March 18, 2013 10:02:25 AM
State Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, says a conference committee between Mississippi House and Senate members should be created this week to iron out the differences between both chamber's Starkville-Oktibbeha County school consolidation bill.
Senators passed an amended version of HB 716 last week which would create a study committee charged with exploring how to properly merge Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District with city school leaders at the helm of the new district. An amendment to the Senate Education Committee's strike-all change explicitly allows the Commission on Starkville-Oktibbeha County School District Structure to investigate the possibility of merging outlying county school districts with other surrounding counties' school systems.
The bill was returned to the House Thursday for concurrence. The House can concur and effectively adopt the Senate's version, not concur and form a joint committee to reach an agreement on one final version of the two chambers' bills, or not concur and effectively kill the legislation.
Chism, a House Education Committee member, said it is likely representatives will call for a six-person conference committee sometime this week to work out the differences. He and Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, both said the committee should involve each chamber's education committee chairman - Rep. John L. Moore, R-Brandon, and Sen. Gray Tollison, R- Oxford.
Chism said the House is likely to nominate HB 716's principle author, Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, and should seat an additional House Education Committee Member. Chism said he could be that third member.
Jackson said he expects a second Senate Education Committee member to sit on the conference committee and said he would also serve as a local liaison if asked by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Besides developing a mutually agreeable bill, a conference committee is needed because of reverse-repeal language Senate Education Committee members placed in the bill with its original strike-all substitute.
If a final version is agreed upon in conference, that bill would then require adoption votes in both chambers.
"It's really just a work in progress until we get out of conference. We need to be careful about procrastinating about this issue because there's a whole lot at stake with this," State Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, said. "We've waited all these years, and now we've crossed the Rubicon at this point. I feel comfortable with Gary (Chism) and Toby (Barker) being on there. I feel comfortable they'll do the right thing."
Both Chism and Ellis have endorsed county consolidation efforts since HB 716 was filed, while Jackson consistently said more local input was needed before continuing with the process.
"I'd rather have one leg amputated than two," Jackson said of the bill during Senate debate last week.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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