Legislators meet in Hattiesburg to discuss 2014 issues

Five state legislators met Monday on the University of Southern Mississippi's campus to discuss issues facing Mississippi in 2014.

"The good news this session is that we're starting out ahead," said Senator Joey Fillingane (R- Dist. 41) of the state budget.

"We're about somewhere between 150 to 200 million dollars above the projections that we were working off of during the legislative budget committee this fall," said Fillingane.

With this budget, many are holding their hands out to receive those funds. The lawmakers said they are focused on several issues this session, and education will have a particularly strong look.

"We made a lot of structural reforms last year, trying to bring the funding along with that to make sure that our local school districts have the resources they need to make it happen," said Representative Toby Barker (R- Dist. 102).

On the minds of many is the funding of MAEP, which has only happened twice since 1997. After talking to Fillingane and Barker, however, 2014 doesn't look too promising for the full funding of this program.

"It's a moving target," said Fillingane of MAEP. "It's never the same year-to-year, and just funding for the sake of funding it, patting ourselves on the back, I think is really the wrong approach."

"I think MAEP will see an increase," said Barker. "I'm not going to put the thought out there that we're going to be able to fully fund it because that's about a $250 million gap right now."

Education issues are not the only thing on Barker's mind this session.  Like many others, he has long from forgotten about the Hattiesburg mayoral election, and he will introduce legislation this week that focuses on municipal election laws.

"We need to make sure that whatever we do clarifies some existing confusion that's there to try and reduce the amount of human error that we saw last year," said Barker. "Secondly, we need to make sure that whatever law passes, ensure the integrity of the vote. And no matter what side anyone was on, I think everyone can agree that no city- especially our city- should have to go through what we went through in 2013 again."

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