Miss. gov’t job applications going electronic only

Published 1:14 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2009

People seeking state government jobs in Mississippi will have to fill out applications on computers starting in January.

State Personnel Board director Lynn Fitch said Monday that pen-and-paper job applications are becoming a thing of the past. The electronic application process will be required for all state positions, from the highest-paid attorneys to the most modestly compensated janitors.

Some lawmakers said the change is a bad idea. According to the Census, 22 percent of Mississippians 25 and older have not completed high school.

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“You’re penalizing people who don’t know how to use computers,” Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, told Fitch during a state budget hearing Monday.

Fitch said people can get help at several places, including any of the 54 job centers run by the state Department of Employment Security.

She also said the electronic application process could simplify the job search process. Now, for example, a person who wants to apply for jobs at several agencies would have to fill out a separate application for each job. She said a single electronic application can be submitted to several state agencies.

Fitch spoke during the opening day of state budget hearings. Top lawmakers are starting to plan spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Gov. Haley Barbour and legislative leaders have warned agency directors that money is tight because state revenues have fallen short of expectations for the past 12 months. Barbour already has cut nearly $172 million from the current $6 billion budget.

Some, including Attorney General Jim Hood, are not seeking bigger budgets. Others say they can’t function unless they receive more cash.

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said the state court system needs $1.7 million to survive the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Without the money, he said courts might have to lay off staff attorneys or stop functioning for one or two months at the end of the fiscal year.

Sen. Billy Hewes III, R-Gulfport, asked Waller: “How can you justify an increase, knowing we can’t give you an increase?”

Waller replied: “This is not an increase. It’s a restoration of what we should have gotten” in the current fiscal year.

Waller said the court system’s budget had been cut 9 percent since last year. Senate Appropriations Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said he thought the cut was 4.9 percent. It’s unclear if either figure is accurate and legislative staff members are researching the issue.

State Department of Finance and Administration officials on Monday told lawmakers that the state employees’ health insurance fund is running short of money, and that could require an infusion of millions more dollars from the state in the next couple of years. The state pays for employees’ insurance, and employees pay for their own dependents.

House Speaker Billy McCoy asked DFA leaders to come up with suggestions by December about how to stabilize the insurance fund. One possibility would be requiring employees to pay more for their dependents’ coverage, lawmakers said.