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Negotiators inch toward deal on DMR bill as deadline nears

By Paul Hampton | Sun Herald | March 28, 2014

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House and Senate negotiators are inching closer to a deal that could get the bill to overhaul the Department of Marine Resources out of a conference committee by next week's deadline.

Rep. David Baria, D-Waveland, who wrote the amendment that would strip from the bill a provision exempting the agency from Personnel Board oversight for one year, said even though he is a conferee, the negotiations are really between Sens. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula and Casey Eure of Biloxi. Both are Republicans.

Eure chairs the House Marine Resources Committee and Wiggins chairs the Senate Ports and Marine Resources Committee.

"I've talked to both chairmen and right now I wouldn't say that there is almost a deal but they are in the same neighborhood," Baria said.

Eure couldn't be reached Friday. Wednesday, Wiggins had said senators wanted the exemption to stay. On Friday, he said there was nothing new to report other than negotiations were continuing.

DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said he asked for the exemption to help him reorganize the agency.

"The State Personnel Board serves a valuable role," he said Friday, "in guiding state agencies in the process of identifying job candidates and hiring state employees. However, it is not unusual for agencies to be exempt from the Personnel Board rules temporarily to allow positions to be realigned in a timely manner.

"This is the case with DMR, given the recent agency assessment that identified organizational gaps. It is necessary to make personnel changes quickly in order to continue moving the agency forward, and coming out from the Personnel Board temporarily would allow us to do that."

In addition to the exemption, the bill would set up a legislative oversight committee; would name five offices inside the agency; would specify qualifications for chief financial officer, chief of marine patrol and chief scientific officer; and would require an annual audit of the agency. It would abolish the Artificial Reef Fund and put the fund's money into the Seafood Fund, and would create a Mississippi Seafood Marketing Program Account.

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