From Your Capitol - Week of February 20

no_tax.jpgThe end of this week marked the deadline for House appropriations and revenue bills to be introduced and passed.  But the most interesting actions this week came from the Ways and Means committee.  The function of this committee is to assess legislation that deals with raising revenue. So in a year where the primary goal of leadership seems to be to take as much money from the citizens of Mississippi this committee is an important one to watch.  

I am not a member of this committee because money committees, like Appropriations and Ways and Means are generally reserved for more senior members of the House.  But since anyone can attend the committee meetings I make an effort to attend all that I can.  Actually, what most citizens don't know is that any citizen can attend any committee meeting taking place at the capitol. So, if you are interested in what is going on and would like to learn how the decisions are made, you are always welcome join your legislator as they attend committee meetings.

As legislation is assigned to a committee, ideally it shows up on the legislature's website and members have a little time to read and review the bill before it is brought up to the committee.  Larger committees like Ways and Means or Education often handle hundreds of bills during a legislative session so the chairman will divide the committee into sub-committees.  Each sub-committee will review their assigned bills and decide if it should be brought before the full committee.  

If a bill survives the scrutiny of the sub-committee the sub-committee chair is then responsible for presenting the bill to the committee as a whole.  Hopefully members have had an opportunity to review the bill before it's presented, but sometimes the first time a member is aware of a bill is when it's presented in the committee.  The sub-committee chairman presenting the bill must then explain and be prepared to answer questions so members can make an informed decision before they vote on the passage of the bill.  During this debate in the committee, any member can offer amendments to the bill, that must be approved by the whole committee.  If a majority of the committee supports the bill then it is sent to the House to consider.

What I've outlined above is the process that a bill should go through before it is voted on and presented to the House for consideration.  There are multiple opportunities for members to read, ask questions and debate a bill.  There is opportunity for sub-committee members and committee members to amend and change a bill to make it better.  Unfortunately this week in the Ways and Means Committee that is not the process I saw.

On Monday afternoon I attended the House Ways and Means Committee meeting where the chairman presented three bills to the committee that were not available for the committee to read.  That's right, go back and read that sentence again, I'll wait.  The chairman asked for unanimous consent from the committee members to present three bills that were not available for anyone to read.  There could be no debate, no discussion, no review, because no member was able to read or even look at the bill.  The only information available was the title of the bill.  The chairman offered a brief explanation of each bill and the members voted to pass each and send them to the House for a vote.

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From Your Capitol - Week of February 13

pamminyard.jpgThe week of February 13 was an odd week around the state capitol.  With general House Bills out of the way, representatives began working on House Appropriations Bills, which will determine how much money is given to various state agencies. 

This may sound like a very busy week but the reality is that nothing much happened.  The House was responsible for looking at the preliminary budgets of 54 state agencies, including the departments of transportation, public health, Medicaid, education and public safety.  To an outsider this sounds like some very important work. You might think that legislators would be engrossed in hearings and reading through mounds of budget proposals so they can make an informed decision. But that would not be the case. Leadership had already talked to all the agencies and the Legislative Budget Office, LBO, had already made recommendations on agency budgets. So when the House Appropriations Committee met, bills outlining the amount of money appropriated for each agency were passed with very little discussion.  This is also the week where political payback kicks into full gear and various pork projects begin finding their way into state funding bills.

Each budget included a reverse repealer, a clause which ensures that a bill cannot become law before going to a conference committee for further revisions. With reverse repealers in place, most appropriations bills were voted on by the full House, in a block to help speed up the process.  Because when you are spending $6 billion speed is apparently the most important aspect of the process.

Now that the House has passed its appropriations bills, they will be transmitted to the Senate. When the Senate removes the reverse repealer the bill must then go to a conference committee.  This is where a select few will actually do the work and make the decisions about how much money each agency receives.  Then the "real" appropriations bills come back to the full House for a vote.

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From Your Capitol - Week of February 6

Criswell_at_well.JPGThe 2017 legislative session is moving along quickly with this past week marking another major deadline.  The House met as a whole throughout the week to discuss bills that made it out of committees and onto the calendar. Thursday, Feb. 9, was the deadline for representatives to discuss House Bills. Any bills that were not discussed by Thursday died on the calendar. You can view the bills that are still alive here.

Legislation regarding internet sales tax, House Bill 480, finally passed the House with much debate.  This legislation will now move to the senate for more debate, I urge you to contact your senator and the Lt. Governor and express your opposition to the measure.  If passed, the State of Mississippi will suck $100 million out of the state's economy (that's in your pocket) and use that money to grow the size of government.  The State of Mississippi does NOT have an income problem we have a spending problem.

The death penalty became a topic of discussion at the introduction of House Bill 638. The bill revises the methods by which the death penalty can be carried out. In the event that lethal injection is deemed unusable, the death penalty could be carried out by use of a gas chamber, a firing squad or electrocution. Some oppose the death penalty because of religious or philosophical reasons, I believe it is an option societies have every right to use on the most heinous offenders.  This legislation is necessary to ensure that the death penalty can be carried out by giving alternatives in case one or more methods are blocked or appealed. The bill passed by a vote of 74-44. 

The introduction of House Bill 926 proposed the Health Care Collaboration Act. This act would authorize the board of trustees of the state Institution of Higher Learning (IHL) and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) to enter into a health care collaborative with other health organizations in the state. Supporters say this act will save rural hospitals and consumers money, while helping to modernize health care in rural areas. I opposed this legislation because I believe it would give UMMC an unfair advantage over other hospitals that are not backed by the state. If this legislation continues and becomes law, I believe it would start our state down the road of creating one government-run health care provider.  The bill passed by a vote of 89-24. I voted no.

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From Your Capitol - Week of January 30

tax_debate.pngThe final week of January was another extremely busy week at the Mississippi capitol.  Tuesday January 31st was the deadline for committees to pass legislation assigned to their committee.  Any bill not sent to the House floor is now labeled "died in committee".  Many good bills were allowed to die in their committee, some because there was opposition and others because someone in leadership didn't want the bill to be considered by the House.  But at the same time there was also many bad bill that died. More than 75% of the bills introduced did not make it past this deadline; of over 2,000 bills introduced this year, only about 500 are still alive today. You can view a list of the measures that are still active here

The political process is a difficult and grueling process that is often lined with good intentions by some and pure evil intentions by others.  Participating in this process is by far one of the most difficult task I've ever undertaken.

I was extremely disappointed this week when the House leadership brought House Bill 480 (Internet Sales Tax) before the House for a vote.  This bill would impose a tax on all internet purchases made by Mississippians.  This tax is illegal based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, and it will suck as much as a $150 million dollars a year out of our state's economy (that means your pocket). That money will be used to grow government which always limits freedoms. This un-republican idea must be stopped.

I strongly opposed this measure and spoke against it on the House floor during the debate.  I feel that many of the legislators in the House have forgotten their promise as Republicans.  Support of this money grab is also in clear violation of the Republican platform.  

National Republican Platform;

"We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle
for a dramatic expansion of government power."

The bill has been held up in the House by a "motion to reconsider" which is a procedural move that requires the House to vote on the bill again.  The hope is that members will consider changing their vote and vote against this bill.

For more information about how this tax will harm Mississippi and it's citizens visit the Facebook page of American's for Prosperity-Mississippi 

 

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From Your Capitol - Week of January 23

truck_captiol.jpgAs we move through the 2017 legislative session every week seems to get busier than the last.  On Wednesday the 25th I decided to track the number of miles I walked inside the capitol.  From 8 am that morning until I walked out of the building at 5 pm I walked just over 4 miles and I went up and down the stairs of the capitol 15 times.  I call this the legislative exercise program, it includes walking, running and stair climbing, with intermittent periods arguing to stop taxes and big government.

As a sub-committee chairman of the House Education Committee my primary task this week was to handle bills assigned to my committee.  My sub-committee was assigned 13 bills to review and determine if they warranted presenting to the full committee.  After quite a bit of research and debate I had 6 bills of our 13 that we felt should be presented to the full committee.

On Wednesday I presented HB145, HB203 and HB280.  In addition to these bills I also presented HB1036. Because I was a co-author of this legislation Chairman Moore allowed me to present the bill.  All 4 of the bills I presented passed the education committee.

Bills I Presented to the Education Committee

HB145 - Our current law allows parents to move their student from their local public school to another district if both districts agree to the transfer.  There are multiple reasons this action is requested by parents; sometimes it's simple distance to travel to school.  Children who live on the extreme edge of a district might have miles to travel to attend a school in their district while they live very close to a school in another district. There are also educational reasons that parents request a change in districts.  If a parent makes this request both districts must approve the move.  This legislation would allow the funding to follow the student.  Often receiving school districts simply can not afford to take a child, if this legislation passes it would remove that hurdle as parents seek the best education for their child.

HB203 - This bill would require local school districts to seek permission from citizens before they raise taxes.  Under current law a school district provides their county supervisors with the budget for the upcoming school year, the supervisors MUST provide however much money the school request.  Often times this forces the supervisors to raise taxes to ensure the county has the money requested by the school board.  This legislation would require the school board seek permission from the citizens of their district before a tax increase is implemented.  I will always fight to give the people as loud a voice as possible.  No government entity, including schools should have the ability to raise taxes without first listening to the voice of the people they represent. 

HB280 - I've asked many people if they believed our local schools should be required to follow state law and state constitutional provisions.  The answer I receive most often is a bewildered look and then a question in return, "You mean that's not already required?"  The simple answer, is not all that simple.  The answer is yes, they are required to follow the law but if they refuse there is nothing anyone can do to require them to follow the law.  HB280 would give the Mississippi Department of Education the ability to investigate charges that they are not following the law and if a school district is found to be in violation the state could revoke there accreditation.  This law would also protect teachers or other school employees from retribution if they report a violation.  

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From Your Capitol - Week of January 16

2017-01-18_07.50.14-1.jpgThe third week of the 2017 legislative session began Monday with a joint Education and Appropriations committee meeting, where the consulting group, EdBuild presented their recommendations to revamp the state’s education funding formula.  Mississippi's formula for funding our educational system was developed over 10 years ago by democrats who value appearance over substance.  The formula has only been "fully funded" twice in its history because it was designed to win votes at the ballot box with no thought about what the state could afford or what is best for students. 

EdBuild suggested increasing the base student cost, or the amount of money used to educate the average student, with weights added for students with specific needs. Weights would be included for Low-Income students, English Language Learners, Special Education students, gifted students, students in the lowest and highest grade levels and students in rural or sparse school districts.

Our current funding formula guarantees the state fund 73 percent of the cost of educating our children, only 2 other states make any guarantee, one guarantees 2% and the other less than 50%.  EdBuild suggested reconsidering this percentage and allowing school districts to exceed the state cap on the amount of local funds they can raise for their schools.

A more detailed account of the recommendations can be found on the state website at www.legislature.ms.gov

Legislators are now studying EdBuild's recommendations and deciding if we should make changes to our current method of funding education.  I participated in 2 additional meetings with EdBuild during the week where legislators asked questions and dove deeper into their recommendations.

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From Your Capitol - Week of January 9

Eubanks-Mississippi-Two-Flag-State-1200.jpg

The second week of the 2017 Mississippi Legislature is complete and as always there are surprises in store for the citizens of Mississippi.  

As the session continues to move forward we are quickly moving past important deadlines.  This week was the last week for legislators to submit ideas for legislation to the House attorneys for drafting. 

Some of you may not know how the process of drafting legislation works.   As an example I will use one of my bills,  HB 633 which holds those who prohibit citizens from carrying a firearm onto their property liable for damages.  Last year I read about Tennessee's new law that says if a business prohibits citizens from carrying a firearm for self-defense on their property the business becomes responsible for the protection of their customers.  If a customer is harmed because they were unable to protect themselves, then the business becomes liable and can be sued for damages.  After reading Tennessee's new law I took the Tennessee law to a House attorney and we discussed how this could be applied to Mississippi.  The attorney then drafted the legislation and after several rewrites and more discussion we finally produced a bill that applied my idea to Mississippi law.

Once I had an acceptable bill I began the process of convincing other Representatives to become co-sponsors.  I have spent quite a bit of time tracking down other legislators and discussing my bill.  Some immediately agree with the concept and sign on as co-sponsors while others want more time to research and contemplate how the bill affects citizens.  My goal is to have as many other legislators sign onto my bill as possible because this helps convince leadership of its importance. Remember, as I'm doing this with my bill there are 121 other legislators doing the same with their bills.  This can create quite a frenzy around the capitol.

January 16th is the deadline for legislators to submit bills so the Speaker can assign them to a committee for review.  

Here is a list of legislation that I have either sponsored or co-sponsored;

HB 584 Welfare Policy Institute within the IHL board; repeal.
       01/13 (H) Referred To Universities and Colleges
  Hopkins
HB 633 Firearms prohibition; create cause of action against property owners with.
       01/13 (H) Referred To Judiciary A
  Criswell
HB 746 Stun gun; remove the term from the firearms category.
       01/13 (H) Referred To Judiciary B
  Criswell








There are several more bills that I have co-sponsored that will be submitted before the deadline and one bill that I sponsored that is still awaiting a committee assignment.

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Why I Believe Citizens Should Have a Say on Taxes


 


This is a reprint of an article I wrote earlier this summer.  I have received several emails from citizens of Southaven asking my opinion on extending the "pennies for parks" tax.  This tax is due to repeal this year, and I oppose extending this tax without the consent of the people of Southaven. When this tax was implemented the people voted for it with a repeal date, it is my belief that the tax should repeal, just as the people voted for it to do.  If the leadership of Southaven want this tax to continue they should ask the citizens of their city through a vote.

Have you even had an family member come to visit that you thought was only staying for a few days but they seemed to never leave?  It seems taxes are much the same.  Once a tax comes to visit it never goes away.

One of the surprises awaiting me during the 2016 legislative session was how local municipal taxes work.  The House of Representatives Local and Private Legislation Committee handles bills that affect local governments, like HB1585 which authorized Grenada County to contract with the United States and other states to house minimum or medium security offenders, or HB1584 which  authorized Oktibbeha County to contribute to Brickfire Project – Day Care Center (if you live in Oktibbeha County you might want to ask why).

The Local and Private Committee also handles bills that allow local governments to implement taxes.  One of the most common methods local governments use to raise money is by adding a tax to hotel and restaurant sales.  They generally call these “tourism” taxes because they sell these taxes to the local citizens by claiming it only taxes tourist who travel throughout their city.  We all know that’s not exactly true, but it close enough to the truth for most politicians.

 

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Rep. Dana Criswell - From the Capitol, Week One

washington_MS_capital.jpg

The Mississippi Legislature convened at noon on January 3, 2017.  This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Great State of Mississippi.  Mississippi is a state with a rich history of which we are proud.  Remembering who we are and where we've been, both the good and the bad, makes us better people today.  The people of this state are hard working individuals who take pride in their self-reliance and independence.  Happy Birthday Mississippi!

The capital city of Mississippi in 1817, when the first legislature convened, was Washington—now just a community in northern Adams County, near Natchez.  The first state constitution was written and signed in Washington, and the first legislature met in the Washington church pictured above.   In 1822, the capital was moved to Jackson, a much more central location in the state, where it has remained.

Like any year 2017 is poised to be an interesting year in the Mississippi legislature. Unlike 2016 which began very slowly this year is moving very quickly.  

Here are the legislative deadlines:

9th day 
Wed. Jan. 11

Deadline for making REQUESTS for general bills and constitutional amendments to be drafted.***

14th day 
Mon. Jan. 16

Deadline for INTRODUCTION of general bills and constitutional amendments.*

29th day 
Tues. Jan. 31

Deadline for COMMITTEES TO REPORT general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OWN House.*+

38th day 
Thurs. Feb. 9

Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OWN House.*

39th day 
Fri. Feb. 10

Deadline for reconsideration and passage of general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OWN House.*

42nd day 
Mon. Feb. 13

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OWN House.*

51st day 
Wed. Feb. 22

Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OWN House.

52nd day 
Thurs. Feb. 23

Deadline for RECONSIDERATION AND PASSAGE OF APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OWN House.

53rd day 
Fri. Feb. 24

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OWN House.

57th day 
Tues. Feb. 28

Deadline for COMMITTEES TO REPORT general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OTHER House.*+

65th day 
Wed. Mar. 8

Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OTHER House.*

66th day 
Thurs. Mar. 9

Deadline for RECONSIDERATION AND PASSAGE of general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OTHER House.*

67th day 
Fri. Mar. 10

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider general bills and constitutional amendments originating in OTHER House.*

71st day 
Tues. Mar. 14

Deadline for ORIGINAL FLOOR ACTION on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OTHER House.

72nd day 
Wed. Mar. 15

Deadline for RECONSIDERATION/PASSAGE of APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OTHER House.

73rd day 
Thurs. Mar. 16

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills originating in OTHER House.

74th day 
Fri. Mar. 17

Deadline to concur or not concur in amendments from OTHER House to APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills, and for INTRODUCTION of LOCAL and PRIVATE bills that are REVENUE bills.

77th day 
Mon. Mar. 20

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider concurrence or nonconcurrence in APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills.

80th day 
Thurs. Mar. 23

Deadline to CONCUR or not concur in AMENDMENTS from OTHER HOUSE to GENERAL bills and CONSTITUTIONAL amendments.

81st day 
Fri. Mar. 24

Deadline for INTRODUCTION of LOCAL and PRIVATE bills that are not revenue bills.

82nd day 
Sat. Mar. 25

Deadline for CONFERENCE REPORTS on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills to be filed.**+

84th day 
Mon. Mar. 27

Deadline for FINAL ADOPTION of CONFERENCE REPORTS on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills**+, and for CONFERENCE REPORTS on GENERAL BILLS and CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS to be filed.**+

85th day 
Tues. Mar. 28

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider conference reports on APPROPRIATIONS and REVENUE bills.

86th day 
Wed. Mar. 29

Deadline for first consideration of conference reports on general bills and constitutional amendments.

87th day 
Thurs. Mar. 30

Deadline for filing conference reports on general bills and constitutional amendments that had been recommitted for further conference.+

88th day 
Fri. Mar. 31

Deadline for adoption of conference reports on general bills and constitutional amendments after recommittal.

89th day 
Sat. Apr. 1

Deadline to dispose of motions to reconsider conference reports on general bills and constitutional amendments.

90th day 
Sun. Apr. 2

SINE DIE

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