Late Friday afternoon, a Barbour spokesman said the governor was being briefed on the legislation that passed the Senate without a dissenting vote and with only three no votes in the 122-member House.
"This legislation helps us better protect Mississippi ratepayers," said Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. "I think today is a grand victory for strong regulation and for consumer protection."
Barbour called the Legislature back for Friday's special session after the previous special session ended June 30 without funding for the three-member elected Public Service Commission, which provides regulation of the state's utilities, and the Public Utilities Staff.
The Public Utilities Staff is a separate agency that provides recommendations to the commission on consumer issues such utilities' requests for rate increases.
In the previous special session to develop a budget, the House approved a request by the three commissioners for additional "technical experts," but the Senate refused, even though it did approve additional employees for the Public Utilities Staff.
On Friday, the House passed legislation providing three additional employees for the commission.
But in the Senate, Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, successfully amended the House proposal to remove the authorization for three additional positions, but to provide the commission with an extra $280,000 and the authority to fill three of six vacant positions with the needed technical experts.
"Today's passage clears the way for the Public Utilities Staff and the Public Service Commission to continue their work for the citizens of Mississippi," said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. "Senate leaders worked hard to craft reasonable legislation that did not increase the number of state employees."
Almost all of the 30 members of the Public Utilities Staff and the bulk of the 70 employees of the Public Service Commission were furloughed after the new fiscal year started on July 1 with no budgets for the two agencies.
During what was a particularly difficult budgeting process, the regular session ended with no budget to fund state services. Working until almost midnight on June 30 in special sessions, budgets were approved for all state agencies except the Public Service Commission and the Public Utilities Staff.
Presley and the other two commissioners said the additional staff was needed to perform functions that the Public Utilities Staff did not do before making its recommendation on rate increases.
Much of the work done by the new staff members will center on performing audits of the utilities.
The Legislature completed the one-day special session by 4 p.m. Friday. The quick work by the Legislature was surprising considering it began with no established agreement between the House and Senate.
"I am glad we were able to reach a compromise," said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. "That is the way the Legislature is supposed to work."
McCoy and the rest of the House leadership were unsuccessful in efforts to fund the 15 community mental health centers across the state.
Earlier this month Barbour vetoed the portion of the state Mental Health Department budget funding those agencies. The Legislature cannot take up that veto until the 2010 session begins in January.
On Friday, the House passed legislation providing about $8 million to pull down matching federal Medicaid funds for the centers. Without the appropriations, House Public Health Chair Steve Holland, D-Panersville, said about half of the centers, which serve more than 100,000 people annually, will close.
But Bryant and Nunnelee chose not to take up the legislation, saying it was not included in the special session agenda established by Barbour.
"We're all concerned about the mental health centers," Bryant said, but added the Constitution gives the governor the sole authority to set the special session agenda and legislators took an oath to obey the Constitution. "I for one will not violate that oath."
McCoy said the governor sets the agenda, but cannot dictate how the Legislature reacts to that agenda.
He said that when the governor calls a special session to take up a budget items, such as the Public Service Commission, he cannot prevent the Legislature from considering all budget items.
"When he puts one budget bill in the call," McCoy reasoned, "he opens up the whole budget."
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or email@example.com.