Local legislators will take up several issues at state capital

Published 8:02 pm Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Mississippi Legislature begins its regular session Jan. 8 with a twist.

As District 55 Rep. Oscar Denton put it, “This is an election year.”

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“I don’t think there will be as many bills filed this year or taken up by the committees this year because this is an election year, and traditionally, election years are leaner on the numbers of bills being filed and being pushed,” State Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said.

“That said, I think there’s going to be some things on strengthening school safety, probably some criminal justice modifications, maybe some slight Medicaid modifications, and then I think the rest of the session is going to be focused on appropriations and finances.”

District 54 Rep. Kevin Ford doesn’t believe the coming elections later in the year will have that much of an effect.

“I’m excited about the stuff we’ve got going in the House between trying to focus on eliminating state testing (to) take the pressure off the teachers in the school; the human trafficking bill; that’s good stuff inside or out of an election year,” Ford said.

“We just did the special session and put out $1 billion toward infrastructure, (and) we still have to put out a budget for MDOT (Mississippi Department of Transportation and Development) again. It’s always a different atmosphere in an election year, but I’m excited about what we’re going to take on this year.”

Ford said he hoped the human trafficking bill is one of the first bills the House addresses.

“We’re still working on some of the specific details of it, but if we can do that and move Mississippi up to one of the forefront states in the country, that would be pretty cool,” he said.

Denton said he has not seen the bill, “(But) I’m sure we’re going to talk about it. That is a nonpartisan issue. I don’t think we’ll have much debate on that; I think we can all get on board with some kind of bill. That’s a heart-rendering issue.”


Besides eliminating some school tests, Ford said he expects teacher pay raises and programs to increase school funding will be on the House agenda.

He said any type of formula change for Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding will have to come to from the Senate, adding last year’s funding formula died there.

Hopson was one of the Senate Republicans who opposed House Bill 957 in 2018, which was authored by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn to change the formula. The bill passed the House, but the Senate voted 27-21 to recommit it to committee. Since the deadline to return a bill to a committee had passed, the measure died.

Hopson voted to send the bill back to committee.

“It was bad for the district, No. 1, and I had some concerns about the part of the formula that affected career and technical education, and the allocation of dollars based on poverty,” Hopson said after the vote.

“There were some aspects I liked a lot in the proposed formula, but there were others that concerned me. I think the per student cost distribution was a better approach, but the details to the add-ons were a bit troubling; there’s a lot of issues with factors.”

Hopson believes education funding will be discussed in the Senate, adding “I anticipate there will be some increases in education funding and there’s also a possibility there will also be some pay raises, so I think those two things are on the table.”

And while education is one of the Democratic Party’s priorities, Denton said, “I doubt it if they (the House leadership) will bring up a different formula.”


Another item for possible consideration is Medicaid expansion. Several online articles have indicated Gov. Phil Bryant may be considering expanding the state’s Medicaid program, something he has opposed in the past.

While all three local legislators say they’ve heard about Bryant’s comments, they have not seen anything from the governor’s office on the subject.

“The only thing I will say to that is we should have done it years ago,” Denton said. “We’ve had a lot of hospitals to close in rural areas, and maybe we could have stopped some of that. If he does it, that would be great. We need it.”

Hopson believes any discussion on Medicaid in the Senate will center on managed care companies and some modifications of how they managed care.

Mental health

All three believe mental health issues will also be discussed. Hopson believes discussion in the Senate could center on community care programs.

Ford said discussions in the House could involve establishing mental health courts, which would operate similar to drug courts.

“We need to get these established so we can pull some of the people with mental health issues and get them out of the judicial system and get them into a mental health court just like drug court,” he said.

“We believe they would be a better function to handle it and if we can pull them out of the judicial system to handle it.”

And infrastructure, all three said, will be discussed.

Local legislation

Locally, Ford said he is working with county economic development officials to get tax incentives for port businesses for hiring local residents.

All three said they have not discussed any other specific needs with city and county officials, adding they usually get with local leaders in January to discuss local needs. They also say they have not talked with Mayor George Flaggs Jr. about his $55 million capital improvements program, which would be funded by a 1 percent sales tax on items other than groceries, medicine, automobiles, hotels and restaurants.

Flaggs said he wants to seek a local and private, or special bill, to hold a referendum and allow the people to vote on the sales tax.

Hopson said the chairman of the Senate Local and Private Committee has usually been opposed to local bills that involve a tax.

Ford and Denton said the House Local and Private Committee also opposes local bills seeking to levy a tax, but said the referendum may help the project.

Denton said he had no problem with the plan “because it would be something the people would vote on. The people will decide that. I think it will go through, because it will be in the voters, not us, who enact a tax. Let the voters decide.”

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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