Lawmaker's agenda for 2009

By Krystal Allan - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - First on the 2009 agenda, the budget.

"We're looking at a tight budget year," says David Baria.

Last month, Governor Haley Barbour cut about 42 million dollars from the state's five billion dollar budget.  Among the programs spared from the cuts, the Mississippi Adequate Education program.

"We cannot afford to take a step back in that direction," says Senator David Baria, District 46.

Medicaid was another program sparred for now.

"It's going to be back again, and we have to figure a way to resolve that," says Baria.

Senator David Baria says the program, which saw a 90 million dollar shortfall last year, is likely to come up short by millions this year. A proposed cigarette tax increase to help offset the shortfall, an issue that put some lawmakers and the governor at odds last year, is once again on the table.

"I think a cigarette tax increase will pass both the house and the senate. The trick is how much we increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes," says Baria.

The governor says raise the tax by 24 cents. Health organizations lobbying for the tax and some lawmakers support as much as a one dollar increase.

"To cause people to either quit or not start begins at a higher price," says Senator Deborah Dawkins, District 48.

Next on the list, a South Mississippi priority Senator Baria sums up in three words.

"Insurance, Insurance and Insurance."

Lawmakers will revisit the policy holder's bill of rights which puts the burden on insurance companies to prove a claim is not covered during a dispute. It got through the house and died in the senate.

Baria says, "I'm gonna sit down with the Insurance Committee Chairman Eugene Clark and ask him point blank, 'is he going to let this legislation come out for a vote for the full senate?'"

Lawmakers are facing major agenda items, some of which they've seen before.  But, with a new session comes the opportunity for new solutions.