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Good morning, Mississippi editors.
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JACKSON — A Mississippi House panel has changed and passed a bill that says state and local government cannot put a substantial burden on religious practices. Supporters say the bill would reinforce the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. Opponents worry it could lead to anti-gay discrimination. Senate Bill 2681 is called the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It passed the House Judiciary B Committee on Tuesday and goes the full House for debate in coming days. The original bill was similar to a measure that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed last week. Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson says that by limiting the Mississippi bill to government action and excluding private action, it's different from the Arizona bill. The bill would add the motto "In God We Trust" to the Mississippi seal. By Emily Wagster Pettus. SENT: 500 words.
JACKSON, Miss. — The head of a Mississippi educators' union is praising lawmakers for moving forward with a teacher pay raise proposal. But, he's also asking them to do more than they're considering now. Mississippi Association of Educators Director Frank Yates says Tuesday that to keep up with neighboring states, Mississippi needs to pass a 5.5 percent teacher pay raise each year for the next five years. The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday advanced a plan to give teachers a $1,500 pay raise this July, followed by another $1,000 a year later. In the third year, teachers would become eligible for merit raises if their schools have good academic performance. By Emily Wagster Pettus. SENT: 375 words.
DEAD AND ALIVE: A look at initiatives that survived or died at a key committee deadline in the Mississippi Legislature. SENT: 500 words.
Alfred Rankins is likely to be named the next president of Alcorn State University Tuesday, assuming the College Board approves his appointment. Rankins, in meetings earlier Tuesday with faculty, students and others, pledged to be responsive and to attack the university's problems. By Jeff Amy. SENT: 500 words.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases. The bill would allow sellers to pass along their subsidized, below-market insurance rates to new buyers and lower the limit on how much flood insurance premiums can rise each year. The measure was approved 306-91. By Matthew Daly. SENT: 900 words.
MARDI GRAS-MISSISSIPPI COAST
BILOXI — Skies were gray and temperatures were chilly, but it was still Mardi Gras, with thousands flocking to Biloxi's Gulf Coast Carnival Association parade, capping off the Carnival season along the coast. SENT: 300 words.
CAMDEN — The search continues for a missing Madison County toddler. On Monday afternoon, less than an hour after it was reported that the search had been called off, Sheriff Randy Tucker and officials from at least three agencies were back on the scene combing the area again for any sign of 2-year-old Myra Lewis. He said the investigation has not changed much since Sunday. SENT: 300 words by 5 p.m.
MISSISSIPPI IN BRIEF
JACKSON — The Mississippi Public Service Commission has named Katherine Collier as its executive secretary. The three-member commission voted unanimously Tuesday to name Collier to replace Brian Ray, who plans to retire on June 30. UPCOMING: 100 words by 3 a.m.
WEST POINT — Clay County will get almost $10,500 to help clean up illegal dumps. WTVA-TV reports (http://bit.ly/1fXZT0z) the money will come from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. UPCOMING: 60 words by 3 a.m.
FLINT CREEK WATER PARK
WIGGINS — A developer plans to invest $5 million to improve the Flint Creek Water Park, which is owned by the Pat Harrison Waterway District. Russell Ryals tells WLOX-TV (http://bit.ly/1crDZ71) that he plans to build swimming pools, hot tubs, water slides and a lazy river at Flint Creek, in Stone County. UPCOMING: 120 words by 3 a.m.
LOWNDES SEWER SERVICE
COLUMBUS — A Columbus city utility is considering plans to bring sewer service to an area just south of the city limits. The Commercial Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/1fFf5Li) that the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors has set a March 20 public hearing on the plan for Columbus Light and Water to extend its lines. UPCOMING: 130 words by 3 a.m.
ALCORN SITE SALE
CORINTH — The Alcorn County Board of Supervisors has declared a 129-acre site surplus to its needs and will offer the property for sale. The supervisors have held the property on Forest School Road for almost 20 years as a possible site for trash disposal. In 2013, the county contracted with Waste Connection of Walnut to manage Alcorn's waste transfer station and transport rubbish. Waste Connection manages a landfill in Walnut. SENT: 168 words.
SOUTHAVEN — For the fourth time, the Southaven Police Department's fugitive division will hold its two-day warrant amnesty program Tuesday and Thursday. Started in 2012, the program called "Operation Safe Surrender" helps the department clear old misdemeanor warrants. SENT: 144 words.
PASCAGOULA — Work is set to begin mid-March on the $13.6 million second phase of work at the U.S. Highway 90 and Mississippi 63 and 611 interchange in Jackson County. Mississippi Department of Transportation Southern Transportation Commissioner Tom King said the state is nearing completion on the first phase of a comprehensive highway reconstruction project beginning at the U.S. Highway 90 interchange of Highway 63 and Highway 611 in Jackson County. SENT: 143 words.
OAKLAND — Authorities in Oakland are searching for two suspects they believe robbed two convenience stores over the past couple of months. Investigators said a man walked into an Exxon convenience store off Interstate 55 on Monday, pulled a gun on the clerk and demanded money. Officers say the man fired a shot as he left the store with about $300 and cigarettes valued at more than $200. Police said a second man drove a getaway car. Investigators said the men are suspects in the January robbery of a Shell convenience store in Oakland. SENT: 98 words.
JACKSON — A memorial service honoring the late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (SHOW-kway Lu-MOOM-bah) will be held Wednesday at the Word and Worship Church. The service will be at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. Lumumba, who died Feb. 25, was a member of the church. An election has been called for April 8 to choose a new mayor. SENT: 66 words.
CAT ISLAND RESCUE
GULFPORT — A New Orleans man is back on dry land after running his boat aground on Cat Island. The Coast Guard said a 41-foot-sailing vessel hit the north side of the island shortly after 6 p.m. Monday. The occupant has only been described a 35-year-old man from New Orleans. Officials said a helicopter was flown in from New Orleans around 8:30 p.m., and the man was flown back to an air station in Louisiana to be picked up by his family. SENT: 90 words.
ADAMS COUNTY-ONLINE PAYMENTS
NATCHEZ — Adams County residents who don't feel like making a trip downtown to pay Justice Court fines no longer have to in order to avoid a trip to the county jail for contempt of court. County Information Technology Director Lance Bishop told the Adams County Board of Supervisors Monday Justice Court fines — as well as sanitation bills — can now be paid online under the "Online services" portion of the county website adamscountyms.com. SENT: 123 words.
HATTIESBURG — The Hattiesburg City Council appears poised to support a request by Mayor Johnny DuPree to bring a 1 percent sales tax referendum before city residents for a vote. Councilmen are expected to vote on a resolution that would ask the state Legislature to enact certain local and private legislation that would eventually allow a sales tax increase that would bring a conservatively estimated $10 million annually to city coffers. DuPree said revenue from sales tax would be used to pay for the creation of and operation of a mandated wastewater treatment system. SENT: 106 words.
LONG BEACH PIER
LONG BEACH — Harrison County may not get reimbursed for the $174,000 it spent to repair the Jim Simpson fishing pier in Long Beach after Hurricane Isaac. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency sent a letter advising that the county was ineligible for FEMA funding, and the Board of Supervisors voted Monday to appeal that decision. Sand Beach Authority Director Chuck Loftis said the county got approval from FEMA and MEMA before beginning construction. SENT: 105 words.
GULFPORT — A 33-year-old man accused of trading a Gulfport nightclub for 12 kilos of cocaine has notified U.S. District Court of his intent to plead guilty. Victor Darnell Williams is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Wednesday. The trade value of 12 kilos of cocaine was $28,000 a kilo, or $336,000. SENT: 125 words.
JIMMIE RODGERS FEST
MERIDIAN — Organizers have announced the lineup for the 2014 Jimmie Rodgers Music Festival. The festival will be May 15-17 at Singing Brakeman Park in downtown Meridian. SENT: 74 words.
OXFORD — It's been an eventful month for Mississippi's football team, but not for the right reasons. A string of recent arrests have bruised the program's reputation and left four defensive players suspended indefinitely. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze addresses their status — and the beginning of spring football practice — on Tuesday. By David Brandt. SENT: 550 words.
LOS ANGELES — Pau Gasol and the Los Angeles Lakers go after their third straight victory when they host the New Orleans Pelicans, who lost at Sacramento one night earlier. By Joe Resnick. SENT: 750 words, photos.
— The Associated Press, Jackson.
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