Just when I thought things at the capitol couldn't get any busier we hit the deadline for submission of general bills and the committees began meeting. The pace at the capitol picked up significantly this past week, each committee has until this coming Tuesday, February 23, to read, discuss, and vote on each bill assigned to them by the Speaker. Any bill that has not been voted on by the committee by Tuesday has "died in committee".
Some committees have only three or four bills but others like Education have hundreds. Education is the largest committee on which I serve, it has 31 members and has been assigned 250 bills to consider. The process began by Chairman Moore dividing the committee into sub-committees and assigning each sub-committee bills to review. I was asked to serve as a sub-committee chair and was assigned eleven bills to review and make recommendations to the whole committee.
My sub-committee passed 5 of our 11 bills to the whole committee, three have been taken up by the committee and are on the calendar for consideration by the House.
House Bill 34 allows the Department of Education to hire independent contractors to work as district financial advisors. When the state auditors finds a school district is in serious financial distress he notifies the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). At that time MDE assigns a financial professional to be the districts financial advisor. Under current law MDE must hire this person as an employee which requires the expense of insurance, taxes, etc. This change would allow them to hire the advisor on a contract fee basis. MDE believes this will save the tax payers money.
House Bill 51 increases the Third Grade Reading Gate requirement and is seen as a next step to the legislation passed a few years ago. Implementation of this bill would raise Mississippi up from a level from the lowest achievement level in reading. The language provides another year at the current level, then phases in the new requirements over a two year period. With this bill, the Mississippi Department of Education is asking the Legislature to push the bar up a little.
House Bill 200 each the State Treasury creates a special fund designated the "Education Enhancement Fund" and MDE distributes $16 million of that fund to all school districts. A portion of these funds are then distributed to teachers on procurement cards for the purchase of classroom supplies, instructional materials and equipment, including computers and computer software. This bill adds teachers at the Mississippi School for Arts, the Mississippi School for Math and Science, the Mississippi School for the Blind or the Mississippi School for the Deaf. When this bill was originally passed these teachers were overlooked so this bill simply fixes that oversight.
After the Tuesday deadline the House will begin debate and discussion of all bills passed out of the committees. I've been told the House will convene each day around 9:00 am and to expect to stay for eight or more hours each day. Use this Link to the Web Cast and watch the House debate online.