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.
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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