By Tommy Reynolds
We are now in the segment of the Legislative Session when we are straightening out differences between House and Senate versions of the same ideas. These differences are either accepted in the original chamber or sent to be ironed out in conference committee meetings. In these meetings, three members of each chamber meet to agree on the final version of a measure. Last week, the House added its language to a number of senate bills, which will now either be sent to conference or accepted by the Senate and go to the Governor for his signature.
One such measure will have a most positive impact on our local rural fire departments. Senate Bill 2913 is a bond bill that includes funding for many programs. I offered an amendment to include $3 million in additional funding for fire truck and equipment purchases for our rural communities.
Over the years, the Rural Fire Truck Assistance Pro-gram has provided millions of dollars for the purchase of fire trucks and fire equipment for the counties in District 33. It has contributed to saving lives and property.
The full House adopted this amendment. Our members support rural and small town fire fighters. We recognize that many times these individuals serve us as volunteers with no compensation other than the satisfaction that comes from helping people in need. Adequate equipment is essential to the safety of these men and women. For the citizens, it means better protection and lowered insurance rates. We will now see if the Senate will accept this change in the final version of the bill.
The House of Represen-tatives took up Senate Bill 2874, which was to fund the Department of Mental Health. Although I voted for the bill on final passage, I did not agree with the fact that the bill cut $6 million in state funds from the agency. If this cut finally goes through, it will mean that some who provide needed care to our mentally ill could lose their jobs. Even more important, mentally ill Mississippians would not receive the care they so desperately need.
Our nation and state have witnessed tragedies caused by mentally-ill individuals who were not receiving treatment that they needed. We do not need to break the link in the chain of care for our mentally ill that this drastic reduction of funds would achieve. I supported a procedural motion, which, if successful, would have restored the $6 million in question. Many of us strongly expressed to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee our desire that this bill be changed and that every effort be made to restore the lost funding.
I will be closely following the progress of this bill. Early in the session, most of my colleagues and I expressed our desire to make sure our mental health system was fully supported. In my opinion, this is not an area to be used as a budget-balancing tool.
The Senate amended House Bill 481 which provides a new approach to the problem of impaired driving on our roads and highways.
I supported this original measure which requires individuals convicted of DUI to use a breath-activated interlocking device before their cars will start. Drivers are also allowed to drive with restricted licenses requiring the devices. The restrictive measures vary depending upon the level of the conviction. This idea was supported by MADD and law enforcement. It offers offenders the opportunity to show their ability to drive legally and safely while protecting the public.
We will know within the next three weeks the fate of these and many other proposals as the House and Senate work together to produce the final versions of the bills.
Please contact me on these or any other issues at 15 CR 429, Water Valley, MS 38965 or by email at email@example.com.. I can also be reached by telephone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you.