The Mississippi Senate Wednesday overwhelmingly approved passage of the compromise bill authored by state Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, which extends the repealer on the one-percent tourism tax on restaurant meals for parks, but also allows for the authorization of a public referendum on the issue.
The bill was co-authored by state Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Olive Branch and Sen. Chris Massey, R-Nesbit. Blackwell, Parker and Massey voted for the bill.
Additionally, the repealer for a flat $2 per hotel room, per night user tax on Horn Lake hotels also known as the Horn Lake tourism tax was extended.
That bill, like the Southaven tourism tax bill, faces an uncertain future in the House.
"It's not like the Penny for the Parks bill," Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer said late Wednesday, drawing a distinction between the two. "It's a user tax, not a sales tax. It's still got to go over to the House. We're still hoping that things go well over there. You are talking about several hundred thousand dollars. It goes for economic development and to improve our quality of life."
The Southaven Penny for the Parks bill means about $1.88 million for the City of Southaven.
In other matters, a House bill which would have reduced the number of days that students in Mississippi's public schools attend class from 180 to 170 failed to make it onto the House calendar.
Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, a supporter of the bill, said he discussed the bill with the chairman and it was decided that the bill would not be brought out.
"I personally like the idea of kids having more time at home," Criswell said.
However, Criswell said he learned that teachers had already entered into a contract for the upcoming new year in most instances.
"It (bill) never made it to the floor," Criswell said. "We were trying to cut days for students but not cut teachers' pay. I was all in support of the 170 days but the issue was brought to our attention that contracts had already been signed."
While public schools mandate students attend 180 days of school, private schools like Northpoint Christian School set their school calendar at 175 days of school.
"I would hope that we would go to an hourly regulation rather than a day requirement," Criswell said. "It seems like we keep expanding testing days and keep expanding days in school. We need to cut out all the peripheral days of testing and give kids a chance to be more free."
DeSoto County Superintendent of Education Cory Uselton expressed some concerns about the 170-day bill.
“The concern we would have is in the loss of instructional days," Uselton said. "We need every available minute that we can with our students, so we want to make sure our students are as prepared as possible. We would have to make adjustments if the school calendar would be shortened to 170 days."
Uselton said teachers, as well as students, have to be considered.
“My first concern when I heard it was about our teacher salaries," Uselton said. "I wanted to make sure that our teachers would maintain the same salary regardless of the number of days. I always want to protect our teachers and do what we can to help them. When I first heard about 170 days, that was my first concern.”
Monetary issues could also be behind the proposal, according to Uselton, and less days would impact the school district's bottom line.
“I think it could be tied somewhat to school funding, because of the operations cost of the district would be less if there were only 170 days on the calendar, so school funding could be tied to it," Uselton said. "I don’t know for sure, but I do know that it would cost less money to operate a school, just because of the utility bills and buses and all the other overhead costs that go along it.”
Families would also be affected due to planning family vacations.
“We could go ahead and put our calendar out because the main thing we wanted to do was to let parents be able to plan vacations in the summer, plan their fall break, Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, and know when those breaks are," Uselton said. "If the school year was shortened by 10 days, all we would do would be to start later and end sooner, so it wouldn’t affect vacations.”
Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Olive Branch, is generally not in favor of the 170-day school calendar.
"I think that backing up the number of school days is not going in the right direction," Blackwell said. "In some countries, you have students who go year round. When you have three months out in the summer, you spend the first month re-learning remedial material. That much is forgotten over the summer."
Staff Writer Bob Bakken contributed to this story.