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Tight state finances, tort reform, re-map on lawmakers' agenda

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Jan. 8, 2002
JACKSON The marble floors are gleaming, teen-age pages are waiting to run errands and new metal detectors are ready to screen visitors at the state Capitol.
Now it's up to lawmakers to take care of business when they open the three-month session today one many expect to be dominated by tight finances, tort reform and legislative redistricting.
Some are taking an optimistic approach to a budget that will bring cuts to many agencies.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove starts things off with a morning reception to welcome the 122 state House and 52 state senators back to town. The session will be gaveled to order at noon.
Historically, the first couple of weeks of a legislative session usually finds lawmakers organizing House and Senate committees and being briefed about the state's finances.
Much of the hard work including a full slate of formal committee hearings on proposed legislation and then full House and Senate votes likely won't begin in full force until next week or the week after.
Today, legislators and visitors will notice tighter Capitol security through metal detectors that were installed after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
Lawmakers, staff members and others who work in the building aren't required to pass through them. Visitors including lobbyists without specially made badges will have to go through the security checkpoints each time they enter.
Some lawmakers drove to Jackson over the weekend to start moving into apartments or hotel rooms. Others are waiting until the final day to make the trek.
A tradition is ending for more than a dozen lawmakers who had made their home at the Sun-n-Sand hotel a couple of blocks from the Capitol. The 40-year-old lodge, locally famous for its South Pacific-themed bars and its tater tot casserole, closed in the fall after losing money for years.
That left lawmakers like House Ways and Means Chairman Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, scrambling to find new digs.
McCoy, now staying in a modern hotel about a mile from the Capitol, was among those arriving early. He's starting his 23rd year in the House, a chamber where his father served before him.
Legislative attorneys have drafted hundreds of bills on everything from tightening drunken-driving standards to changing districts from which College Board members are chosen.
Rep. Joey Grist, D-Bruce, is starting his sixth year in the Legislature. He said he gets a thrill from the new beginning that each session brings.
Said Grist: "I love this better than eating."