Mississippi lawmakers begin figuring out how to spend your money today

Published 6:04 am Tuesday, January 8, 2019

JACKSON — The 2019 Mississippi Legislature begins today as lawmakers converge on the capitol to determine how to spend taxpayer money for the coming year. It’s an election year, so expect lawmakers will have a loose grip on taxpayers’ pocketbooks this year.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is proposing a teacher pay raise as Mississippi legislators begin their three-month session.
House and Senate leaders say they also would like to consider raises for state employees. But, it will be late March or early April before budget decisions are made.

Legislators convene at noon Tuesday. Here are some issues and events for the first several days:

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The president pro tempore of the Mississippi Senate, Republican Terry Burton of Newton, and the speaker pro tempore of the House, Greg Snowden of Meridian, are facing questions about their leadership roles after each was charged with drunken driving.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves urged Burton to resign as Senate pro tem on Dec. 21, two days after Burton was arrested in Starkville. Burton was charged with second offense DUI, although it was his third arrest on a drunken driving charge. Burton said the arrest was a “personal shortcoming.” He added that it is “no reflection on my colleagues but is strictly on me.”

Burton pleaded guilty after a 2014 DUI arrest in Brandon. He was acquitted after a 2016 DUI arrest in Scott County when a judge ruled that cough syrup and breath spray that Burton said he used right after an accident must have caused a false positive on a breath test.

House Speaker Philip Gunn told reporters in December that the House Ethics Committee would look at the DUI arrest of Snowden. Snowden pleaded no contest Nov. 19 to first-offense DUI. He was not convicted but was put into a diversion program for first-time offenders. Snowden’s driver’s license is suspended for 120 days, but he can drive using an interlock device which measures alcohol on starting a vehicle.

Snowden was arrested in September after refusing to take a DUI test after rear-ending another vehicle at a traffic signal. Snowden claimed at the time he wasn’t drunk and hit the car because he was texting and looking at his phone about the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings in Washington.

Three seats are vacant in the 122-member House because lawmakers were elected to judgeships.

Former Rep. Willie Perkins of Greenwood is now a chancery judge. He represented House District 32 in Leflore County. Former Rep. Adrienne Wooten of Jackson is now a circuit judge. She represented House District 71 in Hinds County. Former Rep. Brad Touchstone of Hattiesburg is now a county and youth court judge in Lamar County. He represented District 101 in Lamar County.

Perkins and Wooten served in the House as Democrats and Touchstone as a Republican. They won nonpartisan judicial races.
With the vacancies, the House has 73 Republicans and 46 Democrats.

There are no vacancies in the Senate, which has 33 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

The Mississippi Municipal League expects about 600 people for its midwinter conference Tuesday through Thursday. Mayors and others are planning to go to the Capitol on Wednesday.

One of biggest social events of the session, the Gulf Coast Legislative Reception, is Wednesday evening at the Mississippi Trade Mart in Jackson, according to the state Senate social calendar on the legislative website.

The state chamber of commerce, the Mississippi Economic Council, has its Capital Day on Thursday, with hundreds of business people and others.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is scheduled to give his State of the State address at 5 p.m. Jan. 15. Bryant is expected to discuss his policy priorities as he enters his eighth and final year as governor. The speech is in the Mississippi House chamber and will be carried on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Candidates have started qualifying for statewide, regional and county offices and legislative seats in Mississippi. All 122 seats in the state House and all 52 in the state Senate are up for election. Candidates’ qualifying deadline for all offices in March 1. Party primaries are in August, and the general election is in November.