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.
Eventually, under the leadership of Speaker Philip Gunn, the democrats ceased their disruptive tactics and the House of Representatives got down to business.
I am happy to say that there were numerous improvements made in education and other areas that help make Mississippi a better place to live. Here is just a few of the bills passed this year;
- Freedom Issues:
- HB 1381 prevents excessive regulations to ensure that companies like Uber will be able to conduct business in the state
- SB 2541 removes a restriction that prevents individuals from participating in fantasy sports.
- HB 1523: The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,”
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.
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."
- HB 207 makes it easier for teachers to receive reimbursement for National Board certification,
- SB 2501 authorizes one of our agricultural high schools to innovate by converting to an early college high school,
- SB 2388 strengthens reading intervention programs by allowing the state Department of Education more latitude to implement the program across the state,
- HB 989 helps direct resources to struggling districts by establishing an achievement school district. We moved to administratively consolidate some of the many school districts in our state, to help direct more resources to classrooms.
- SB 2161 New legislation will allow students in school districts rated “C,” “D,” or “F” to cross district lines to attend a charter school. Currently, students are only allowed to attend a charter school in the district in which they reside. Before this law, students who lived in the Hinds County School District could not attend Reimagine Prep Charter School in South Jackson because it was a different school district. This law will also help many high-need areas of the state where the small size of many of the school districts, such as in the Delta, has made the creation of a charter school virtually impossible. For families in failing school districts, charter schools can provide an opportunity to receive a high quality education. Children in Jackson are already benefiting from charters and I look forward to these same options being made available in other locations where they are needed.
- SB 2438 the legislature passed a bill to make the switch to all appointed school superintendents. Mississippi was one of the last three states in the nation to elect any local school superintendents. Currently, 55 of the 140 superintendents are elected even though more than 99 percent of all superintendents nationwide are appointed. This new law will bring accountability and transparency to the process of choosing a school superintendent, while removing much of the politics from the process, and will give smaller school districts a much larger pool of candidates to choose from.
- HB 33 Education Scholarship Accounts: The eligibility for the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs program has been expanded to any student who has received an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in the past five years. Currently, a student must have received an IEP in the past 18 months to be eligible. This program provides scholarships in the amount of $6,500 and these funds can be used by the parents on a variety of educational expenses. This innovative program, which was authorized last year and is currently serving more than 330 students, allows parents to customize their child’s education by selecting the educational setting that best fits their needs.
HB 37 Dyslexia Scholarship: First enacted in 2012 with a five-year sunset provision, the legislature renewed the Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship and removed the repealer. Under this program, students who are in first through sixth grade and have been screened properly and diagnosed with dyslexia are eligible for a voucher in an amount equal to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program base student cost, which is around $5,000.
- Right to Life:
- Public Safety:
- HB 786 allows churches to establish security teams to protect houses of worship and also allows for “constitutional carry” of firearms, This legislation leaves the firearms permit system intact so anyone who travels can still obtain a permit and receive reciprocity from other states. It also leaves the enhanced firearms permit intact that removes most of the prohibited areas for concealed carry of a pistol or revolver.
- SB 2313 removes a burdensome registration requirement for individuals who manufacture or use firearm silencers,
- HB 107 helps bring equity to our criminal justice system by ensuring that individuals who are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are not denied the opportunity for parole.
I am also very proud of our delegation of legislators from Desoto county. As freshmen legislators we were told that we would have very little or no voice. We were warned to keep quiet and not make waves, but we ignored that advice. The "Desoto 6" was even credited as a key group who stopped the gas tax legislation.
Rep. Dan Eubanks (District 25, Horn Lake) was selected by the Mississippi Legislative Conservative Coalition as the Freshman Legislator of the Year, and Rep. Robert Foster (District 28, Hernando) lead the charge on the House floor to revive The Taxpayer Pay Raise Act of 2016 that gives Mississippians a pay raise by phasing in an income tax cut and eliminates the burdensome franchise tax that discourages job creation in our state.
Also through the leadership of the Desoto County legislators we saw a growing number of veteran legislators begin voting against tax increases and borrowing money.
As your representative, it is my goal to always be accessible to you. I am available anytime by email or on my cell phone at (901) 275-4191.
I appreciate all of you who reached out during the session to voice your support, questions or concerns on the measures before the House, and I look forward to visiting with you around Desoto County in the coming months.
Thank you so much for allowing me to represent you!