3 lawmakers tell plans for early filings|[01/03/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2008

While the delegation from Vicksburg doesn’t plan to file any bills the first day of this year’s legislative session, all three have their sights set on making a splash in the new Legislature.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, will begin his sixth term in office with a cautious mindset, he said, as some committee chairmanships may change and with 20 years behind him, he’s in line for more major assignments after the gavel falls Tuesday for what will likely be a 90-day session.

“I need to study the new committees before I start doing any legislation,” said Flaggs, re-elected in November. Flaggs has served on the Appropriations, Legislative Budget and Health and Human Services committees and chaired the Juvenile Justice Committee.

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Both Flaggs and Rep.-elect Alex Monsour, a Republican, know the first order of business — members electing a speaker — is a big early decision for the lower chamber, one that will determine how members are assigned to working groups and set the tone for the whole session.

“Once we get past that, we’ll get into bills,” Monsour said, adding his first bill was “ready to go” but declined to say what it involved or whom he supports for speaker.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, including Flaggs, have publicly stated support for keeping Rep. Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, in the top spot, responsible for naming committees and chairmen. His opponent for the job, Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, is seen by observers as more conservative and closer to Gov. Haley Barbour. McCoy and Smith both say they have the committed votes to win.

Partisan makeup of the House remained the same following the elections, with 75 Democrats and 47 Republicans.

In the Senate, a new president pro-tempore will be selected to manage the chamber in which Democrats have a new 28-24 majority.

“That will be a big deal for us,” state Sen.-elect Briggs Hopson, a Republican, said Wednesday.

In Mississippi, the lieutenant governor serves as president of the Senate but casts a vote only when breaking a tie is required. Lt. Gov.-elect Phil Bryant is a Republican. The president pro-tempore presides over the body and is elected by the majority party caucus and faces confirmation by the full Senate.

Hopson, 42, said he isn’t likely to file any legislation the first day but has asked for further guidance from the Legislative Services Office on three topics he termed “concerns I’ve got.”

One deals with possibly stiffer penalties for voyeurism, he said, specifically dealing with taking pictures of people in situations of expected privacy. Hopson referenced the taking of pictures with cell phone cameras as an example.

Another deals with teacher pay raises and expanded funding for early childhood education programs — issues Hopson campaigned on heavily during his successful bid for the seat vacated by Mike Chaney, who has taken the oath as state commissioner of insurance.

A third Hopson bill deals with the handling of evidence when criminal arrest warrants are signed.