Rep. Dana Criswell - From Your Capitol, Week of January 15, 2018

 

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The third week of the 2018 legislative session was an interesting week and cold weather was another major topic. Myself and about 20 other legislators stay in RVs during the session. Its nice to have your own place and it avoids staying in a hotel for the three month session. When the weather is below 20 degrees, an RV is a challenge. Several of us have experienced frozen water pipes and some have run out of propane for heat. We are all hoping for warmer weather the rest of this session.

The big legislative topic this week is the House of Representatives passage of a new education funding formula. The new formula is the culmination of a year and a half of research, debate, and study by the Mississippi legislature. Last year House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves hired EdBuild, a national consulting firm to study our current state funding formula and help devise a new more equitable plan for our state. Legislators have attended meetings with EdBuild and during this past summer many of us met with Speaker Gunn to express our concerns and our desires as the new formula was being developed.

I am happy to say that I fully support the new formula. It meets the basic requirements that I expressed to the Speaker; equitable and fair treatment of all school districts, provides clear accountability measures to ensure honesty of each districts reporting, and is sustainable and affordable for the state.

Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP)

The MAEP education formula, whether intended or not, has always been confusing and used as political ammunition for one side or the other. The formula's standards, according to the State Auditor, were impossible to audit due to different applications from district to district. The formula required continual increases in funding that were impossible for the state to maintain. Even while spending over 50% of the state's revenue on education, full funding was unattainable.

The New Funding Formula

In general:

  • This new formula does not go into effect until 2019
  • This new formula increases the overall investment in education by over $107 million in its estimated final implementation year. (Five-year period.)
  • The new formula does not increase taxes nor does it require local government to contribute more towards their local schools
  • The new formula uses Average Daily Membership (a single head count conducted three times during the school year) instead of Average Daily Attendance. This reduces the administrative burden placed on districts, and ensures that more time, money, and effort are diverted to the classroom

Setting the base student funding level:

  • EdBuild reviewed Mississippi’s school district spending and national trends in a number of school spending categories. The base funding amount per student that they provided was a range between $4,694 and $5,250. The House has decided to set the base at $4,800.
  • The new formula uses a base amount of $4,800 which places the state ahead of nearby states that use a student-based formula like Louisiana ($3,961), Florida ($4,204), Georgia ($2,464), and South Carolina ($2,350)
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Rep. Dana Criswell - From Your Capitol, Week of January 8, 2018

weather_2.jpgGood morning from the frozen tundra of north Mississippi.  I know anyone living north of Tennessee thinks this is nothing, but for Mississippians this is crazy weather.  I am glad the legislature took off Friday because if I had not come home early I would have been stuck in Jackson all weekend.   

The second week of the 2018 legislative session was another busy week and so far I'm still hopeful that positive things are happening.  The major deadline of the week was Wednesday night, January 10.  All proposed legislation had to be submitted to the House attorneys.  

How a legislator writes a bill

The first step for writing legislation begins when an legislator has an idea or someone brings them an idea of how a law needs to be written or changed.  Hopefully the legislator takes that idea and does some personal research into the issue and comes up with how they want to solve the issue or problem.  The Mississippi House of Representatives has seven attorneys who will assist the member by providing legal opinions and research.

Once the legislator has a concrete idea about what the bill should say he returns to the House attorney and explains what he wants.  The attorney then creates a bill that accomplishes that goal.  Often this process includes several re-writes of the bill until the legislator is satisfied with the results.

The second step begins once the bill is written.  Now the legislator who authored the bill begins the process of convincing other legislators to become co-authors of his bill.  This is often where the real work of a legislator happens.  During this period you might see the original author walking around the capitol with a copy of his bill ready to discuss what the bill does and gathering co-author's initials on a blue cover sheet, this is often called, "signing-on" to a bill.  The purpose of this process is to show leadership that your idea has broad support among the members.  

The next step is submitting your bill for review by the Speaker.  This is called "dropping the bill." There is actually a box on the House floor where legislators physically place their bill.  The Speaker will then review the bill and assign it to a committee for a committee chairman to consider.

The deadline for "dropping" a bill is this coming Monday, January 15.  Which means Monday will be a frantic day while legislators make final changes and gather last minute co-authors to meet the 8:00 pm deadline.  Other legislators can "sign-on" even after its been dropped, so you will often see new authors added to a bill as it makes its way through the process.  By the way, if a bill is amended in committee or on the House floor a legislator can also remove his name from a bill, this way if the bill is changed to do something different than its original intent the legislator isn't stuck supporting something they don't like.

My Legislation

Below is a list of my bills.  If my name is listed to the far right I am the original author, if another legislator's name is listed then that indicates I have signed-on as a co-author of their bill.

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Rep. Dana Criswell, From Your Capitol - Week of January 2, 2018

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Mississippi's 2018 legislative session has begun, and as always it will be an interesting year. In just our first week we've seen a shuffle of committee chairmen which started with Rep. Richard Bennett (District 120, Long Beach) becoming the new chair of the education committee.

The Speaker also announced new chairmanships of several other House Committees:

  • Gaming Chairman: Casey Eure (District 116, Saucier)
  • Interstate Cooperation Chairman: Tracy Arnold (District 3, Booneville)
  • Marine Resources Chairman: Timmy Ladner (District 93, Poplarville)
  • Ports Harbors and Airports Chairman: Jeff Guice (District 114, Ocean Springs)
  • State Libraries: Greg Haney (District 118, Gulfport)

Chairman Bennett has a huge task before him as we attempt to re-write our state's education funding formula. I look forward to working with our new chairman as we improve our public educational system.

More on Roads and Bridges

House Bill 354, which aims to set aside any state revenue growth of more than two percent for the repair and reconstruction of state, county and municipal roads and bridges. This measure passed by a vote of 118-2. Another was House Bill 357, legislation that would authorize the issuance of $50 million in bonds to cities and counties for bridge improvements. This passed by a vote of 116-4.

Finally, House Bill 359 would prohibit the construction of any new roads that have not already acquired right-of-way. The purpose of this bill is to help the state maintain the roads it already has before starting any new projects. The bill passed by a vote of 71-42. All three bills were held on a motion to reconsider, which means they will be brought up again in the future.

After much debate and consideration I supported and voted for all three of these bills. In my two years as a legislator we've spent a great deal of time discussing roads and bridges. Legislatures across the deep south have seen a coordinated effort to increase their gas taxes. Mississippi has resisted the easy answer of simply raising taxes and has opted to take the more difficult route of controlling government and actually studying the issue.

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From Your Capitol - The 2018 Session Begins Tomorrow!

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The 2018 legislative session begins tomorrow and the weather is not cooperating.  As I write this on New Year's Day sitting in my hotel room in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico it's a sunny 81 degrees and I'm looking out at the Caribbean Sea.   I'll be honest, I'm not looking forward to facing the 24 degree weather in Jackson tomorrow.  But I am looking forward to another year of working to make positive changes for our state.


Over the past couple of years our state has made some great strides forward and I believe we are set to see even more positive changes. Education is always a major issue during every legislative session, the Education Committee handles more bills than any other committee.  I suspect this year will not be any different from others and the task of sifting through all the ideas will be daunting.  The education committee will be working with a new leader in 2018, who that will be has not yet been announce but as a member of that committee I anxiously await that announcement so we can begin our work. 

Education

A major issue facing the education committee this year will be legislation that changes how our state distributes state funds to school systems.  The current funding formula has never been accurately followed by any legislature because it was designed to meet political purposes (grandstanding by politicians) and not designed to be a sustainable way to fund education.  The new formula must be sustainable and fairly distribute state funds across the state to give our children the best education we can afford.  As the session progresses hopefully the new formula will accomplish these goals and will be something I can support.


Another major issue facing the education committee this year will be finding ways to give parents more options for the education of their children.  Some of our least successful school districts who have failed in their attempts at providing adequate education to their students have trapped children in failing school systems.  This failure must change and allowing parents to choose better schools will help these children.

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