Bobby Harrison of the Daily Journal runs down the significant events of the 2014 legislative session with a two-part series:
- Teacher pay, justice reform biggest achievements
- School districts still in budget hole
In his first story, Harrison provides a recap of the following issues that the legislature tackled during the session:
- Teacher Pay: Initially promoted by Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), the bill provides $2,500 pay raise over 2 years. The senate finalized the language which, under Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ leadership cut out performance requirements.
- Criminal Justice Reform: Sweeping reforms resulting from recommendations of judges, prosecutors, district attorneys, law enforcement and local officials. Estimated to save $266 Million over 10-years.
- Special Needs Payments: Promoted by Sen. Nancy Collins (R-Tupelo), the proposal failed largely due to objections over giving “education vouchers.”
- Religious Freedom: Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed even after firestorm in Arizona. Legislation changed to prevent the government from being able to force someone to take action against their religious beliefs.
- Bonds: $199.9 Million in new bonds were approved for Cooper Tire in Tupelo, a Tammy Wynette Museum in Tremont, the William Faulkner/Union Heritage Museum in New Albany, and renovations to Okolona College.
- Texting: After looking like ban on texting while driving would pass, Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson) entered a motion to reconsider which effectively killed the bill since efforts to table the motion were defeated.
- Medicaid Expansion: Republican leadership continues to oppose medicare expansion. Both the House and the Senate rejected federal funds to expand Medicaid as is allowed under Obamacare (to cover those earning 138% of the federal poverty level).
- Judges, Law Enforcement: Added 16 assistant district attorneys, 50 new Highway Patrol troopers, added funds for the state Crime Lab.
The second story focuses on the budget. According to Harrison, the $2.4 Billion public education budget was an increase of $85 Million over the previous year. The current education budget is $255 Million short of the funding formula based on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).
In all, the 2014 $6 Billion general fund budget was an increase of about $200 Million over 2013.
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Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) is an attorney and Baptist pastor. And in her report in the Clarion-Ledger, Analysis: Gipson wields influence, Emily Wagster Pettus says he is one of the most influential lawmakers in the state.
As the chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee, he was influential in a number of bills including House Bill 585 (improve efficiency and costs of the state’s criminal justice system) and House Bill 1400 (banned abortion at 20 weeks). He helped push through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Bill 2681) in spite of all the opposition.
Gipson is a notably vocal opponent of gay rights since President Obama changed his stance on gay marriage in 2012. He has remained a staunch opponent of gay rights even with calls for his resignation and the other pressures associated with taking a Biblical stand on a range of issues.
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Gov. Phil Bryant appeared on the Paul Gallo Show on April 7th and discussed some priorities during his tenure and a range of legislative accomplishments during the 2014 session. The entire interview is available free from SuperTalk Mississippi.
Regarding some of the successes during his tenure:
- Teen pregnancy: Noted a 10.3% reduction in teen pregnancy over the past year without passing out birth control in classrooms.
- TANF Drug Screening: Signed legislation this year requiring new applicants to be screened from drug use/abuse prior to receiving benefits.
- 2nd Amendment Protections & Sales Tax Holiday: Passed a sales tax holiday for guns, ammo, and related supplies for September 5th – 7th.
- Religious Freedom Restoration Act: Gov. Bryant said the state law mirrors federal law that was written by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and signed by Pres. Bill Clinton.
- Criminal Justice Reform Bill
- Banning Abortion at 20 weeks: “A huge pro-life victory in Mississippi.”
Gov. Bryan talked at length about his biggest disappointment of the session, the failure to pass the special needs education bill (HB 765). Saying it’s a “sorry day” and a “dark day” because public educators refused to release the funding to support 500 special needs children, he says the legislature turned their back on special needs children and he vows to make this a priority “from now on.”
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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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After claiming credit for stripping language from Senate Bill 2681 that would have allowed individuals to deny service based on religious beliefs, the Campaign for Southern Equality is continuing their push for gay rights in Mississippi.
Via their “WE DO Campaign,” the Campaign for Southern Equality is seeking a sympathetic, local elected official in the south to grant a marriage license to a gay couple. Short of that goal, homosexuals around the state of Mississippi and the South are planning to apply for marriage licenses on March 25th. Since gay marriage is not legal in the state, gay rights advocates expect to us the denials as evidence of the harm that is caused by prohibitions against same-sex couples. Undoubtedly, gay rights advocates will use those experiences in law suits to force their will upon the people.
Prodded by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), three Mississippi cities, Starkville, Hattiesburg, and Oxford have passed resolutions this year that recognize the “dignity and worth of . . . lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [residents].” HRC’s mission statement declares, “HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” Vice President Joe Biden addressed HRC on March 22nd and stated, “Barack [Obama] and I believe that the rights of [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] people is an inseparable part of America’s promotion of human rights around the world.”
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Geoff Pender of the Clarion-Ledger lists the top 5 remaining issues for the 2014 Mississippi Legislative session which should end in April in his article “Miss. political power rankings.”
- Teacher raise (House Bills, 560, 526, 1140, 1416 and Senate Bills 2088, 2212, 2413).
- Mississippi Adequate Education Program (House Bills 567, 816, and 930)
- Criminal Justice Reform (Senate Bill 2784)
- Religious Freedom (House Bill 929, Senate Bill 2681)
- DPS, troopers (House Bills 303, 1210, 1517, 1521)
The issues confronting the Miss. Legislature of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act are addressed in the Sun Herald’s Mississippi lawmakers feel pressure over religion bill.
The Miss. Senate passed Senate Bill 2681 earlier this year while the Miss. House will debate the bill next week. While the most divisive provisions (the ones that caused the national outcry over Arizona’s passing in a similar bill) have been removed, opponents still see the bill as unnecessary or still allowing discrimination. Supporters of the original language of the bill question why the bill is needed at all if it only reaffirms the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
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