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Don't count Meridian out of arts center fracas

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
Jan. 8, 2001
The city of Jackson might not "roll over and play dead," but Sen. Terry C. Burton thinks Meridian will come out victorious in the legislative brawl between the two cities over the proposed Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center.
Burton, D-Newton, made the comments in an editorial board interview with The Meridian Star.
Designed to be built and operated by the state, the center was based in part on the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Muscle Shoals both managed by public entities. Burton says getting it in Meridian is the top priority. Funding comes later.
Burton also addressed prison overcrowding. He said he thinks Mississippians will see some amendments to truth in sentencing laws come out of the session. He said saw a possible adjustment to the 85 percent rule last week.
Burton said one approach would be to "move more toward corrections and away from incarceration which is where we are now." He said a good proposal is Gov. Musgrove's on using prisoners to get housing built for the elderly. Another way we move toward corrections is through the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation. Still another might be to improve the house arrest program.
Juvenile center overcrowding is a serious situation, too. Burton said there is a bill to be introduced that could in time help solve that problem.
The bill that Burton co-wrote would take the state's Department of Children and Youth Services out from under the Department of Human Services. It would set up a separate agency called the Department of Children's Affairs. The juvenile correctional system and its facilities would be managed by the new agency.
He said he has co-written another bill with Sen. Travis Little, D-Corinth, that establishes an adult protective services unit within the Attorney General's office.
This unit would have investigators and prosecutors in the office so if exploitation, abuse or neglect occurs in the home or in any institution, this unit would go after them," Burton said.
As far as budget concerns, Burton said he supports Musgrove's proposal to give agency directors the authority to spend their agency's dollars as they see fit, because we should "hire the experts, expect them to do a good job and then hold them accountable."
With a proposed 33 percent reduction on spending money on economic projects, he said it "seems like a bad idea to take money from the economic development folks and expect the economy to grow," and that some governmental areas can be "reworked and managed a little differently sometimes for less money."
During a budget crisis, there may be good news for teachers. Burton said he does expect teachers to get pay raises before the session is over in spite of the 5 percent threshold for an automatic raise.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com

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