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Lawmakers change session schedule

JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers are adjusting their calendar to allow more time for budget writing, and they’re hoping an infusion of federal cash will make their job easier.

The three-month legislative session originally was set to end April 3, but the House and Senate passed a resolution Thursday that sets a new schedule.

Legislators plan to work through this weekend and into next Tuesday or Wednesday to finish bills that would make general changes to state laws.

They’ll leave the Capitol for almost three weeks, then return April 20 to finish the budget.

The session’s new ending date is May 3.

Leaders say the adjusted schedule won’t create any new expenses. Lawmakers have skipped several days because of cold weather or long weekends, and they’ll use those days when they return.

Mississippi officials are hoping that Congress in the next few weeks will expand a stimulus program that has temporarily given states extra money for Medicaid. State House and Senate leaders say Mississippi could get $187 million from the expansion.

That would be a relatively small portion of what’s shaping up as $5.5 billion state budget for the year that starts July 1. It would, however, allow legislators to shuffle some state money out of Medicaid and into other services such as education.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said nobody wants a replay of last year, when lawmakers left and returned several times and finally finished a budget moments before the new fiscal year began.

“I don’t think any of us want to be here on June the 30th at 11:59 p.m., waiting for Congress to act,” Nunnelee said.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, on Thursday urged lawmakers to reach final compromises on general bills.

“It’s part of the old fashioned deadline weekend, and it’s a very exciting time, a time when very much is done,” McCoy said.

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The resolution is House Concurrent Resolution 121.

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