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July 1, 2009

(8:10 a.m.) UPDATED Miss. budget

Miss. lawmakers finish most of $6B budget, not PSC

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS,Associated Press Writer





JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Bleary-eyed Mississippi lawmakers approved most of the $6 billion budget before the state fiscal year started early Wednesday, addressing Medicaid and public safety while leaving only the state's utility regulatory agency unfunded.



The Public Service Commission regulates telecommunications, and electrical, natural gas, water and sewer utilities. It also enforces a no-call list designed to help consumers avoid unwanted telephone solicitations.



Commissioner Leonard Bentz said he didn't know how the agency would continue to function. Gov. Haley Barbour had no immediate comment, but he has said previously he can run the agency by executive order.



Legislators adjourned their three-day special session at midnight Tuesday, shortly after approving spending plans for the Department of Public Safety, Medicaid and several other agencies. About one in every four Mississippians is covered by Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the needy, and health advocates feared it would lapse out of existence.



"It's been a long, drawn-out process and people's nerves have been on edge," said Mary Troupe, executive director of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, said late Tuesday. "It's not a game. This can be life or death for people."



Barbour signed a long list of budget bills for most state agencies.



Legislators have to vote every few years to keep state agencies in business — a process that gives officials a chance to review whether programs are operating efficiently. The Medicaid reauthorization bill passed the House on Tuesday night only after a long delay.



Democratic Rep. George Flaggs of Vicksburg was upset about managed-care provisions he thought would limit patients' medical options, and he exercised his right to have the 82-page bill read aloud.



"This bill is not going to leave here killing people," Flaggs said to the groans of some colleagues.

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