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Leaders praise productive special session

Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications Inc.

After five long days of debate in both the House and the Senate, Mississippi’s special session has come to end, and lawmakers are applauding a productive week at the Capitol. 

After legislators adjourned following the 2018 session back in March, there was still work to be done on finding a permanent solution to funding Mississippi’s roads and bridges. Shortly after, a state of emergency was declared and nearly 500 bridges were closed across the state.

It was around this time that many began to wonder if a special session was in the cards to address the problem. As leadership in both chambers continued to work toward a deal, the session became a likely outcome. Last week, Governor Bryant officially made the call. Five days after the session began, three important pieces of legislation were passed including the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act, the Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Bill, and the BP settlement bill. 

At the conclusion of the session, leadership in both the House and the Senate praised the work of their colleagues as they worked together to pass these bills. 

“One of the things that makes me most excited about this special session is that all three bills that we passed in the Mississippi Senate passed with a majority of Republicans voting for them and a majority of Democrats voting for them. This is truly historic legislation that was passed by a bipartisan majority,” Lt. Governor Tate Reeves said. 

During a signing ceremony for the MIMA bill, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said that this session was all about keeping their promise to the Mississippians. 

“We stood here five days ago and told you what we were going to do, and today, we are here to celebrate what we have done…The winners today, are the citizens of the state of Mississippi,” Gunn said. Citizens are going to going to immediately see improvements in their roads, improvements in their water systems, and bridges being repaired. The needs of this state are going to be met.”

Governor Bryant praised both Reeves and Gunn for their leadership, and he stated that this bill is a step in the right direction.

“Is it perfect? It never is, but as we all know in this building, you don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” said Governor Bryant. “The important part now is we have 460 bridges that are closed and we will start with those. We will get them open and safe for the motoring public across the state. 

The original call included the Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act (MIMA) and a state lottery which has been debated for years. The two bills sought to create a dramatic increase in funding for the state’s roads and bridges to the tune of nearly $200 million per year. The BP oil funds were the final topic of the session, and a deal was struck to decide the fate of the $700 million. 

– Mississippi Infrastructure Modernization Act: 
Photo by News Mississippi.

The MIMA bill was the first to be introduced, and minor changes were made throughout the legislative process as the bill was swiftly passed by the House and Senate.

The funding strategy will use revenue from the lottery, sports betting, internet sales tax and vehicle user fees to create $200 million for the state’s roads and bridges each year. 

As for the use tax, a portion of the funds will be delivered to cities and counties. Before the session began, Governor Bryant said that 15% will go to cities, 15% will go to counties and 5% will go to state-aid roads. 

The final vote tally in the Senate was 49-3, and the House voted 109-4 to send the bill the Governor’s desk. 

– Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Bill:
Photo by News Mississippi

The lottery bill originated in the Senate as the “Mississippi Lottery Act”, but the name was eventually changed to Alyce G. Clarke Mississippi Lottery Bill. Clarke, a Rep. a longtime Rep. from Jackson, has been a vocal advocate for a state lottery for years. 

Among the details included in the bill, a private corporation will be established to oversee the lottery. The corporation will be made up of five members appointed by the Governor. 

Originally, the corporation would’ve been exempt from the ‘Public Records Act’, but language in the bill was changed. This came after Governor Bryant voiced his opinion on the matter, and said that their records and meetings should be open.

The final version of the bill was passed in the Senate, but was originally shot down by the House by a 54-60 vote. After the bill was held on a motion to reconsider, several Representatives flipped their vote and the bill was passed 58-54. 

– BP Oil Settlement Bill
Photo by News Mississippi.

On the final day of the special session, the House voted to pass the bill which will deliver 75% of the remaining $600,000 million to the Mississippi Gulf Coast while the other 25% will be distributed throughout the state. By a final vote of 99-10, the bill was sent to Governor Bryant’s desk.

The original sum of the settlement was $750 million following the BP oil spill back in 2010. Since then, $50 million has been spent, and just over $110 million has now been separated to pay for 128 special projects included in the bill.

As it relates to the bill, the counties on the coast include Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone and George. The funds from the settlement will be paid out the state over the next 15 years.

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