Rep. Dana Criswell - Roads And Bridges, The Decision

BY DANA CRISWELL

With less than a week until Christmas I know I should be thinking of things other than the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and roads and bridges.  Julie, my wife, tells me I should put government stuff out of my mind for just a few days but this stuff will not get out of my head.  By the way, Merry Christmas!

Over the past months I've read, talked and listened to a lot of input from the House and Senate transportation committee chairs, MDOT employees, State Transportation Commissioners, road builder lobbyist, and tax payers.  As I've said before, I've come to respect the leaders of MDOT and I believe they do a good job managing our highway system, I also know that the average citizen fully understands the importance of good roads and bridges.  I don't question anyone's motive as we try to come to a conclusion that is best for our state.

What I've Learned

Mississippi has twice the highway miles per person than the national average.  Lots of good roads are good for our state and help bring businesses and jobs, but we've over built and can no longer afford to build and maintain.  It's not very complicated, we all  make decisions every day based on what is best and what we can afford and as a State we must make those same decisions.  We simply can not afford everything we want. We can not afford to continue building because we don't have the money to build and maintain.

In an October 28, 2016 interview with Mississippi Today, Commissioner Tagert said, “We love to build new roads and bridges, as you can imagine, but under circumstances, it would be irresponsible to build new roads and bridges if we are not able to maintain our current roads and bridges. … (we) have become the Department of Maintenance.”  I'm actually OK with MDOT becoming a "Department of Maintenance" and I'm in complete agreement with Commissioner Tagert when he said "it would be irresponsible to build new roads and bridges if we are not able to maintain our current roads and bridges."

So I propose we change the name to the Mississippi Department of Road and Bridge Maintenance.

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Mississippi Housing Authorities Deny Second Amendment Rights

It has come to my attention that public housing authorities in Mississippi are denying tenants their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. In 2014 Governor Bryant signed into law HB-314, which specifically prohibited public housing authorities operating in Mississippi from adopting any rule or regulation restricting a lessee or tenant from lawfully possessing firearms or ammunition. Below I’ve included an excerpt from the current Mississippi code 45-9-51;

"No public housing authority operating in this state may adopt any rule or regulation restricting a lessee or tenant of a dwelling owned and operated by such public housing authority from lawfully possessing firearms or ammunition or their components within individual dwelling units or the transportation of such firearms or ammunition or their components to and from such dwelling."

One example is the Housing Authority of the City of Corinth which specifically states;

"The Housing Authority prohibits the possession and/or discharge of a dangerous weapon on any of the Housing Authority's properties."  

Their policy continues to ban slingshots and knives and states that any weapons "may be confiscated." This is a flagrant violation of Mississippi law as is other anti-gun policies implemented by the City of Corinth. In 2014 Governor Bryant signed HB-314, which specifically prohibited public housing authorities operating in Mississippi from adopting any rule or regulation restricting a lessee or tenant from lawfully possessing firearms or ammunition.

Below I’ve included an excerpt from the current Mississippi code 45-9-51;

"No public housing authority operating in this state may adopt any rule or regulation restricting a lessee or tenant of a dwelling owned and operated by such public housing authority from lawfully possessing firearms or ammunition or their components within individual dwelling units or the transportation of such firearms or ammunition or their components to and from such dwelling."

On December 19, 2016, I notified every public housing authority in the state of Mississippi of the current law and asked that they provide me with a copy of their current policy.  I've also asked each to rescend any rule or regulation that restricts their lessee's rights to possess firearms or ammunition in their dwellings. It is a shame that public officials who claim to be pro-second amendment make rules and policy decisions that prove they are actually no better than your average anti-gun, anti-freedom democrat.  Limiting the rights of Mississippi citizens simply because they are poor and live in public housing is a violation of the law and simply wrong.

If you are a resident of a Mississippi public housing complex and this violation of the law has negatively affected you, please contact me at Dana@DanaCriswell.net.  Also, if you have a copy of your housing authorities rules that show a violation please send me a copy.

It is your responsibility to stay informed


State Legislators Send Letter to State Board of Education

Last week the people of Mississippi were successful in their efforts to have Dr. Carey Wright, MS State Superintendent of Education, reverse her decision to follow the Obama administration's demands on bathroom policy.  Through the Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education our president attempted to impose his social experiment on our children by threatening to withhold federal money from our state if we failed to comply.  Dr. Wright immediately folded to the president's demands risking our children's safety and angering a vast majority of Mississippians.

In Dr. Wright's statement reversing her decisions she said she would "follow the lead of state leadership and take no action at this time regarding the non-regulatory guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education."

Tomorrow the Mississippi State Board of Education will hold a special meeting to discuss the Obama directive.  

Speaker Philip Gunn of the Mississippi House of Representatives delivered a letter today signed by 76 members of the MS House of Representatives demanding the MS State Board of Education protect our children and ignore the directive by the Obama administration which would allow boys in the girls bathrooms and locker rooms.

The citizens of Mississippi can not let up, call the board members and voice your opinion. 

Here are the numbers for the state school board: 
John Kelly- (228)868-5770, 
Rosemary Aultman- (601)924-4830, 
Buddy Bailey- (601)825-5590, 
Kami Bumgarner- (601)605-4171, 
Jason Dean- (601)664-8858, 
Karen Elam- (662)513-0705, 
Johnny Franklin- (601)664-8363, 
William Jones- (601)545-8324, 
Charles McClelland- (601)991-2412.


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Desoto County Representatives Speak Out on Dept. of Education Bathroom Policy Statement

Many of you are aware of the recent policy demand placed on public schools by the Obama Administration.  In a letter to all state education departments the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education have threatened to withhold funding unless the schools implement policies that allow boys into girls bathrooms and locker rooms.

Gov. Bryant responded with the following statement; 

The Mississippi Department of Education should disregard the so-called guidance the Obama administration has issued regarding public schools' restroom policies. The directive is nonbinding, and does not carry the force of law. Because these decisions are better left to the states, and not made at the point of a federal bayonet, Mississippi's public schools should not participate in the president's social experiment.

But, our leaders in the MS Department of Education did not follow his lead and responded with a statement of submission to Obama.  

Statement from the Mississippi Department of Education on U.S. Departments of Education and Justice Guidance

CLINTON, Miss. – A safe and caring school environment is critical to a student’s ability to learn and achieve. The Mississippi Department of Education will adhere to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the joint guidance issued today by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Sine Die

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Last week ended the 2016 legislative session, the Mississippi House of Representatives adjourned Sine Die, adjourned without any future date being designated for resumption, on Thursday April 21.  As a freshman legislator I believe I've learned more these past few months about our government than all my 52 years before.

This was a contentious year in the legislature, for the first time in history the Republican party held a super majority in the House of Representatives.  The democrats had an extremely difficult time grasping the fact that they were no longer in control and the majority of people in our state have abandoned their big government ideas.  They are upset about losing leadership positions as committee chairmen and even more upset about losing prime office space in the capitol.

To express their discontent they began a process to prevent the House from accomplishing any of the majorities objectives.  Their first tactic was to have every bill read aloud.  The Mississippi constitution allows any legislator to have a bill read aloud.  In 1870 when our constitution was written, having a bill read aloud was often the only opportunity for a legislator to know the content of the proposed legislation.  Some legislators could not read and often there were limited copies of the bill.  Today, every legislator can read, any legislator can obtain a printed copy of the legislation, and every legislator is provided a computer or iPad where they can access all bills once they have been filed.  Having bills read aloud is nothing more than an attempt to delay and prevent progress.

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Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Week of April 11

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Its Saturday morning and I'm sitting at my desk on the House floor.  This weekend, the last weekend of the 2016 session is conference weekend.  Today at 8:00 pm is the deadline for appropriation conference reports to be signed and submitted to the House for consideration.  You may ask, What is a conference report?  That is a good question, and one I had also.

As bills make their way thorough the legislative process they begin in either the House or the Senate, are discussed by the original chamber and if passed sent to the other legislative body.  If the other body makes any changes to the bill it then returns to the originating chamber for concurrence with the changes or an invitation for conference.  If conference is invited then three members of each body meet to work out their differences.  

Tonight is the deadline for all conferees to report to their legislative chamber the final result of their appropriation conferences.  Then on Sunday afternoon the House and the Senate must vote on the report before the bill is passed and sent to the governor.  Either body can disagree with the results of the conference committee and the bill will die.

This week and next are important weeks for budgets.  Yesterday the Joint Legislative Budget Committee meet and received the economic report from the state economic advisor.  The Governor and the Committee adopted an estimate of $5,703,200,000 in General Fund receipts for FY 2017 under current law. House and Senate members are now busy hearing request from all the departments in the state, from Education to Mental Health, about how much money they need to do the job we've asked them to do.  Now that the legislature knows how much money the state has for FY 2017 and all the departments have submitted their budgets request, today and tomorrow we are busy deciding where to put the money.  The House will begin voting on budget items Sunday at 2:00 pm.

If you would like to read the full report from the State Economist use this link; State Economist Report.

 

 

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Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Week of April 4

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As the 2016 legislative sessions begins to wind down the House has sent several bills to Governor Bryant for his consideration and invited the Senate to participate in conferences about many others.  When we return on Monday members have been told to expect to work through next weekend, known around the capitol as "conference weekend", to ensure we complete all the work required before the deadline.

I have been assigned to participate in at least one conference committee on education issues but the real work is with appropriations.  Over the last couple of weeks both the House and the Senate have voted on many appropriation bills, but these bills do not contain the final amount of money for each department or entity.  The appropriation conference committee, which is comprised of three House members and three Senate members will determine how much the state should appropriate.  

Once the committee completes its work the House and Senate must vote on their plan. The deadline to file conference reports on Appropriations and Revenue bills falls on Saturday April 16. Conferees must file reports, or final versions, before 8 p.m. Saturday. Monday, April 18, is the deadline for adoption of those conference reports filed.

 

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Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Week of March 28

Criswell_at_well.JPGEvery week seems to hold another deadline, by Wednesday, House members needed to address all general, non-revenue bills received from the Senate.  If a Senate bill was not taken up and passed by Wednesday, it died on the Calendar.  The Senate faced the same deadline as they considered bills originating in the House.

When a bill is passed by one chamber, it goes to the other for consideration and vote. If the other chamber approves it exactly as they received it, then it goes to the Governor to be signed or vetoed. If, however, there is a single change (amendment) to the original bill, then it goes back to the original chamber to see if they approve (“concur”) with the changes. If they do not approve, it goes to “Conference.” The House appoints three members (generally from the original committee which considered the bill), and the Senate does the same. These 6 members then see if they can resolve the differences and arrive at a single version. If they can find a compromise, the bill goes back to each chamber for a simple up or down vote, with no ability to amend it. If they cannot agree, it dies.

Here are some of the bills voted on by the House;

  • SB 2161: expands school choice by allowing for students in lower-performing districts to cross district lines to attend charter schools. Every child deserves access to a quality education, and every parent deserves a choice in where their child attends school. I voted Yes, the bill passed 65-51.

 

  • SB 2374: establishes a study committee that will offer recommended changes to the state’s campaign finance laws. I voted Yes, the bill passed 92-24.

  

  • SB 2238: prevents Medicaid from reimbursing facilities that perform elective abortions. It includes a reverse repealer and cannot become law in its current form. I voted Yes, the bill passed 77-37.

 

  • Senate Bill 2493: establishes the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act. This legislation is designed to give families facing crises the ability to execute a power of attorney for voluntary guardianship for their children for a year. This does not impact parental rights. It provides parents a tool to be proactive before the Department of Human Services or the court systems become involved. Children would be placed with a family member or third party. The agency involved would require a full criminal background check on any third party. Children would be reunited with the parent once the parent's issue is resolved. I voted Yes. The bill passed by a vote of 118-0.

 

  • HB 1523: House members voted to concur with the Senate on the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” by a vote of 69-44. I voted Yes.  

 

There has been a lot of discussion about this bill and a lot of mis-information spread by those who oppose basic christian values.  Here is some facts about what this bill does and what it does NOT do provided by the MS Center for Public Policy;

What HB 1523 does:

The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act does: 

  • Protects individuals and entities from being penalized by the state or local governments for their moral or religious beliefs that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. 
  • Protects individuals and entities who believe that sexual relationships are properly reserved to such marriages -- such as a religious school that requires students and faculty to refrain from engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage. 
  • Protects individuals and entities from being penalized for believing that "male" and "female" are biologically based. 
  • Is supported by a majority (63 percent) of Miss. voters from both parties and every major demographic.


What HB 1523 does NOT do;

The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act does NOT: 

  • Change the legal definition of marriage. 
  • Hinder or slow the process for providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 
  • Prevent the government from providing benefits or services authorized under state law. 
  • Create a "license to discriminate."

 

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Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Week of March 21

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This past week was another busy week at the capitol.  Looming deadlines seem to propel the House into action and this weeks deadline was for committees to report general bills and constitutional amendments originating in the Senate to the House floor.  On Wednesday the House began debating the senate bills that survived the committee process.  As usual more bills die in committee than survive.

While the House was busy debating Senate bills the Senate was debating bills originating in the House. I am sorry to say that House Bill 938 which protects children from vaccinations deemed dangerous to them by their pediatrician, died in the Senate committee.  Apparently a majority of our senators are more concerned with protecting the buracratic maze of our Department of Health than they are children.  There is simply no rational reason to demand a child receive a vaccination when that child's doctor advises otherwise.

Some of the Senate bills that survived the House Committees were;

  • Senate Bill 2438, requires that all local school superintendents be appointed after January 1, 2019. If a superintendent was elected after the last general election, that superintendent would be permitted to maintain his or her position until the next qualifying date. The bill passed by a vote of 80-36.

 

This bill is a step in the right direction toward strengthening our schools by removing our school superintendent from the political arena. Superintendents can now focus on making our schools better without the added burden of politics.  Citizens still have a voice in the administration of their local schools through their elected school boards.  School boards are non-partisan elected positions.

  • Senate Bill 2162 expands the makeup of the board of the Jackson Airport Authority to now include members appointed not only by the City of Jackson, but also Rankin and Madison counties, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor. Currently, board members are appointed by the Mayor of Jackson and are confirmed by the Board of Alderman. A House amendment was adopted to provide that the majority of the members be made up of citizens from Jackson. The two appointments made by the Governor and the one made by the Lieutenant Governor must now be residents of Jackson. This change gives the City of Jackson five members on the board of nine.  The airport’s realm of service extends well beyond the City of Jackson. I believe that a more representative group from the immediate areas serviced will be better suited to operate the board than one comprised of members solely from Jackson.  The bill passed by a vote of 74-46.

 

  • SB 2388, allows the State Department of Education to take a pilot program that teaches school administrators and teachers how to better interpret data from a pilot program to a fully implemented program across the state.  This program has been in use at 7 schools across the state for the past two years with excellent results.  As an education sub-committee chairman I handled this bill during the committee process and presented the bill on the House floor.  During my research of the pilot program I found many, including those in the Department of Education and the local schools who spoke very highly of its success.  I believe this is a good program that will help school districts better prepare students.

 

But, I voted against the bill.  Representative Omeria Scott (D), District 80 proposed an amendment that the House accepted.  Her amendment was something I could not support and I believe once others discover exactly what her amendment says they will wish they had voted against the bill also.

 

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Rep. Dana Criswell - At Your Capitol, Week of March 14

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This week the House faced the deadline for floor action on Appropriation and Revenue bills originating in the House.  Which means we spent millions of YOUR dollars on everything from education to restoration of the Shubuta Town Hall.

House Bill 1729, the “big bond bill,” would authorize approximately $179 million in bonds for various projects. The committee substitute of the bill contains only $1 million in each section of the bond bill (for a total of $20 million) in order to keep the bill alive through the legislative process. The House and Senate will later agree on a set amount for each bond. Discretionary money for small projects in local communities is also incorporated into this legislation. Some of the larger projects included are:

  • $95.7 million for the eight colleges and universities to manage their top priority projects over a two-year period
  • $35 million total per year for Community/Junior Colleges to use as they see fit. This would allow them to plan ahead for various projects, as well.
  • $20 million will be devoted to the Mississippi Coliseum and State Fairgrounds to use over two years ($10 million each year) for upgrades to facilities and construction of a new Trade Mart.

 

This bill also provides millions of dollars for local projects such as:

  • $100,000.00 for Jacinto Foundation, to pay the costs of capital improvements, repairing, renovating, restoring, rehabilitating, preserving, furnishing and/or equipping the courthouse and related facilities in Jacinto, Mississippi
  • $425,000.00 as grant funds to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation to pay the costs of capital improvements, repairing, renovating, restoring, rehabilitating, preserving, furnishing, equipping and/or acquiring the L.Q.C. Lamar Home in Oxford, Mississippi.
  • $975,000.00 as grant funds to  the City of Columbus, Mississippi, to assist in paying the costs associated with repair, renovation and restoration of the Columbus City Hall building and related facilities.

 

I voted against this bill, over the past several months I've learned that our state will be almost $100 million short of funds and we will need to dip into our state savings account to make our budget.  Our universities and colleges must be funded but I do not think we are in a financial position to spend money on renovating city halls, building museums, equine centers, or other entertainment projects.  I will vote for a bill that funds our universities and colleges but I will not vote for one that has millions of dollars of "pork" projects hidden within.

 

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