- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Legislature ended its three-month 2015 session Thursday as the House wrapped up a few final pieces of business one day after the Senate had finished its work and gone home.

“I appreciate the diligence you have shown,” Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, told House members as they prepared to leave.

The House sent legislation to Gov. Phil Bryant that would tighten sanctions for schools found cheating on state tests. Senate Bill 2258 had already passed the Senate.

The House also sent the governor Senate Bill 2804, which would remove civil-service protection from Mississippi Department of Corrections’ employees for one year.

Both bills had passed the House on Wednesday but were held for the possibility of more debate, which is what brought representatives back to the Capitol for morning session after the Senate left. Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, argued unsuccessfully Thursday against the school sanctions bill, saying the state can already take action against schools if cheating is suspected.

The Department of Corrections bill moved forward with no additional debate.

In a letter distributed to House members, Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher wrote: “I commit to you that any personnel action taken by this agency to terminate the employment of any MDOC employee will follow the rules and regulations of the State Personnel Board with regard to due process and grievance procedures.”

During the 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.

Lawmakers voted to create $6,500 vouchers that would let a small percentage of special-education students pay for private school, tutoring or other education services.

They enacted a ban on texting while driving.

They eliminated the $5 annual vehicle safety inspection sticker.

They voted to make the boards of publicly owned hospitals conduct most of their business in meetings that will be open to the public, a change prompted by pension problems at Singing River Hospital in Jackson County.

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

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .


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