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As storms head toward Gulf Coast, Legislature slated to return Monday to pass DMR budget

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Mississippi State Capitol building in Jackson.

The Mississippi Legislature is scheduled to convene at 4 p.m. Monday to try to pass a budget for the Department of Marine Resources, which has been in limbo from a fight between the Legislature and Gov. Tate Reeves over spending authority.

Passing the agency’s budget has taken on new urgency, as it would reportedly face problems making payroll by the end of the month, and as two tropical storms, one a potential hurricane, bear down on the Gulf Coast.

DMR, which provides regulatory and marine law enforcement services on the Gulf Coast, has been without a state budget since July 1.

Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann are calling the Legislature back into session.

At issue is oversight of Gulf restoration funds Mississippi receives for oil and gas leases. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, or GOMESA, is a federal revenue sharing program for oil and gas producing states in the Gulf. For this year, the state has about $46 million in GOMESA funds.

Legislative sources on Friday said a deal has been made for lawmakers to leave about $26 million allocated for projects already approved or started. Of the remaining money for this year, $10 million would be left for the governor to approve the projects, as has been done since the program’s inception. For the remaining $10 million, projects would be submitted to the Legislature for its approval.

The deal would apply only to this year’s DMR budget and GOMESA funds. Moving forward, lawmakers would continue to haggle over what control the governor or Legislature has over the projects and spending.

Legislative sources said there is some urgency in resolving the issue and passing a DMR budget. The agency will reportedly have trouble meeting payroll by the end of the month, and there are two tropical storms bearing down on the Gulf, which could make landfall Monday to midweek. DMR would need budget and spending flexibility to handle emergency work in marine waters before and after a storm.

Since its inception in 2006, then-Mississippi Govs. Haley Barbour and Phil Bryant controlled approval of GOMESA projects vetted by DMR as the revenue started out small but continued to grow.

In recent years, lawmakers and others have questioned whether projects chosen are helping coastal restoration and protection, or if they are just pet political projects.

Millions in GOMESA funds have been granted to build boardwalks near casinos, a planned aquarium in Gulfport — including a tram system threatened to be “de-obligated” for not meeting GOMESA requirements — and other projects critics have said don’t meet the intended purpose.

This year, House lawmakers wanted to include legislative oversight of GOMESA spending in DMR’s budget, saying the Legislature, not the governor, controls state purse strings. Gov. Tate Reeves called the move a “power grab” and said he should continue to control the money as his predecessors did. Coast lawmakers have been divided over the issue.

The Senate, over which Reeves presided for eight years as lieutenant governor, has balked at stripping the GOMESA spending authority from the governor.

Lawmakers set the rest of a $6 billion state budget and left town July 1 still at an impasse over the DMR budget. They had plans to return within a week and haggle out DMR’s budget, but a COVID-19 outbreak at the Capitol infected 49 legislators and had the Capitol shut down for weeks.

Lawmakers reconvened earlier in August, in large part to override Reeves’ veto of most of the public education budget. Lawmakers successfully squashed his veto, the first time since 2002 the Legislature has overridden a governor’s veto, but remained at an impasse over the DMR budget and GOMESA spending.

Normally the Legislature would not be able to convene itself this late in the year and would be dependent on the governor to call a special session. Earlier this year, though,  the Legislature approved a resolution allowing them to reconvene to deal with COVID-19 issues. The Legislature presumably could convene for the pandemic, and then take up non-coronavirus related issues.


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Two killed and multiple injured in Friday’s six-vehicle crash on Interstate 20

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On Friday, Oct. 16, at around 8:40 p.m., Louisiana State Police Troop F responded to a six-vehicle crash on Interstate 20 eastbound west of the village of Delta.

This crash claimed the lives of two men and involved four commercial motor vehicles (18-wheelers) and two passenger vehicles.

Troopers have been working since yesterday evening to identify victims and determine the events of the crash with many factors remaining under investigation at this time.

Although the exact sequence of events in the crash remains under investigation, the preliminary findings revealed a 2009 Chevrolet Silverado and a 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer were struck by at least one of the 18-wheelers involved.

The driver of the Silverado, identified as 36-year-old Jose Luis Venegas-Nuno of Dallas, TX, and the driver of the Trailblazer, whose name is being withheld pending notification, were both pronounced dead at the scene.

Four additional vehicle occupants from both the passenger vehicles and 18-wheelers were taken to local hospitals with moderate/severe injuries.

Interstate 20 eastbound was closed for approximately eight hours as investigators and vehicle recovery crews worked to clear the roadway. The crash investigation remains active and ongoing.

In 2020, Troop F has investigated 39 fatal crashes resulting in 42 deaths.

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Mangham police officer in critical condition; suspect in custody

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Officer Marshall Waters (courtesy of Mangham Police Department)

Mangham Police Officer Marshall Waters is in critical yet stable condition after being shot during a traffic stop Saturday afternoon.

At approximately 1 p.m., Waters executed a traffic stop heading southbound on LA 425 near the Franklin / Richland parish line. Officer Waters was shot by a subject who fled the scene of the stop southbound on US 425 into Franklin Parish.

Waters was transported to Franklin Medical Center for treatment and later transported to Rapides Hospital via helicopter.

At approximately 2:30 pm, the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office was notified of a crashed vehicle on LA Highway 562 near Fort Necessity that matched the description of the subject’s vehicle.

The suspect, Hermandus Dashanski Semien, of Ville Platte, LA, was apprehended placed into custody by the Franklin Parish Sheriffs Office.

Hermandus Dashanski Semien (courtesy of Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office).

Mangham Police Chief Perry Fleming expressed his gratitude on Facebook to all who have called, texted and prayed for Officer Marshall Waters and to the many responding officers who assisted.

Franklin Parish Sheriff Kevin Cobb also took to social media to thank the many law enforcement agencies responded and assisted in the ultimate apprehension of Semien and extended his thoughts and prayers to the Officer Waters, Chief Perry Fleming, Sheriff Gary Gilley and the law enforcement community of Richland Parish.

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Pedestrian struck by vehicle in Warren County

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A pedestrian is in the hospital after being struck by a vehicle in Warren County.

The collision occurred just before 7 p.m. Saturday on Highway 80 near Business Park Drive.

The victim was transported to Merit Health River Region with serious injuries.

Multiple State Troopers along with several Warren County Deputies responded to the crash, along with Vicksburg and Warren County Fire Fighters.

The Vicksburg Daily News will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

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