Politics & Government

The legislature is out. Here's what it did for the Coast.

Gov. Phil Bryant
Gov. Phil Bryant ttisbell@sunherald.com

Maybe it was about time for the legislative session to end.

Journalists covering the House and Senate started Tweeting hashtags like #SineDieAlready (that's fancy Latin for "adjourn already") and one state senator reportedly told her colleagues, "I love you guys, more or less. The more I'm with you, the less I love you."

There's still a chance of a special House session (more on that later) but the Senate adjourned Wednesday and the House on Thursday.

Here are five things those chambers did in the past four months -- and one thing they didn't -- that will affect the Coast specifically:

1. In a dramatic -- or what counts as dramatic when you're talking legislation -- series of last-minute wrangling, the so-called "go cups" bill died, was revived, passed, was attacked again and ultimately will made its way to the governor's desk. The measure, which allows cities to designate entertainment districts where patrons will be able to take open containers of alcohol out of bars and restaurants, was designed for the Coast. Though it has since been expanded to include other cities in Mississippi, several Coast leaders said they welcomed the idea of such districts in their cities.

2. Then there was HB 1523, the so-called "religious freedom" bill that cheered Coast leaders much less. The Sun Herald has written extensively about it. If you missed it, here is what Coast mayors and Coast businesses had to say. It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the measure could have on tourism but the Coast could be hardest hit in the state.

3. House Bill 1608 authorized the creation of a Civil Service Commission for Harrison County. Sheriff Troy Peterson wasn't sure why the original authorization expired in 2013, but he lauded the passage as necessary to ensure fair treatment of employees.

4. Two major and long-awaited projects in Gulfport had hinged on a legislative vote to replenish historical tax credits, which passed over the weekend. Though the downtown Markham Hotel and the Centennial Plaza projects are still far from done deals, both have a clearer path forward. Another bill gave Gulfport and its urban renewal agency, the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, authority to sign long-term leases on seven projects whose total expenditures are estimated at $450 million.

5. Mississippi lawmakers agreed to borrow $250 million in bonds to fund dozens of projects around the state. Among the most expensive is $45 million for Ingalls Shipbuilding improvements in Pascagoula.

One more thing: There could be yet more legislative wrangling to come this year because where and how to use the settlement money from the BP oil spill hasn't quite been settled.

State Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, is one of the people trying to persuade Gov. Phil Bryant to order a special session. Of the $150 million from the BP settlement that will become available in the next fiscal year, $40 million has been appropriated, mostly for the southern counties, Watson said. But instead of funding new projects it is largely being used to offset money cut from the 2017 budget and Watson said after that shortfall has been dealt with it could be a challenge to get the votes to bring the money back to the Coast.

House Speaker Philip Gunn even seemed to think the special session was inevitable, so stay tuned.

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