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Officials’ pay, copper theft bills likely headed to negotiations

Mississippi lawmakers are moving into the final phase of their 2008 session, and several bills likely are headed to negotiations between the House and the Senate.

Among those going that direction are bills to provide pay raises for some elected officials and to put restrictions on scrap metal dealers who buy copper.

One version of the officials’ bill passed the Senate on Monday, with three of the 52 senators voting against it.

The Senate version would allow boards of supervisors to approve pay raises of up to 10 percent for supervisors and other county officials, including the sheriff and tax assessors and collectors.

Senate Fees and Salaries Committee Chairman Terry Brown, R-Columbus, said the state should not interfere in the budgets of the 82 counties by requiring each of them to give pay raises to officials. Instead, he said counties should have the option.

“It just bothers me to sit here in this chamber and legislate unfunded mandates back to the counties,” Brown said.

The House passed a different version of the bill in February. It would’ve increased pay for legislators and other state officials, and it had mandatory rather than optional raises for county officials.

Both versions of the bill would increase judges’ pay.

Sen. Ezell Lee, D-Picayune, said it was wrong that a Senate committee stripped out provisions for a legislative pay raise.

“We’re going to wind up with nothing but lawyers and wealthy class of people representing this state,” Lee said.

The House, meanwhile, voted 108-9 Monday for its own version of a bill designed to crack down on theft by requiring scrap metal dealers to gather information about the people who sell them copper. Because the House changed a Senate bill, the two chambers would have to negotiate a final version before anything could go to the governor.

House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said that as copper prices increase, there are frequent reports of theft from churches, schools and other buildings.

“These thieves have no honor,” Bailey said. “They will steal copper from anything, anywhere, whether live wire or dead wire.”

Rep. Dirk Dedeaux, D-Perkinston, offered what he called a “Fred Sanford amendment” that would’ve exempted scrap dealers with 10 or fewer employees from the regulations.

Bailey responded with a laugh.

“This is not a Fred Sanford amendment,” Bailey said. “Fred Sanford only had him and Lamont.”

Dedeaux’s amendment was defeated.

The House could agree to changes the Senate made to the officials’ pay bill, and the Senate could agree to changes the House made in the copper bill. But because there are significant differences between the chambers on each of the bills, it’s more likely that each chamber will, instead, seek final negotiations.

The legislative session is scheduled to end April 19.

The bills are House Bill 859 and Senate Bill 2929.