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Special session agenda not complete, Bryant spokesman says

A top Democrat is calling on Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to expand the list of topics for a special legislative session, but the governor’s spokesman says the budget remains the only agenda item for now.

Bryant on Tuesday announced that a special session will begin June 5 so lawmakers can set budgets for the attorney general’s office and the Department of Transportation. Only the governor can call lawmakers back to the Capitol after they have finished their regular session, and he tells legislators what topics they may consider.

The House Democratic Caucus chairman, Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, said Wednesday that he wants the governor to let lawmakers consider criminal justice issues that were in a bill Bryant vetoed after the regular session ended.

The governor said a typographical error in House Bill 1033 would have made habitual offenders eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of a sentence.

The bill would have allowed employed parolees to schedule online interviews with probation officers, so the parolees would not have to miss work to go to an interview in person. It also would have eliminated automatic prison time for failure to pay a fine, and would have allowed inmates to learn job skills.

Baria said the bill “was written and passed in an effort to eliminate unreasonably lengthy incarceration for certain nonviolent crimes.”

“Some are incarcerated because they cannot pay fines — a modern-day version of ‘debtors’ prison,'” Baria said. “House Bill 1033 was one of those rare legislative measures that had the support of nearly every member of the Legislature as well as outside interest groups.”

Bryant’s spokesman, Knox Graham, said the governor has not decided on every issue he will ask lawmakers to consider. Bryant can add issues to the list after they arrive.

“Gov. Bryant isn’t going to consider the political preferences of any group or individual when deciding the agenda of the special session,” Graham said Wednesday. “It is his intention to focus primarily on budget and revenue issues, and specifics of the agenda will be decided as we get closer to June 5.”

Legislators adopted most parts of a $6 billion budget before they finished their regular session in late March, but spending plans for the Department of Transportation and the attorney general’s office died in disputes between the House and Senate. The budget year starts July 1.

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