McCoy: Blocking early votes a ‘shame’

Published 7:35 pm Thursday, January 4, 2007

Lawmakers who blocked an attempt by House Speaker Billy McCoy to move a number of key bills on opening day of the legislative session say they simply wanted more time to consider important issues.

They’ll have plenty after a rumored second attempt to pass the bills, which included education funding, never materialized Wednesday.

“It’s not as if passing these bills on the first day was going to speed up the process,” said Rep. Carmel Wells-Smith, R-Pascagoula.

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McCoy continued to criticize the lawmakers Wednesday, describing their call for more time “baloney.” He’s not saying when the list of bills might now come up for consideration, leaving those decisions up to committee chairmen.

The bills would shape much of the debate on the $4 billion-plus budget during this election year.

The three-month legislative session opened Tuesday, and McCoy, D-Rienzi, was pushing what he called “one of the strongest beginning legislative packages in the history of the state.”

Within hours of the session’s opening, House committees approved pay raises for teachers and state employees, full funding for a public schools budget formula, more money for universities and community colleges, more money for public safety and mental health programs and a state subsidy to help coast businesses pay for insurance through the state wind pool.

A group of mostly Republican lawmakers used a procedural move to block opening-day votes on the bills. McCoy said the issues have been discussed publicly for months, and he doesn’t want education to be shortchanged in last-minute budget talks.

“Shame on these members,” he said.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has said he supports fully funding public schools and giving pay raises to teachers and state employees.

Barbour also has said there’s no reason to consider any part of the $4 billion-plus overall state budget in isolation during the early days of the session. The governor says that by March, lawmakers will have a clearer picture of state financial trends.

Most of the detailed budget work is usually done in March, during the final weeks of the session. The new state fiscal year starts July 1.

The bills are House Bills 239, 238, 241, 242, 244, 245 and 243.