Much work ahead, local lawmakers say

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 10, 2005

[1/9/05]With the first week of the legislative session behind them, local lawmakers say a lot of work remains, including a bill to protect children from pornographic movies.

Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, said that since DVD players in cars have become more common, he has been getting complaints about people driving around while watching pornographic movies. He said those complaints have come from families driving down such busy streets as Pemberton Square Boulevard.

“A lot of people think it’s funny but it isn’t,” Chaney said.

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A bill filed by Chaney last week would make it a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $50. That bill was among 637 filed this week by members of the House and Senate.

Every year lawmakers file thousands of bills they hope to see pass during the session, 90 days this year. Some will go on through committee votes, House votes, Senate votes and, if approved in both chambers, on to the governor. Others will never move off the committee chairman’s desk.

Already this year, House members voted down a bill that would have increased the tax on a pack of cigarettes, but Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, who supported the measure, said it won’t be the last time this year lawmakers debate increasing revenue sources for the state.

“Most members agree that we’re going to have to have a stream of revenue to pay for Medicaid, but we haven’t agreed on where it will come from,” Flaggs said.

While lawmakers will likely debate how to fund the budget, Flaggs said he believes they will agree on a way to reform the juvenile justice system before being forced by federal courts to do so. Flaggs has already filed a reform bill, but says he will support a separate bill being prepared in the Senate if it gets more support.

“We’re going to do something. I don’t know that it’s going to be my bill, but something,” Flaggs said.

Lawmakers will also see some of the same bills this year they have rejected in years past including radar for local sheriffs’ departments and capping liability claims against Medicaid doctors at $250,000.

Rep. Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, has proposed bills this year for both, but admits he is realistic about the chances of either passing.

“I filed this the past three years, and it hasn’t passed yet,” Masterson said. “But I keep trying.”

Chaney said he also plans to file a bill to allow local voters to decide if their sheriff’s deputies will use radar to catch speeding drivers, as well as bills to clean up ad valorem tax levy reporting procedures for counties.

Lawmakers have until Jan. 17 to introduce new bills for the session that ends April 3.

“I think at the end of this session when all of the egos have subsided we’re going to have had a good session,” Flaggs said.