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Musgrove sets session on prisons

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
Aug. 24, 2002
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove announced plans Friday for a Sept. 5 special legislative session to consider a $48.6 million appropriation for private prison contracts.
Once the prison issue is settled, Musgrove said, he will ask lawmakers to consider a way to provide medical malpractice insurance for doctors. Then, he said, he will expand the session to include general changes to the civil justice system.
The governor said he is taking the three-step approach to the special session because I don't want the issues to become mixed up or muddied.'' Legislative leaders, however, were surprised.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who presides over the 52-member state Senate, said medical malpractice insurance should be the top issue on the special session agenda.
I'm absolutely amazed that medical malpractice insurance is being held hostage,'' Tuck said Friday. I'm just shocked and amazed that he would do that.''
House Speaker Tim Ford also was "bewildered" the governor will make consideration of one issue contingent on the approval of another. Ford presides over the 122-member state House.
In my 23 years here, I've never seen that done,'' Ford said.
The governor is the only person in Mississippi who can call a special legislative session and set the session's agenda. Musgrove said he will release details of his proposals next week.
Legislators failed to settle the appropriations for private prisons in a July 30 special session. The Senate passed, but the House rejected, Musgrove's proposal to set aside money for private prisons.
The funding is in question because Musgrove in the spring vetoed $54.7 million in the Department of Corrections budget that was earmarked for private prisons.
Legislators didn't try to override Musgrove's veto in the regular session because Attorney General Mike Moore said the veto was invalid.
Musgrove said the veto was valid and he has renegotiated private prison contracts, arranging to close Delta Correctional Facility in Leflore County in September and bargaining for cheaper rates at the four remaining privately managed lock ups.
House Penitentiary Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage, opposed Musgrove's private prison funding request during the July 30 session. Malone said Friday he now supports the governor's idea.
Meanwhile, a committee of 13 House members and 13 senators has spent the past three months gathering information and hearing testimony about medical malpractice insurance and the broader issue of civil lawsuits.
Business and medical groups are clamoring for limits on pain and suffering awards. Trial lawyers say limits would hurt people.
Dr. John Cook of Brandon, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, said he has no problem with the order of the special session agenda, as long as doctors' insurance problems are solved.
The governor is the governor and he has the privilege of calling the session and having the issues addressed in the way that he chooses them to be addressed,'' Cook said.

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