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Lawmakers tackle state budget

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Jan. 9, 2002
JACKSON Legislators go to work today filling holes in the state's current budget a necessary task before they can start work crafting next year's budget.
A House subcommittee is expected to meet today to discuss a Medicaid shortfall of at least $124.6 million for fiscal 2002, which runs through June 30.
House Appropriations Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, said the deficit might be larger for the agency that covers health care costs for the needy, aged, blind and disabled.
It's just mind boggling,'' Capps said.
The Department of Corrections is seeking $15.1 million to cover a shortfall, but Capps said that won't be a priority.
Medicaid and Corrections are among several state agencies finding it tough to make ends meet. The chief problem: Slumping revenues have created some of the worst financial problems in nearly 10 years.
Speaker Tim Ford and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck gaveled the House and Senate to order at noon on Tuesday, kicking off a three-month 2002 session with policy options limited by the state's weak finances.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has promised to outline his budget ideas in his State of the State address this month. Ford said the governor probably will give the speech in the next two weeks.
Besides fixing this year's budget, lawmakers also will face another daunting financial task: funding a $500 million settlement to a 17-year-old college desegregation lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. has said he'll approve the settlement only if legislators say they support it.
The settlement would let Mississippi spend the $500 million over 17 years in cash, bonds and endowments to help its three historically black universities. Plaintiffs say the schools have suffered from decades of neglect.
State Rep. Charles Young, D-Meridian, and chairman of the House Universities and Colleges Committee, said he expects smooth sailing for a resolution supporting the lawsuit settlement.
We need to go on and be about the business of educating our people,'' Young said.
Nursing home employees from around the state are seeking support for legislation to tighten rules on lawsuits and jury awards.
We are being hit by a landslide of lawsuits by out-of-state trial lawyers who are capitalizing on loopholes in existing law to manufacture claims,'' said Lissa Collins, administrator of Yazoo City Health and Rehabilitation Center.
David Baria of Jackson, president-elect of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, said he didn't know what Collins meant by loopholes.'' He said attorneys who sue nursing homes don't manufacture cases, and they must verify the medical claims they make.
The tort reformers often use slogans and they don't really have any basis for what they're saying,'' Baria said.
The House and Senate met only briefly on opening day, but many members lingered in the Capitol to catch up with friends they hadn't seen for weeks. Lawmakers met in special session in early November.
The West Jones High School choir, more than 100 strong, serenaded Capitol visitors with patriotic numbers. The teen-agers also helped open the House session with The Star Spangled Banner.''
Rep. May Whittington, D-Schlater, reminded House members that legislators are building a Habitat for Humanity House this week and next in Jackson. She said she'd be helping install a floor, and she implored her colleagues to show up and help.
I've never put a floor in before,'' Whittington said. But what the heck I need to learn sometime.''