- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A divided Mississippi House voted Monday to study campaign finance laws rather than change them this year, but the proposal will get more scrutiny when it returns to the Senate.

Critics say it’s time to tighten the laws amid reporting by The Clarion-Ledger that some officials have used campaign donations to pay for clothing, rent and travel. The Associated Press has also reported that some elected officials have cashed out thousands of dollars in campaign funds when they leave office.

The House voted 94-23 Monday to pass its version of Senate Bill 2374 (https://bit.ly/25tbduA ). The bill moves back to the Senate, which could either accept or reject the study committee that the House added.

House Elections Committee Chairman Bill Denny, R-Jackson, said a study group would help lawmakers better understand whether changes are needed. He said suggestions could be considered next year

“What this bill is all about is figuring out what we can do sensibly and understand what we’re doing,” Denny said.

Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Jackson, said campaign finance laws need to change this year. She questioned why Denny and other Republicans rejected a study committee for an issue she opposes - restructuring the Jackson airport board.

“Why in the world didn’t y’all have this mindset when it came to the airport bill?” Wooten said.

Speaking of campaign money, she said: “It ain’t for rent. It ain’t for no boots.”

That remark brought murmurs from many in the House chamber. The Clarion-Ledger reported in February that Republican Rep. Mark Formby of Picayune acknowledged that he has bought suits and a pair of $800 cowboy boots with part of his campaign fund.

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ALSO AT THE CAPITOL

- The Senate sent Gov. Phil Bryant House Bill 1139 (https://bit.ly/21PIDPD ), which would limit the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s regulatory power over electrical cooperatives.

- The House sent the governor Senate Bill 2603 (https://bit.ly/21PG1Bf ), which would allow towns with 500 or fewer residents to vote to reduce the number of aldermen on their governing boards.

- The Senate passed its version of House Bill 33 (https://bit.ly/21Q2MVu ), which would allow more special education students to qualify for vouchers to attend private school. The bill returns to the House for more work.

- Bryant set a June 7 special election in Bolivar and Sunflower counties to fill a House seat that’s vacant because he appointed longtime Rep. Linda Coleman, D-Mound Bayou, to be a circuit judge.

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Associated Press writer Nassim Benchaabane contributed to this report.

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