Miss. Legislature adjourns with Senate & House Civil War

Geoff Pender’s article “Legislature has adjourned sine die” is an interesting look at the politics between the Mississippi House and Senate.  The House rejected the MDOT budget bill due to it being loaded with pork projects voting 121-1 on Monday, March 31st which all but killed funding for MDOT.

However, Gov. Bryant called a special session during the regular legislative session that allowed the Senate pass the bill last night and then adjourn for the legislative session.  This left the House no alternative but to pass the bill if they were to fund MDOT at all.

The $927 Million MDOT budget included $22 Million of pet projects the House did not like.  One of those projects is the $10 Million Mississippi-25/Lakeland Drive project which happens to be in Rankin County and near the home county of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

While much of the House was up in arms, the project had its defenders.  Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon) said the project has been planned for years to relieve congestion northeast of Jackson.

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Clarion-Ledger | Bill to ban texting while driving dies as session ends

House Bill 484, a ban on texting while driving, died on the Miss. House floor last night after Speaker Philip Gunn adjourned the 2014 session.

Rep. Bill Denny (R-64) made a move to reconsider the bill late last night which apparently prevented the bill from being voted upon before the session ended.  Rep. Tom Miles (D-75) blamed Denny for single-handedly killing the bill at the last hour.

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Gov. Signs gun protections into Law

Yesterday, Gov. Bryant signed into law a tax holiday bill, Senate Bill 2425:

  • Creates a sales tax holiday on firearms, ammunition, and hunting supplies during Mississippi’s “Second Amendment Weekend,”  September 5th – 7th.
  • Creates another sales tax holiday for a variety of organizations and items from July 25th – 26th.

The NRA thanked Rep. Andy Gipson (R-77) and Sens. Briggs Hopson (R-23) and Sean Tindell (R-49) for getting the bill to the governor.

On March 27th, the Governor signed into law several protections for gun owners under House Bill 314:

  • Limit government confiscation of legally owned weapons during states of emergency
  • Clarify local authority to limit the carrying of firearms
  • Affirm the rights of citizens to possess firearms in public housing
  • Prohibit destruction of weapons via government “buyback” programs

The NRA credited Sen. Philip Moran (R-46), Rep. Jeff Smith (R-39), Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Speaker Philip Gunn (R-56) for getting the measure passed.

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Special education bill dies in Miss. House

With an estimated 65,000 special needs children in the state of Mississippi, the Miss. House rejected an effort to provide “state” funds (essentially education vouchers) for the most needy 500 students to attend an education program that meets their specific needs.

On Tuesday, Rep. David Baria (D-Bay St. Louis) issued a point of order insisting that a super majority would be required to pass the bill since it was seen as a donation of state money to individuals.  Earlier today, Speaker Philip Gunn (R-56) ruled that a simple majority vote was sufficient.  The political jousting was all ‘water under the bridge’ as the measure failed to muster even a simple majority.

One of the 10 Republicans that voted against the bill, Rep. Tom Weathersby (R-Florence), believes that “in our school districts we are capable of handling most of those needs.  Some of our people in the public school system saw it more as a voucher bill than a special needs bill.  Maybe at some point in the future that bill can be amended in a way that we can get some positive effects out of it.”

Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R-Pass Christian) has been pushing the legislation for 2 years emphasizing that Public Schools are not meeting the requirements for special needs.  The amount of funding that would be provided to each special needs child would be on par with the MAEP standard.

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Busy April Fools’ Day for State Legislature

The Mississippi Legislature had a busy day and passed several bills despite some significant opposition to several of them.  Below are the bills that have been sent to Gov. Phil Bryant for signature with some comments from Twitter.

Senate Bill 2681, Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, received significant opposition and was labeled as discriminatory.  A similar bill in Arizona raised national attention but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.  Mississippi Center for Public Policy (MCPP) had several interesting comments:

SB 2681 wasn’t passed without some objections:

Remarkably, House Bill 1400, which prohibits abortion after 20-weeks, passed both the House and Senate and Gov. Bryant is ready to sign into law:

What some are calling a compromise, House Bill 504, Teacher Pay Raise, will provide for pay raises based on meritorious achievement.  Few are entirely satisfied but many are thankful to have passed something including Mississippi Delta Sen. Derrick Simmons:

Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula authored and pushed forward Senate Bill 2579, Marine Resources and Accountability and Reorganization Act, to reform the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) after widespread corruption was discovered recently in the organization.

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Gov. Bryant urges education vouchers (for special education)

Gov. Bryant is encouraging the Mississippi House of Representatives to approve House Bill 765, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act.  Since special needs students trail all other students in graduation rates, HB 765 would provide education vouchers for those students under certain circumstances so the parents could choose the best location and type of education to meet their children’s unique needs.

If enacted, the program would fund qualified special education students at the MAEP base student cost plus a share of costs for special programs required by that student.

Passed in 1997 by the Democrat-controlled state legislature, Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) is a formula that produces the base student cost to provide each student an “adequate education” in Mississippi.  Each district must provide up to 27% of that base cost through local revenues with the state funding the difference.

The Republicans now controlling the legislature have not funded education to the MAEP standard by $1.2 Billion since 2008–a point which the Democrats attempt to use against them.  In the current budget talks, the MAEP formula is underfunded by over $200 Million for 2015.

Back to vouchers. . . If education vouchers are good for special needs students, wouldn’t they be good for all students?

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Legislature celebrates the criminal-justice reform law

Credit for the Criminal Justice Reform Law (HB 585) is being given to Rep. Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula), Speaker Philip Gunn (R-56), Rep. Greg Snowden (R-83), Rep. Andy Gipson (R-77), and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.

HB 585 is 194 pages long and passage reflects a tremendous amount of effort from the state legislature in updating laws in many areas to include sentencing, parole, recidivism, drug and alcohol related crime, violent crime, corrections resources, and training requirements.

Twitter was a-buzz with all the back-slapping after the Gov. Phil Bryant’s signing ceremony:

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