- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi House has approved plans to triple the per diems paid to some state and local officials for attending meetings. At least one proponent says the current amount, $40, has not changed in 36 years.

Representatives voted 110-5 Tuesday to approve House Bill 1421.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, a Columbus Republican, told his committee that the rate hasn’t risen since 1980. He said he tried to choose a rate equivalent to inflation. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that $115 in 2015 was equal to $40 in 1980.

“When you’re having board meetings, you’re not having a quorum show up” because of the low per diems paid to board members, Smith told Ways and Means members.

The committee passed the bill hours before the full House voted on it. It now goes to the Senate for more work.

Smith acknowledged the slim chances of the Senate agreeing to raise the amount to $150, but said he hopes a compromise can be reached.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves expressed opposition to any change Tuesday.

“The lieutenant governor is more interested in giving taxpayers a pay raise than he is any governmental appointees,” spokeswoman Laura Hipp wrote in an email.

No one has provided any estimates of the final price tag of the measure. Some agencies would pay the per diems from user fee revenues, while others would get the money from the state’s general tax revenue.

Public records show many officials are paid mileage plus a per diem when attending meetings outside their home counties. The per diem is treated as taxable income. Smith said officials also typically get reimbursed when they spend the night in a hotel for an out-of-town meeting.

The change wouldn’t apply to legislators, who are paid per diems based on federal standards.

State employees get actual expenses for most travel, although they typically get a daily meal reimbursement of $41 to $56, depending on the cost of the location they’re visiting.

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Online: House Bill 1421: (http://bit.ly/1QGg7d9 )

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy

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