As 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.
HB1036 - I also presented House Bill 1036 to the full committee, while this bill was not originally assigned to my subcommittee Chairman Moore allowed me to present the bill since I was a co-author of the bill. Over the past several months I have spent time learning about how dyslexia affects many of our children. These children, many extremely bright and academically advanced, are often labeled as slow learners or placed in special education classes because their challenges are not addressed in traditional classrooms. This bill would expand the Dyslexia Scholarship beyond the current limit of the sixth grade up to twelfth grade and give parents the additional option of choosing a school that is either regionally or nationally certified. Under current law the scholarship can only be used at schools accredited by the MS Department of Education. While the intent was to ensure the schools were academically sound, it has eliminated some non-public schools that far exceed the academic standards of our public schools. This bill passed the House Education Committee but because of political pressure from members that have more power than I, this bill has been double referred and is in danger of dying in the committee process. Politics often trumps doing good for our children.
Federal Agreement Transparency Act
HB1102 - I am the primary author of this bill but it is being considered by a committee of which I am not a member. The purpose of this bill is to provide for transparency and public dialogue regarding agreements state agencies and local governments wish to enter into with the federal government. The bill provide notice to citizens of proposed agreements and gives them the opportunity to comment.
I believe that the funding and regulatory obligations contained in many of these federal agreements are not always well understood or thought out by agencies and localities. I also believe that these agreements handicap policymaking at the state and local level and should be evaluated with care. In addition, these agreements place federal priorities over local priorities and resources that may be better used on other projects.
I am meeting with Secretary Hosemann's office on Monday January 30th to discuss this bill and how it will help the citizens of Mississippi.
Tuesday January 31 is the deadline for committees to pass general bills and consititutional amendments to the House for consideration. If a bill does not make it out of its committee by Tuesday it will have "died in committee"
Visiting Your Capitol
It's always good to see folks from Desoto County when they visit the capitol. This week the Desoto County legislators were visited by Olive Branch resident Debra Dye. Debra, along with nearly 1,000 students, teachers, and families from around the state participated in the 2017 Mississippi School Choice Rally at the capitol.
I also meet Ms Raquel Espitia of Desoto County. Raquel is a student at Ole Miss and an intern at the capitol. Raquel attended an education sub-committee meeting where I was discussing the importance of HB1036 and the Dyslexia Scholarships it provides. Raquel grew up dealing with the difficulties of dyslexia and has offered her assistance as we attempt to help children with dyslexia today.