Developing Clear Principles and Values

Dana.Criswell.jpgBY DANA CRISWELL

This article first appeared on Mississippi Conservative Daily on October 10, 2017

Last week we discussed the importance of electing political leaders who put principle above personal relationships. It is extremely important that a legislator have a clear set of principles by which every piece of legislation is judged if they are going to be successful in adhering to their values. If the principles are clear it makes judging legislation much easier.

During a legislative session each legislator is asked to cast over a thousand votes either on the House floor or in a committee where the bill first comes to life. Often these votes come fast with little time to research and study the purpose or consequences of the bill which is a tactic used by those in leadership positions to force legislation through the process. A clear set of principles makes these decisions easier and faster.

The Mississippi Republican Party has a platform on which it claims to stand and all politicians who run for office under the Republican name profess their allegiance. That platform is a good place to start when developing a set of principles to judge legislation. If all Republicans in the Mississippi House of Representatives had referred to this platform during the debate over increasing the gas tax or implementing an Internet sales tax the decision to oppose these would have been easy.

Here is an excerpt from the Mississippi Republican Party’s platform on taxes:

Mississippi Republicans believe that people, not government, know best how to spend their own money. When people keep more of their hard-earned money, jobs and economic growth will flourish in the free market system. 

Mississippi Republicans support the reduction of the tax burden on our citizens. We believe our tax burden is too high, our tax code is too complicated, and our tax system is inefficient. We believe in the reduction of taxes to empower taxpayers, to create a more competitive environment for job creation, to incentivize work, entrepreneurship, and investment, and to prevent the excessive growth of government.

Clearly the Republican Party Platform opposes an increase in the gas tax or the implementation of an Internet sales tax.

Read more

Rep. Dana Criswell Receives 2017 Conservative Champion Awards

AFP_2017_score.jpg

In recent weeks Rep. Dana Criswell has received two awards for his conservative voting record.  In August, Dana received an "A" rating from Americans for Prosperity - Mississippi (AFP-MS).  Each year, AFP-MS scores legislators on their commitment to lower taxes, responsible spending, less regulation, and student-centered education.  This is Rep. Criswell's second year to receive their top rating as a Champion of Freedom.

The American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF) has just released its ratings for the 2017 meeting of the Mississippi Legislature, and Representative Dana Criswell received an Award of Conservative Excellence for his voting record. These ratings, a portion of the comprehensive and nationwide ratings released by the ACUF, are designed to reflect how elected officials view the role of government and are helpful in illustrating how both chambers of the legislature as well as individual members’ prioritize a wide variety of issue areas that directly affect Mississippians.

ACFU.png

 

 

Read more

Politicians, Principles, and Relationships

By Dana Criswell

This article first appeared on Mississippi Conservative Daily on September 28, 2017

On January 5, 2016, I walked onto the floor of the Mississippi House of Representatives for the first time as a legislator. I was welcomed into the family by many of the veteran legislators. Through-out the day the words used to describe the legislature were family, fraternity, and team. Over and over it was explained to me that I was now a member of the club.

During those first few days I was invited to dinner and had multiple legislators and lobbyist spend time learning about me and my family, in other words, they were building a relationship. It felt good to be included and to be “on the team” but what continually bothered me was that I wasn’t elected to be in a club or a fraternity. If I were to be on a team, it would be on the team of people who chose me to represent them, the people who listened to my principles and values during my campaign and asked me to vote according to those, not according to some new relationship I’d formed in Jackson.

I quickly learned once those relationships are formed, they will be used against you unless you comply with their wishes. Leadership and lobbyist build the relationships but are quick to take it away. It reminds me of something my wife has said, “the one who cares about the relationship the least has the power.” The realization of truth that every politician must see is that these relationships with lobbyist and often leadership are not real, because as soon as the politician stands on a principle and against their desires the relationship is ended.   Indeed, they use the threat of ending the relationship as a way to keep legislators under control.

Lobbyist are experts at building relationships. They begin on day one with the freshmen legislators by taking us to dinner, talking about hunting, fishing or anything other than the legislation they want passed.   I’ve never had a lobbyist simply walk up to me and immediately begin talking about legislation they wanted. They always build a relationship first. They know the importance of the relationship, and how it affects a legislator’s vote.

On the other hand, citizens and citizen led groups who are advocating for or against legislation rarely spend time developing a relationship with the legislator they are trying to influence. When a citizen approaches a legislator they are usually all business. They don’t ask about family, they don’t talk about college football, they get right to the point. This is understandable, citizens don’t have time to hang-out in the capitol rotunda and chat about football or hunting and they don’t have the money to buy steak dinners for legislators every night. But this puts them at a disadvantage with legislators who vote based on relationships and not on principles and core values.

What can citizens do?

There are two ways for citizens to combat this, one is to elect men and women who will place principle above relationships. We must elect political leaders who value principle over short term relationships.   Citizens must demand that personal gain in any form not be the motivation for a legislator’s vote. Judging this during a political campaign is extremely difficult but, I believe it can be done with diligent research and examination. This is one reason I believe term limits are important.   If a politician knows there is an end to their time in the legislature the relationships becomes secondary to accomplishing their goals on which they’ve campaigned.

Read more

The Opioid Epidemic and Childhood Vaccinations

Dana.Criswell.jpgThis article first appeared on Mississippi Conservative Daily on September 13, 2017

By Dana Criswell

Today we are experiencing a crisis in the U.S. and especially in Mississippi. Deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers are increasing each year by a factor of 10. The number one killer of people under the age of 50 is opioid overdose. More people die from drug overdose than they do from gun violence or car wrecks.

Here are some facts about the opioid epidemic:

  • Prescription drug overdoses account for nearly 60% of all drug overdose deaths. Of those deaths, 73% came from opioids.
  • Mississippi doctors are a leading prescriber of opioid painkillers with the equivalent of approximately 70 opioid pills for every man, woman, and child in 2016.
  • The number of painkiller prescriptions in Mississippi makes us the fifth highest per capita in the nation, with 1.07 prescriptions per person.
  • In the state of Mississippi, there were 563 reported drug overdose deaths from 2013-2016 (MS Bureau of Narcotics). Of these, 481 deaths were related to opioid abuse

One of the most disturbing facts is the role pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and doctors played in this epidemic. Those we trusted to tell us the truth, to care for our well being and to protect us, have betrayed us. In the book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, Sam Quinones outlines how pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals and government health agencies contributed to this crisis.

In Dreamland we learn that pharmaceutical companies abandoned science and ignored facts to promote the wholesale use of opioid pain medication, making for themselves billions of dollars. We learn that doctors ignored lessons taught in medical school to accommodate demanding patients, and they accepted the pharmaceutical companies bad science because it was easier than taking the time to research and learn the truth. We also learn that government health agencies ignored facts and accepted fake science, often leading to agency heads receiving top positions in those very companies. While all of this was happening the average person was trading back pain for a doctor prescribed opioid addiction that may eventually kill them.

Much of our national addiction to opioid pain medication and heroin could have been avoided if someone had spoken up and someone had listened, but our medical professionals ostracized anyone who questioned their actions until it was too late and now many are suffering and dying.

Today we are told by the same pharmaceutical companies that lead us into the opioid crisis that every vaccine is safe. Those same companies that faked science to make billions of dollars on opioid painkillers have convinced the government to protect them from lawsuits over vaccine injuries and to increase the required number of vaccines from 11 in 1996 to over 50 today. They are making billions of dollars selling those vaccines.

Here are some facts about vaccines:

  • In 1986, Congress passed a law where pharmaceutical companies can not be held liable for any injury to a child resulting from a vaccine
  • Since 1986, the United States government has paid out over $3.75 billion to parents of vaccine injured children
  • In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled vaccines “unavoidably unsafe”
  • A CDC senior scientist and a chief author of the CDC’s 2004 study on the MMR vaccine and Autism, has released thousands of discarded documents showing that vaccines are indeed causing Autism, most significantly in black baby boys
  • Mississippi children receive 49 doses of 15 vaccines before kindergarten
  • Mississippi has the most heavily vaccinated children in the United States, yet 47 states have healthier children

 

Read more

Lessons of a Mississippi Freshman Legislator

Dana.Criswell.jpgBy Rep. Dana Criswell

(This article appeared on Mississippi Conservative Daily, September 6, 2017)

On new years day 2015 my wife, Julie and I sat down and discussed the idea of me running for Mississippi district 6 state representative. I've lived in Olive Branch since 1998, watching politics from a distance, mostly voting and complaining about government. As a strong second amendment supporter I had become involved in politics through my efforts to improve our gun laws, and after learning about how government works I was compelled to get more involved.

Over the last 3 years I've learned many lessons about politics and government. Here are five that stand out.

 1. There are approximately 20 principled immovable people in the MS House of Representatives

 I expected to walk onto the floor of the MS House of Representatives and be greeted by 121 other Type-A personalities. After-all, these men and women are required to make decisions that affect the 3 million citizens of our state. I assumed they would be confident decisive people but, I found instead approximately 20 principled legislators and 101 who are afraid to voice an opinion. I was surprised at the number of times other legislators told me they agreed with my position but were afraid to vote with me because of pressure from leadership or politicians back home. These legislators actually believe in the conservative principles on which they were elected but are afraid to stand up for their convictions. I was completely caught off guard by this and could not understand why they were so afraid.

 2. Politicians value one thing – re-election

 I’ve begun to understand why these conservative minded legislators are so afraid to stand on principle and vote their convictions. The most important thing to the majority of elected officials is re-election. It drives them, it's what keeps them awake at night. The draw of being re-elected controls every move they make. One of the first things I was told when I stood on an unpopular belief (unpopular among politicians not citizens) was that I could never be re-elected if I held to that view. That statement confused me at first because I knew I was originally elected because I promised to hold to that belief. But I've since learned that what they are really saying is that if I hold to a belief and vote accordingly the power brokers at the state capitol will be unhappy and will not give me money to run a re-election campaign.

As a citizen I've asked many times why politicians change once elected, why do they say one thing but then vote another. I've come to learn that it's the split between pleasing the people to get their vote and pleasing the lobbyist to get their money. Because to win an election you need both, votes and money.

 

Read more

From Your Capitol - First Extraordinary Session 2017

statecapitol.jpgThe Mississippi Legislature convened on Monday, June 5, for a special session called by Governor Phil Bryant.

The special session was necessary after appropriations for the Attorney General’s office, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and State Aid Roads were not agreed upon during the regular session.  

Governor Bryant faced pressure to expand the special session to include increasing taxes and borrowing.  I am please that he resisted that pressure and protected the people of Mississippi from the ever growing government intrusion into our lives.  Many in state government lament the fact that government agencies have been forced to reduce their budgets.  They long for days when government has more money to fund more programs and continue the its exponential growth.  

The 2018 budget for the State of Mississippi is over $6 billion and while state agencies have experience budget cuts none are so drastic that they can not perform their mission.  In fact, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee related to the House a conversation he had with the Director of the State Department of Health.  Chairman Reed was told that the department is restructuring and implementing cost savings measures but they are still capable of performing their duties.  That is just one example of where budget cuts are good, they are forcing state agencies to spend YOUR money better.

In addition to deciding on budgets for these entities, the Governor also called for legislators to vote on the creation of the Financial and Operational Responses that Invigorate Future Years (FORTIFY) Act and make clarifications to the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act. 

The House voted first on House Bill 2, which detailed appropriations for MDOT. House members removed many special projects from the original bill, crafted by the Senate. The House has taken a stand against legislators filling appropriation bills with personal pork projects and stood strong on that conviction. The House also passed a budget for the Attorney General’s office, in the form of House Bill 1, and allotted $175 million to State Aid Road Construction in the form of Senate Bill 2003

 

Read more

Through Leadership of the DeSoto County Delegation, MS House voted for a tax cut

Tax-Cut.jpg

By Dana Criswell

Over the past two years a majority of the State Representatives from DeSoto County have taken a hard stand against the constant raising of taxes by local governments. These taxes come in the form of sales taxes on items such as restaurant purchases and hotel rooms. According to the Mississippi Constitution, local governments who wish to raise taxes on their citizens in this manner must first seek permission from the state legislature. The proposed tax, once approved by the legislature, must then be voted on by the people of the city. That all sounds good and fair until the politicians get involved.

What has developed is a system of hide and seek that perpetuates the continuance of these taxes indefinitely without the knowledge of the people. When one of these local taxes is first implemented and voted on by the people the tax has a repeal date that requires the tax to end in four years. But what happens is that in four years, when the citizens expect the tax to end, the local politicians collude with the politicians in state government and quietly extend the tax without the knowledge of the local citizens.

The DeSoto delegation to the MS House has fought against this practice demanding the tax either end as promised or the people of the city be given the right to vote on extending the tax. As expected, some politicians hate the idea of giving people the ability to make decisions and have fought hard against ending this practice. This is exactly what happened this week when the vast majority of the MS House of Representatives voted against a bill that would have given the people of Southaven and Horn Lake the ability to decide if they wanted to continue a special tax.

SB2949 and SB2927 both proposed to extend a tax on the people without a vote by the people. The Representatives from DeSoto County attempted to amend both bills to give the citizens of each city the right to vote for an extension of the tax or to vote against an extension of the tax, but the majority of the House voted to not allow the amendment thereby stripping the citizens of their right to vote. What was left was the original Senate Bills that simply continued the practice of taxing people without giving them a vote.

 The DeSoto delegation encouraged the members of the House to vote against SB2949 & SB2927 thereby cutting taxes.

Read more

From Your Capitol - Week of March 13

at_well_2016.jpgThe deadline to consider revenue and appropriations bills that originated in the Senate occurred this week. Among other things, these bills detail how much money will be appropriated to a number of different state boards and departments.  

This week I've received several phone calls and emails about the legality of Amazon collecting "sales tax".  Many citizens are questioning how Amazon is collecting a tax that was not approved by the legislature.  This is a legitimate question that I hope to answer.

As many of you know, HB 480 the internet sales tax bill, passed the House but was rightfully killed by Lt. Gov. Reeves.  

In a statement recorded by Mississippi Today Reeves said, 

“Frankly, we believe the bill is unconstitutional, I have yet to hear from one lawyer who thinks otherwise, including many of the House members who voted for this bill." 

So how can Amazon collect a tax that was not approved by the legislature? 

During the time the legislature was debating the "internet sales tax" the Mississippi Department of Revenue was negotiating with Amazon to collect the "use tax" that has been a part of Mississippi law for over five decades.  A "use tax," is a tax due on the purchase of property acquired "for use, storage or consumption within this State on which Sales or Use Tax has not been paid to another state...," according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue (DOR).

The tax is not on the business from which you purchased the item. The tax is assessed on the item itself, and you as the purchaser owe the tax.  The Department of Revenue has then negotiated with Amazon to collect a use tax on items you purchase.  Amazon is essentially doing this for you.

But this creates many questions that continue to be unanswered, such as;

  • What is the negotiated deal DOR has made with Amazon? The Mississippi Department of Revenue has refused to release details of the agreement they entered into on behalf of the citizens of this state?
  • Has the state agency obligated taxpayers to any agreement?
  • Did DOR agree to pursue regulations that would require other companies collect the use tax?
  • Does the agreement at Amazon’s request give Amazon a competitive advantage over competitors?
  • Did DOR agree to give Amazon some kind of benefit for voluntarily coming forward and agreeing to collect use taxes for DOR? If so, what are the details of that contract between a state agency and a collection company?
  • Did DOR agree to shield third-party sellers on Amazon’s platform from collecting use tax?

Mike Hurst, director of Mississippi Justice Institute said, “Mississippi law requires government transparency and accountability. As taxpayers, the public should be allowed to know the details of our state agencies’ agreements and contracts with outside entities – in this case a billion dollar corporation collecting taxes on behalf of the state. These details are particularly important because they involve an issue with current active legislative debate and recently completed but not yet enacted rulemaking by the Department of Revenue. The state is making policy on this issue without revealing public information which could inform the citizens,” 

This agreement between the State of Mississippi and Amazon affects every citizens of this state but no representative of the people  has access to the agreement.  No citizen has any idea how to file their "use tax" at the end of the year or how much Amazon has remitted to the State on their behalf. If Amazon does not remit the full 7% they collect on a citizens behalf, does the citizen owe the difference?

There is little doubt that the Mississippi Department of Revenue is a government agency out-of-control.  They believe they have the authority to act outside of the legislature, outside of the law and with total disregard for the people of this state.

What can you do?

Do not be silenced, complain, email, make noise!  Those in control hope that with time you will move on to something else, that you will forget the injustice and disregard they exhibit for the people of this state.  They hope that fear of retribution by the tax collector is enough to shut you up!

The Commissioner of Revenue is appointed by the Governor, let Governor Bryant know that at the very least you expect him to represent your interest by demanding the Department of Revenue release the agreement made on your behalf.  Also, demand that your state representative and state senator stand up for you and join Gov. Bryant in that demand.

Do not let anyone silence you!  As a citizen of this state you have a right to know what your government is doing.

Use this link to Ask Gov. Bryant to Block Amazon Tax  provided by American's for Prosperity.

 

Read more

From Your Capitol - Week of March 6

MS_CAPITOL.jpgWith only three weeks left in the 2017 legislative sessions the Mississippi House is reaching some of its final deadlines.  Wednesday marked the deadline for the House to discuss general bills that passed through the Senate earlier this session. The deadline to discuss appropriations and revenue bills passed by the Senate will occur next week.

On Monday, the House passed Senate Bill 2680, which clarifies alternative relatives that may care for a child who is being abused or neglected. An amendment was adopted regarding a current divorce statute, making it easier for someone experiencing domestic violence to receive a divorce. The amendment says divorce would be allowed for people experiencing abusive physical conduct, either threatened or attempted, or abusive non-physical conduct including threats, intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse. The measure also allows for a victim to serve as the witness of the abuse. The bill passed unopposed.

On Tuesday, the House passed Senate Bill 2710, which will prohibit the adoption or enactment of sanctuary cities. A sanctuary city is loosely defined as a city that welcomes refugees and illegal immigrants. Supporters of the bill say this is an extra measure of safety for Mississippi residents. Those opposed say this legislation is unnecessary. The bill passed by a vote of 76-41.

A bill meant to give a tax exemption to private entities providing affordable housing for university students sparked discussion at the proposal of an amendment. An amendment added to Senate Bill 2509 would require schools to fly the state flag on their campus to receive this benefit. Proponents of the amendment said state schools should be flying the flag if they want to receive state money. Opponents said the flag is divisive and should not be forced on the schools. The bill passed by a vote of 77-42, but is being held on a motion to reconsider.

I was happy to see that leadership in the legislature finally listened to those of us who have agreed repairing our roads and bridges is important but that increasing taxes on the citizens of Mississippi was not the appropriate way to accomplish that goal.  We have demanded that the State reallocate money for that purpose.  The amendment to Senate Bill 2939 would provide $50 million in bonds for bridge repairs and allocate use tax to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, counties and municipalities for infrastructure repair.  This bill does not take any additional money from the people.  

The bill also states that in the event a use tax from out-of-state sellers becomes federal law or the state experiences revenue growth, a certain percentage will be set aside for road and bridge improvements. The bill passed by a majority vote of 109-7.  

The House proposal outlines:

  • $50 million in bonds: $25 million to counties, and $25 million to cities for bridge repairs.
  • Allocating the use tax Mississippi is already receiving through voluntary payments on out-of-state purchases by Mississippi residents: 50% to MDOT if they internally reallocate $25 million in their existing budget to prioritize road and bridge repair, 25% to counties and 25% to cities for road and bridge improvements.
  • That if federal law changes, allowing for the collection of the use tax from out-of-state sellers, Mississippi will spend up to $200 million of that money on road and bridge improvements.
  • When our state general fund revenue grows more than 2% in one year, 50% of those dollars beyond the 2% growth (up to a max of $100 million) will be devoted to road and bridge improvement under the same formula.
  • this law would automatically repeal after 8 years to allow the legislature to reevaluate the needs of MDOT and or roads and bridges.

 

This solution is a win for the people of Mississippi and was possible only because the citizens demanded government make difficult decisions and not take the easy way of increasing taxes.

Read more

From Your Capitol - Week of February 27

Dana.Criswell.jpgThis week the Mississippi House of Representatives met in committees to consider bills passed by the Senate. The bills approved by committees this week now await action by the full House.  The deadline for the House to consider Senate bills is March 8th.

You can view them on the House Calendar here

On Monday I enjoyed touring a Clinton, MS elementary school.  The Clinton school district participates in the 1 to 1 Apple Laptop Initiative, every student has either an iPad or an Apple Laptop computer.  The dedication by the superintendent, principles and teachers was impressive and it was obvious why Clinton is one of the top school districts in our state.  As I walked through elementary classrooms observing students they were all engaged and seemed eager to learn.

But the question that must be answered is how much of that success can be attributed to the use of technology and how much is attributed to the dedication of the teachers and administration who create a learning environment that allows the students to excel.  As a one time home-school parent what I observed looked much more like a home-school learning environments than most traditional public school classrooms.

The use of technology and how we implement it into our schools is an important question that we must address, equipping every student with a computer is an extremely expensive undertaking.  Before we move forward we must ensure we are spending our resources wisely.

Cursive Writing

During my discussion with teachers the subject of cursive writing was addressed.  I expected these teachers to say cursive writing was no longer needed in the classroom, that students did not need to spend time learning something that they might never use in life.  But these teachers expressed a completely opposite opinion.  Each one talked about the need to bring back cursive writing into the curriculum. 

Here is just a few of the benefits of teaching cursive writing;
  • increases find motor skills and creativity 
  • creates better word recognition 
  • stimulates multiple parts of brain
  • affective benefit for dyslexic students

Senate Bill 2273, would require public schools implement cursive writing across their elementary school curriculum.  If passed public school children would be required to read and write in cursive by the 5th grade.  The House will consider this bill next week.

Read more


Join

get updates