Medicaid, infrastructure, lotto on docket as 2018 session opens Tuesday

Published 6:43 pm Saturday, December 30, 2017

Medicaid, the budget and infrastructure will be among the major issues facing the state’s legislators when they return to Jackson Tuesday for the 2018 session of the Mississippi Legislature, local officials said. They added they also believe a statewide lottery will again be discussed.

Statewide, three new members will take their seats Tuesday to fill the unexpired terms of their predecessors when the new session opens. One of those is Kevin Ford, who will fill the District 54 House seat previously occupied by Alex Monsour, who resigned his seat after his election as South Ward Alderman for the city of Vicksburg. Ford defeated Dr. Randy Easterling in a Nov. 7 general election to fill Monsour’s vacant seat.

“I expect to first get situated and find out what committees I’ll be on,” Ford said. “I sent a list of committees I’d like to be on to the speaker, but I haven’t heard from him. Then I get set up on the computer so when the bills are filed I’ll be able to read them so I’ll know what they’re about.”

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While he said he has heard about the possibility of changing the state’s formula for Medicaid, Ford declined to discuss it and other issues expected during the session until he sees the reports on them from the House committees.

“Once we get the final report from the committee, then I’ll be able to comment,” he said.

Ford also plans to introduce some bills during his first session, but declined to discuss them until he gets support for them.

State Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said Medicaid will be a big topic because the Legislature will have to renew the state’s Medicaid program.

“It has a repealer and will end in 2018 if we don’t act to renew it,” he said.

Hopson said the Legislature last year passed a bill that put many Medicaid recipients under managed care corporations to make sure the recipients make good decisions involving their health, such as taking their medication and making better lifestyle choices to avoid catastrophic illnesses.

He believes the state may move toward putting 100 percent of Medicaid recipients under managed care programs “because it will be more cost effective to make sure people take care of themselves rather than wait until there is a catastrophic illness that will cost more to treat.”

Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg, said Medicaid has become a national issue that will affect the state of Mississippi. “We cut Medicaid’s budget last year, and if we don’t do something to increase it, it’s going to affect a lot of people in this state,” he said.

Looking at the state’s budget, Hopson said it is always one of his top concerns, “Because I believe we need to be good stewards of the tax money we get from the citizens and make sure that we allocate that money where it will help the state most.”

Denton said his biggest concern about the budget is having enough money to meet the state’s needs.

“We’re going to have to find money after giving all those corporate tax breaks; it’s put the state in a bad state and we’re going to have to find some sources of funding through new sources of income like lottery or a gas tax,” Denton said.

Both Hopson and Denton say they expect a lottery bill to come up during the session. Gov. Phil Bryant during the 2017 session said the possibility of a lottery should be considered, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, formed a committee that studied the issue but made no recommendation.

“There are a lot of people who are upset that people are taking our dollars outside the state to buy lottery tickets,” Hopson said. “I won’t say if I support a lottery or not, but I believe it may come to the floor for a vote in the session.”

“I would like to see the lottery pass, “ Denton said. “And I hope it comes to the session.”

Hopson said the state’s infrastructure needs are usually discussed during the session, but he believes state officials will be watching Congress to see what will be coming out of Washington, D.C., before moving forward with discussing a possible state road and bridge program.

Denton said a gas tax could be used for infrastructure, adding, “We have bad roads and bridges all over the state. It will be a catastrophe if we have a bridge collapse.”

Although state officials are still debating changing the funding formula for education, Denton said he wants to see the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the current funding program, fully funded.

“I have no problem with the current funding formula. Warren County schools are $10 million to $15 million in the hole as far as (receiving) MAEP funding,” Denton said.

The program has only been fully funded twice since it was passed by the Legislature in 1997.

Looking at local bills, Denton said he plans to introduce a bill to change the Mississippi state flag to remove the Confederate battle flag emblem. He said he is also working on other bills to introduce during the session.

Hopson is considering filling a measure to get support for the Mississippi Hardware building incubator project and to support efforts by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center to expand graduate school programs and expand science, technology, engineering and math program not only in Vicksburg but across the state.

He also wants to expand a bill he passed several years ago to expand distance learning and help students in schools that do not have the funds to hire teachers and offer certain programs through video connections, like science or language programs, that are offered in other schools.

This would allow students to take classes taught by a teacher at another school to allow students more access to programs and classes through a broadband network.

“This is something that can be statewide and help students in rural school by providing access through broadband,” Hopson said. “We need to increase broadband across the state so we can offer these programs.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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