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Lawmakers Call for Transparency After Voucher Controversy

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Lawmakers Call for Transparency After Voucher Controversy
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Sen. David Blount Speaking Against Voucher Funding in Senate Bill 3049
Desare Frazier

The last day of the Mississippi Legislative Session some lawmakers are calling for more transparency after last week's controversy over special needs vouchers. MPB's Desare Frazier reports.

"Mr. Speaker, I have a request. I'd like to change my vote on Senate Bill 3049 from yea to nay. said Rep. Angela Cockerham. "Any objections." said House Speaker Philip Gunn.

The last day of the Mississippi legislative session lawmakers in the House are still changing their votes on an appropriations bill for the Department of Finance and Administration from yea to nay. The bill includes $2 million for Education Scholarship Accounts referred to as special needs vouchers. House Republican Gary Staples of Laurel changed his vote from yea to not voting.

"I don't agree with slipping something in a conference report and any time that happens I'm going to change my vote and I'm going to speak out against it," said Staples.

Several Senators tried to take the $2 million out of the bill but failed. Democratic Senator Derrick Simmons of Greenville says it was Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves who approved adding the funding.

"People back home that want transparency. They want accountability and it's just my hope that we think about those things when we go to the polls in August and November," said Simmons.

A previous bill that added more funding to the voucher program passed the Senate but died in the House. The appropriation bill passed with the voucher funding included. Lt. Governor Reeves says he did the right thing. He says he met with a mother whose child is benefiting from the program but a waitlist for a voucher prevents her other child from receiving services.

"I got elected to do what was right and what was right in that issue is getting those kids who have special needs off of that waitlist and allow those parents to make a choice for what is best for those kids," said Reeves.

Governor Phil Bryant tweeted he'll sign the bill.