Gov. Bryant’s special session

Facing a $75 million shortfall in the state budget, Gov. Bryant called a special session to dip into the state’s rainy day fund to cover the deficit. After much grandstanding, the legislature authorized the governor to pull from the $349 million fund to balance the state’s $6.2 billion fiscal 2016 budget.

After years of demanding that the rainy-day fund only be used to pay one-time costs, Republicans are dipping into the fund for a second time within a year. And this after a year of corporate giveaways and borrowing money to do so. Katherine DeCoito makes the observation that, at this rate, the politicians are incentivized to make every year a “rainy day”–at least until the state is bankrupt–and they can no longer bail themselves out.

Geoff Pender further illustrates the absurdity of the legislative session which cost taxpayers $102,000 which would be comical if it wasn’t so pitiful. Our legislators, Democrat and Republican, apparently think they are playing with “Monopoly” money. Unfortunately, it is not.

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State Legislature debating guns in churches

House Bill 786 was approved by state Representatives and would accomplish three things:   (1) allows church authorities to develop security programs that designate enhanced carry permit holders or those with military or law enforcement backgrounds to protect places of worship, (2) ensures that these participants receive the benefits of existing protections under the state’s Castle Doctrine law; and (3) clarifies current permitless carry options for law-abiding citizens while maintaining the existing enhanced and regular concealed carry permitting systems.

The Mississippi Senate now takes up the bill for consideration.

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State Legislature back in session

The Mississippi Legislature convened their 2016 session on Tuesday, January 5th and re-elected Rep. Philip Gunn as House Speaker and selected Sen. Terry Burton as President Pro-Tem.

Gov. Phil Bryant plans to push comprehensive school choice, additional workforce training, tax credits and cuts, and repairing the state’s foster care program.

Eliminating the corporate franchise tax tops Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ agenda. He also wants to expand school choice while prioritizing BP oil disaster settlement funds for South Mississippi and the Coast.

Speaker Philip Gunn has already made waves by pushing to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, creating a new education funding formula to replace MAEP, and ensure the state lives within its budget.

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Governor’s review of the 2015 Legislative Session

The Clarion-Ledger summarized the 2015 session as follows:

For all the talk of broad tax cuts, or “a taxpayer raise,” the only break rank-and-file Mississippians will see from the 2015 legislative session is $5, from the elimination of vehicle inspection stickers.

The state’s GOP leadership, holding both a House and Senate majority, passed competing tax cut plans, and each chamber initially killed the other’s. They reached a compromise only late in the session, but then Democrats prevented the super-majority vote needed for passage.

This election-year session, which wrapped up Thursday, at times appeared more about politics or minutiae than major policy. Lawmakers argued over joining a drive to compel Congress to balance its budget (they did), banning trade with Iran (they didn’t, after realizing Toyota might have Iranian investments), exempting children from vaccinations for their parents’ philosophical beliefs (they’re not), feeding deer meat to prison inmates (they’re not) and whether to allow homeschooled children to play public school sports (they didn’t).

At one point in the session, lawmakers couldn’t get a bipartisan two-thirds vote to delay business for a day for an ice storm.

“As always, you get some things you want and some things you don’t,” Gov. Phil Bryant said of a legislative session where he saw several of his initiatives shot down.

In his own statement, Gov. Bryant praised the legislature for passing the following legislation to him:

  • Education vouchers for special needs students (SB 2695)
  • Strengthening 2nd Amendment protections (SB 2394, SB 2619)
  • Improving state contracting procedures (HB 825, SB 2400)
  • Investing in Huntington Ingalls in Pascagoula and Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson
  • Increasing state trooper pay (SB 2500)
  • Medical licenses for retired military practicing on voluntary basis (HB 215)
  • Increasing public hospital transparency (SB 2407)
  • Waiving out-of-state tuition for military veterans (SB 2127)
  • Standing with Israel by restricting state financial involvement with entities conducting energy-related business with Iran (HB 1127)

See the Governor’s full statement below.

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Judge changes title of MAEP ballot alternative

In response to a lawsuit that the legislature’s alternative to the Initiative 42 ballot measure was confusing, Hinds county Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd selected the new title for Initiative 42-A from a list provided by the opponents of 42-A: “Should the Legislature establish and support effective public schools, but not provide a mechanism to enforce that right?”

The new title for 42-A effectively changes the intent of the alternative by stipulating public education as a right (not unlike 42). As summarized by House Democratic Leader Rep. Bobby Moak in support of renaming the alternative, “It was only about the title, because the title is [what] will appear on the ballot when voters go to vote in November.”

The original Initiative 42-A Ballot Title simply asked, “Shall the Legislature be required to provide for the establishment and support of an effective system of free public schools?” The ballot summary for Initiative 42-A remains unchanged: “This constitutional amendment is proposed as a legislative alternative measure to Initiative Measure No. 42 and would require the Legislature to provide, by general law, for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.”

The Initiative 42 Ballot Title asks, “Should the State be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” But hidden in the ballot summary which will not be on the ballot, Initiative 42 establishes public education as a fundamental right and grants authority to the chancery courts to determine and enforce adequate funding.

Currently, the state legislature determines how much to fund public schools along with other budget priorities.

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Gov. Bryant considering several bills

Gov. Bryant is carefully considering whether to sign Senate Bill 2161, an “anti-Common Core” bill. He is concerned that it doesn’t have any teeth but just makes recommendations that could be rejected by the Department of Education in favor of existing Common Core standards. Tea Party conservatives like Senators Chris McDaniel and Melanie Sojourner are pushing for a veto and a special legislative session to create a true alternative solution to Common Core.

The Governor has been more positive about a pair of pro-2nd Amendment bills, Senate Bills 2394 and 2619, which reduce concealed carry permit fees and allow weapons to be carried in fully enclosed cases (such as purses and briefcases) without a permit. Gov. Bryant has indicated that he will sign both bills.

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Legislature wraps-up 2015 session

The Senate ended their 2015 session on April 1st. After considering 2 remaining measures, the House adjourned the following day.

In its final session, the House approved Senate Bill 2258, which, if signed by Gov. Bryant, requires school principles to certify results of standardized tests and provides criminal penalties if cheating is detected. The House also approved Senate Bill 2804 which removes Department of Corrections employees from the state Personnel Board civil service protection to enable the DoC leadership to reorganize the troubled agency.

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“Permit-less” concealed carry for purses passes House

[UPDATE: Post title originally indicated that the Senate passed the bill; the Senate has not yet passed the bill as of the time of publishing.]

Senate Bill 2394 was passed by the House on March 27th to allow concealed carry of a gun in “a purse, bag, handbag, satchel or other similar bag or briefcase or fully enclosed case” without a concealed carry permit.  The Senate is expected to approve the bill and Gov. Bryant has already said he would sign it into law.

Rep. Andy Gipson, who helped kill a bill earlier in the session misleadingly advertised as “constitutional carry” (SB 2618), reiterated his commitment to meaningful 2nd Amendment legislation and added the language to SB 2394. Originally intended to reduce the fees for concealed carry permits, SB 2394 would also exempt active-duty military and service-disabled veterans from concealed carry permit fees. A concealed carry permit would still be required for reciprocity with other states.

Senate Bill 2619 also passed the House and would exempt active military, veterans, and retired law enforcement from the training requirements to obtain enhanced carry permits. It also seeks to nullify any federal ammunition bans like the recent bans considered by the BATFE.

Both SB 2394 and 2619 must be approved by the Senate before going to the Governor.

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Gov. Bryant to sign special needs education voucher bill into law

In an effort to meet special needs students’ educational requirements and increase graduation rates (currently 22.5% compared to 74.5% for all others), the House and Senate have concurred on Senate Bill 2695 sending it to Gov. Bryant for signing into law.

The bill will provide $6,500 scholarships, sometimes called “vouchers,” to participating students to be used by parents to acquire education that is oriented to the specific needs of their special needs student. The program will be open to 500 students in the 2015-2016 school year; 250 vouchers will be given on a first-come, first-served basis and 250 vouchers will be awarded by lottery.

A similar bill failed to pass the House in 2014. Rep. Carolyn Crawford of Pass Christian vowed to bring the bill back for the 2015 legislative session and, working with Sen. Nancy Collins, pushed the bill to the governor.

Arizona and Florida are the only other two states that have similar programs which are called Educational Savings Accounts.

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Gov. Bryant signs Compact for a Balanced Budget, texting ban

Gov. Bryant signed several bills into law recently including the Compact for a Balanced Budget and a bill prohibiting texting while driving.

Senate Bill 2389, the Compact for a Balanced Budget, enters Mississippi into the interstate compact that calls for a Constitutional Convention to ratify a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Governor outlawed texting while driving by signing House Bill 389 which specifically states, “An operator of a moving motor vehicle is prohibited from writing, sending, or reading a text message and from accessing, reading or posting to a social networking site using a hand-held mobile telephone [or other portable electronic communication device] while driving said motor vehicle.” Mississippi already had a law prohibiting those 16 and under from texting while driving but this law expands the ban to all drivers. Phone calls are not impacted.

Other recently signed bills:

  • House Bill 215 allows temporary medical licenses to be issued to out-of-state doctors in state for military, National Guard, or Reserve duty.
  • House Bill 257 requires/allows HIV testing of adults accused of sexual assault on a child prior to any conviction.
  • Senate Bill 2127 provides in-state tuition rates for non-residents eligible for veterans education assistance.

The new laws become effective July 1st.

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