Barbour gets Fulton tax, anti-abortion legislation

By Bobby Harirson/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Mississippi House was in session for a little less than one hour Wednesday to send to the governor legislation that would prohibit health insurance offered through a federally created exchange from providing abortion coverage.
Members also approved a measure to let the city of Fulton vote on imposing a 3 percent tax on hotel and motel charges.
“I am glad it is over,” said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantervsville.
Holland, as chair of the Public Health Committee, helped bring the session to a quick conclusion by calling up for a second vote on the anti-abortion legislation. The bill was passed on the second vote 88-25, which was similar to the margin it passed by on a first vote.
The bill originally was passed on Saturday in Holland’s absence. But it was held on a motion to reconsider, forcing the House to return Wednesday.
Supporters of the legislation argued it is needed to ensure public funds are not spent on abortions in Mississippi. Holland and others countered that the legislation is not needed because state and federal laws already prevent public funds from being spent on abortions.
“The fight is over,” Holland said. “This was done for pure political motives and political motives won.”
But Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, released a statement soon after the House vote saying, “The Federal Abortion Mandate Opt-Out Act will strengthen Mississippi’s position as the most pro-life state.”
The Senate had passed the legislation before it adjourned the 2010 session last week. The legislation got caught up in a rift in the House over whether it was needed.
The legislation to allow the vote on the hotel-motel tax in Fulton would not have occurred if the House had not returned Wednesday. House Local and Private Chair Willie Perkins D-Greenwood, was going to let the legislation die because he said he did not like the changes made to the bill by the Senate.
But Rep. Donnie Bell, D-Fulton, argued that the original intent of the legislation was not changed by the Senate. In the end, Perkins relented, called the legislation up and it passed 109-2.
Bell said the plan is to use funds generated by the tax to improve tourism in the Itawamba County municipality – particularly in the area of parks and recreation.
“It will be used to help develop parks and recreation and maybe to do some promotion of the Tenn-Tom,” Bell said. “It will help to recruit tourism to our part of the state.”
Before the city can enact the tax, a referendum will be held and the tax must be supported by 60 percent of those voting.
Before adjourning, Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, gave an update to the House of his tour of the area ravaged by Saturday’s tornado. McCoy also gave House members who represent those storm-stricken areas a chance to update the House.
McCoy compared the devastation to that of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005 and is generally regarded as the nation’s worst natural disaster. Both events, he said, “will be etched in my mind.”
“Individual families will never be the same.”
Wednesday’s actions ends the 2010 session of the state Legislature.
There is speculation a special session will be called by Gov. Haley Barbour sometime this year.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.