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Pace quickens in Legislature

By Staff
Videt Carmichael / state senator
March 7, 2004
As we approach the halfway point in the 2004 legislative session, the pace of the work is really beginning to heat up. Last week was almost fully devoted to committee work.
We had almost 20 committee meetings Tuesday and an equal number Wednesday and Thursday. We face a major legislative deadline this Tuesday deadline for committees to approve of bills and constitutional amendments. Anything that is not approved and voted out of committee by then will die.
We did have some activity on the floor, even with such a busy committee schedule. We began the week by approving Senate Bill 2880, a $19 million bond bill that could pave the way to having NASA move about 500 jobs to Hancock County.
NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is thinking of consolidating several departments into one and we are told we are the No. 1 site on the list right now. If we are successful in having NASA move their departments to Hancock County, they would move their Human Resources, Procurement, Financial Management and Information Technology Departments bringing jobs with an average salary of $60,000 a year.
Of course, that could be a huge economic development boost, not only to the Coast, but the entire state. These are the kinds of jobs and employers we need to constantly be trying to entice to Mississippi.
In order to make use of the $19 million in bonds we authorized, local government would have to match it with $2 million of their own money. But on the local and state level, it looks to be a great investment.
Streamlining government
Wednesday we approved Senate Bill 2628, the bill Gov. Haley Barbour calls "Operation Streamline." This bill would move the Bureau of Narcotics under the Department of Public Safety, which may save the state $1.2 million.
It also removes various state agencies from under the state Personnel Board for a period of one year. Those agencies, Medicaid, Department of Human Services, Department of Finance and Administration, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Employment Security Administration, would be under the direct control of the governor.
He has said he can streamline these agencies and save the state a considerable amount of money. After one year they will be returned to the authority of the state Personnel Board.
Friday we had an unusually long session in which we approved a bill to reform Medicaid. Many Mississippians depend on Medicaid for the health care needs so we must do everything we can to protect the financial stability of this important program.
But it also the fastest-growing cost to state government of any program and, at the current rate, we cannot sustain the cost. In fiscal year 2004, the total cost to was more than $304 million. However, we got one-time help from the federal government of $98 million. Even with that help, we still came up with a deficit of about $60 million.
For fiscal year 2005, which we are budgeting for right now, we will need almost $535 million.
The fastest growing area of cost within Medicaid is in prescription drugs. The legislation we passed Friday establishes a mandatory preferred drug list and a prior-authorization program. It will also allow us to use our bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower costs. This will allow us to provide the best drugs possible at a lower cost to our citizens.
The bill also increases the number of prescriptions allowed. Under current law a patient could receive five prescriptions and then two more with prior authorization. This legislation allows patients four brand-name prescriptions and unlimited generic prescriptions.
The bill also allows Medicaid to reauthorize patients based on eligibility and provides a physical exam to determine the baseline health status of each patient and determine a disease management program. Also, about 59,000 Mississippians will be shifted from Medicaid to Medicare.
The bill also allows Medicaid to raise the nursing home bed fee an additional $2 to raise about $61.5 million.
Let me know what you think about these or any other matters of interest to you by calling me in Jackson at (601) 359-3211 or by writing to me at P.O. Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215.