- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Senate ended its part of the 2015 legislative session Wednesday several days ahead of schedule, but the House will return to the Capitol to handle the last bits of unfinished business Thursday.

Two bills were held for the possibility of more House debate. Senate Bill 2258 would tighten sanctions for schools found to be cheating on tests, and Senate Bill 2804 would make it easier for the Corrections commissioner to hire or fire people by removing employees’ civil service job protection for one year.

“I made every attempt that I could to save the taxpayers money so we wouldn’t have to come back tomorrow,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said Wednesday.

Any member of the Legislature has the right to hold a bill for another possible round of debate, and legislative rules say the second debate cannot take place the same day as the first.

During Senate debate on the corrections bill Wednesday, Democratic Sen. David Blount of Jackson argued that civil service procedures should remain in place.

“If you vote for this and you have a constituent who works for the Department of Corrections and that person is fired and they call you and they say, ‘What is my recourse?’ … your answer to them would be, ‘You can do nothing about it,’” Blount said.

Supporters of the bill said Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher needs the flexibility to manage a department that has had budget problems the past several years. Fisher became commissioner in January, two months after former commissioner Christopher Epps was indicted on federal corruption charges tied to prison contracts.

During the three-month session, which originally was scheduled to end Easter Sunday, lawmakers wrote a nearly $6.3 billion budget and approved borrowing $450 million for a variety of projects, including $24.5 million for an aquarium in Gulfport. Republican leaders pushed for tax cuts, but those efforts were defeated by House Democrats who argued that the state needs to hold onto money for education, transportation and other services.

Senators were in a lighthearted mood Wednesday as they spent more than 10 minutes hazing a first-year colleague, Republican Sen. Charles Younger of Columbus, who stood at the front of the chamber to give his first ever explanation of a bill, a measure to deal with rental of motor scooters. Younger handled the questions with good humor, at one point taking a swig from a pitcher of ice water that his colleagues asked a page to deliver to him.

“You now will take the honors as the most picked-on senator in this chamber,” said Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, who endured his own good-humored hazing when he joined the Legislature in 2014.

In sharp contrast to the time spent having fun with their colleague, the Senate spent little time debating a bill that would expand the use of the death penalty. House Bill 1052, which passed the House on Tuesday, would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty against someone who has killed three people within a three-year period. Under current law, a capital murder charge can be brought against someone accused of killing a person while also committing another felony such as armed robbery.

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Online: Senate Bill 2804, https://bit.ly/1AfOx4a ; Senate Bill 2258, https://bit.ly/1CPrLiY ; House Bill 1052, https://bit.ly/1F3VJgo .

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