Freshman Senator, Tony Smith, assesses legislative session

Published 4:13 pm Friday, April 27, 2012

Two bills that will have major impacts on school board elections and the date school begins each year are awaiting the governor’s signature, and both bills were authored by Pearl River County legislators — State Sen. Tony Smith (R-Picayune) and Rep. Mark Formby (R-Picayune).

Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to sign the bills on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 2074, authored by freshman senator Smith, which will change the way school board members are elected in rural districts outside the city limits of municipal school districts, is expected to be signed into law on Tuesday by Bryant, Smith told the Item on Thursday..

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In addition, a bill that would push back the start of school to after the third Monday in August, authored by House Rules Committee chairman Formby also awaits the governor’s signature. Formby, a Picayune Realtor, from the House floor on Thursday, said he believes the governor will sign the bill into law on Tuesday. He said the law does not take effect until 2014, but school districts that want to, can adopt the procedure voluntarily and make the change in August.

The Senate Bill 2074 will make a major change in how 30 of the 150 school districts in the state elect school board members in school districts outside city limits, including the Picayune city school district.

For instance in Picayune, there are two of five members elected from districts outside the city limits of Picayune. The other three are appointed by the Picayune City Council.

School board elections for districts outside cities currently are held on the first Saturday in March and are conducted by school district officials. Absentee voting is not allowed, said Smith. The school board outside elections are the only state elections in which absentee balloting is not allowed.

“There was a lot of criticism about the absentee voting not being allowed. That was one of the reasons for passing the bill,” said Smith, who is a Picayune businessman, a former Picayune school board member and represents Senate District 47, which includes a large portion of Pearl River County.

The bill, after Bryant signs it, won’t immediately take effect. The bill has to be approved by the U.S. Justice Dept. because it affects voting districts.

Smith said it will not take effect until 2014-15 school year.

Under the new law the elections will be handled by the Circuit Court Clerk’s office, just like other elections, and held during the November general election. Absentee voting will be allowed along with other races.

Specifically, the bill, according to its title, will “revise the qualifying deadline for candidates for the board of trustees of added territory in certain municipal separate school districts, and provide that the election shall be conducted by the county election commissioners and to remove the prohibition that no person who is not present at the time and place of holding a certain election shall be eligible to vote. . .”

Smith said the changes will save money and allow more people to participate in the election of school board members.

Formby’s bill relating to school start-up times, House Bill 707, came out of committee with minor changes and will take effect in the 2014-15 school year.

Schools cannot begin prior to the third Monday in August beginning in 2014. The reasoning behind the bill was that an earlier start would expose students to more summer heat, a later startup would give families more time for vacations, helping the state’s tourism industry, and would allow students to extend their summer employment, said Formby.

Many districts in the state, including Picayune, have been starting school as early as the first week in August.

Smith said the charter school bill was in conference, and he felt it was “doubtful” that it would pass during this session. He said he expected, that it will be brought up again next year.

“There were a number of good conservative bills that did not make it, but I look for them to be brought up again,” he said.

He said that a bill that would allow businessmen to take an inventory tax credit also passed. He was co-author of the bill. “I was interested in that bill because I am a small businessman myself,” he added.

He said there is “politics within politics” in the legislature, but added that as a freshman senator, “I am on a long learning curve, and I made more progress this first year than I originally felt I would.”

“I look forward to continuing to serve my district,” he said.

Smith’ Senate district 47 is one of the strangest districts in the state, snaking easterly from Pearl River County, across Stone, Harrison and into Jackson County near Moss Point.

He said the new Senate redistricting plan is scheduled to be released next week, and the lines in his district will most likely be redrawn, although he is not sure how much.

The State Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 4.