today by a vote of 95-18. Debate centered on whether we should mandate helmets on 4-lane highways (the bill does not, and current law does not speak to this) and whether bicycles should be on 4-lane highways at all (current law allows them to be). The bill was held on a motion to reconsider, and I expect two amendments to be offered towards these two issues tomorrow.

The problem with the proposed helmet requirement is one of practicality. In my district, scores of students bike from apartments on 98 or 49 to make their way to Southern Miss. There's no room to store a helmet while they're in class. And there's a certain degree of liberty and risk one assumes when climbing on a bicycle. While I certaintly advocate helmets for children, I don't think government should mandate a helmet law for adults.

As far as the 4-lane highways, well, banning bicycles from those areas basically knocks out students living on those thoroughfares from biking to school. It also puts a major dent in the number of cyclists who enjoy biking on all of Mississippi's roadways (except interstates, which federal law prohibits). And you could make the argument that biking on a 4-lane highway is safer than a 2-lane highway because the motorist has more room to pass.

All that to say, I hope we can beat back these two amendments tomorrow and get the bill over to the Senate.