More highway patrolmen on the road, teacher pay raises, and smarter criminal laws. These are just some of the changes residents will soon see as the 2014 Legislative Session comes to a close. Now that the Mississippi Legislature has wrapped up its regular session for the year, the bills that were passed and signed into law will begin to go into effect, and state approved funding will eventually make its way to earmarked projects. The Coast Coliseum and Convention Center is not one of those projects. In the eleventh hour, lawmakers killed a bill that would have paved the way for a new parking lot at the Coliseum. At least one local state senator questions why the Coliseum was denied access to take $1 million from its trust fund to pay for the project.
Senator Michael Watson, (R) Mississippi, says, "We were able to bring up a new bill through the appropriations process, passed it out of the Senate. As I recall, it was a 52 to nothing vote. Then it went to the House. When it got into the House Appropriations Committee, the bill was killed. We are still asking questions as to what happened. Why?" It wasn't all bad news for the Coast, however. Roads will be safer after a bill was passed funding Mississippi Highway Patrol schools. Senator Tony Smith, (R) District 47, says, "If one of my daughters or my wife had an accident or issue out on the interstate, I don't want them to have to sit there and wait an hour and a half for someone to get there, so hopefully this will be a set where that won't happen."
News 25 met with Senator Smith Wednesday. He says he is relieved over new legislation that will fund a new trooper school, especially with the current trooper shortage. He says the school will turn out 60 to 80 troopers per year to help with the dangerously low numbers. Smith also says, "We don't need to do just one and wait two or three years. We really need to consider doing it year after year to keep that number of troopers high, and I think if we did that, it might lower our cost of the trooper school. We wouldn't need $7 million every time we do it." Smith says it will take about a year to graduate the first class, which will provide the much needed relief to the Coast and throughout the state. Thursday, Governor Bryant also signed Senate Bill 2681, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.