session outlook

Rep. Denny targeting increasing CCID funding, changing voting laws during session

Increasing allocations for road, water and sewer projects in the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID), and changing voting laws to make it easier to register and vote are among top priorities for District 64 Rep. Bill Denny.

The 2018 Legislative session began recently, and this year, Denny’s main focus will be on passing laws to allow for online voter registration and no-fault early voting.

Denny also wants to double the allocations going to the CCID, a new district that takes in a large swath of the capital city.

“We passed it last year. We originally wanted $22 million in funding (per year) and we settled for $11 million,” he said. “I want to shepherd this bill (through) before the end of the term.”

Lawmakers passed a bill creating the CCID in 2017.

The bill included creating a district and a mechanism for funding infrastructure and beautification improvements and security within it.

The district was set up to help Jackson cover costs for providing roads, water and sewer services to state-owned buildings, which do not generate property tax revenues for the city.

Jackson has billions of dollars in infrastructure needs, including between $1 billion and $2 billion in road needs. 

Under current statute, this year the state will allocate $3.2 million for improvements; in 2019, the amount will increase to $7 million; and from year three onward, the state will allocate $11 million to the district annually.

The district runs from Meadowbrook Road in the north to Hooker Street in the south and from Jackson State University in the west to the Pearl River and Ridgewood Road area in the east.

With declining revenues, Denny said seeing funding for the district increased isn’t likely.

“It will be a very difficult (budget year) this year and next year. I’ll do everything I can to get the funding in there,” he said.

The state has an annual general fund budget of approximately $6.1 billion. The 2018-19 budget is expected to be between one and two percent lower than the current year’s, Denny said.

 

In addition to the CCID, Denny, who is chair of the Apportionment and Elections Committee, is also focusing on improving voter laws.

This year, he is again proposing legislation to create no-fault early voting, as well as legislation to allow for online voter registration.

Last year, Denny authored HB 228, which would allow for no-fault voting 14 days prior to a scheduled election.

No-fault voting would allow residents to cast ballots early at their local circuit or city clerk’s office, no questions asked.

Right now, voters can cast absentee ballots prior to an election, as long as they meet one of 14 criteria established by state law.

Current criteria include allowances if voters are serving in the military, will be out of the country on election days, or are a student, teacher or administrator and are unable to come home to vote.

Under Denny’s bill, those criteria would be done away with, and voters be allowed to cast ballots at their local circuit clerk or city clerk’s offices.

To prevent fraud, those wishing to vote would still have to show state-issued identification.

The bill passed the House 113 to 8, with one representative abstaining. The measure later died in the Senate Elections Committee.

A bill allowing online voter registration also passed the House, but died in the Senate Elections Committee. HB 373 passed 116 to 4, with two lawmakers absent or abstaining.

The measure would have allowed residents to register online, but would still require residents to vote in person.

Finally, Denny who also serves on the House Appropriations Committee, will be working with lawmakers on an alternative measure to fund public education.

“It’s obvious we’ll do away with MAEP, which I am in favor of. The next question is, because I’m on Appropriations (what we come up with) to fund it,” he said.

MAEP is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides funding to schools based on a formula that includes a “base student cost, the amount that is required to provide each student an adequate education in a Mississippi school.”

MAEP was passed by lawmakers in 1997. However, the program has only been funded twice since its inception.

“I will do everything I can to make sure districts are properly funded and (a new funding proposal) makes sense with the budget.”

The session began in January.

 

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