In addition to tackling major budget problems and the redistricting of 122 House and 52 Senate seats, the Legislature is expected to take up a host of other controversial issues, ranging from immigration restrictions to a statewide smoking ban to stiffer penalties for animal abuse.
"It is going to be busy," said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. "There is a lot of work to be done."
Lawmakers are expected to deal early with an incentive package to lure an economic development project to Hattiesburg.
On Monday, a joint committee tasked with redrawing legislative districts to match population shifts determined by the 2010 census met to set criteria.
The committee voted that no districts could be more than 5 percent above or below the ideal district population. The plan also must adhere to federal and state laws.
Committee co-chairs Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, and Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, expressed confidence they could get a plan drawn and approved by the House and Senate in time for elections later this year. Otherwise, House and Senate members likely would have to run two years in a row.
There has been some speculation that the Senate might refuse to accept the House plan because some senators believe the House Democratic leadership might try to harm some House Republicans in drawing new districts. Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said the House should adopt a "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" approach. If the Senate does not approve the House plan, Blackmon said the House should not approve the Senate plan.
Burton said he would work to pass in the Senate the plan approved by the House.
The Legislature will have to work quickly on redistricting. The state is expected to receive the official Census numbers in early February. It will then have to approve a plan and get U.S. Department of Justice approval in advance of a June 1 qualifying deadline.
"When the numbers come, in we will be like bees in the beehive," said Reynolds. "It is always a hectic process."
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or email@example.com.