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All Eyes on the Capitol Once Again

All Eyes on the Capitol Once Again

By: Magnolia Tribune - January 3, 2014

The gavel is set to fall Tuesday, opening the 2014 session of the Mississippi Legislature. Lawmakers will flood the hopper with bills, some dropped to benefit their own districts and others to make a larger political statement. One thing is for sure: there will be more than enough wrangling to keep our attention.

Democrats taking on a “Gorilla”

Democratic state Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones is apparently expecting one heck of a partisan struggle. He tweeted (quoted as written), “When u n the ring w a Gorilla, b prepared to die or u can b determined not to die, this legislative session will be interesting!!!”

Jones and his Democratic colleagues in both chambers will be actively concocting ways to take on the Republican leadership of Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, feverishly attempting to draft a narrative they hope will equate into electoral success in swing districts come 2015. Make no mistake: every legislative action Democrats undertake in 2014, from draft bills to floor speeches, will be with an eye to next year, more especially in the House, and they are making no bones about it.

Mississippi Political Pulse’s recent article written by Mike Biggs entitled “The 2015 Campaign has begun in Earnest” confirms where Democrats are focused, and Biggs even gift wraps the top ten districts on their radar.

With such a focus, legislators can expect to see Mississippi Democratic Party Chair Rickey Cole and Democratic Trust Executive Director Brandon Jones around the Capitol dome more than they see their families. These two will be whipping their party members into shape and overseeing the session’s antics.

If they were smart they would not even come close to anything dealing with Obamacare if their desire was to compete in Mississippi, but stubbornly, Democrats have made no secret about wanting to press the issue of expanding Medicaid. Sid Salter summed up what is going to happen if they do continue down the slope when he wrote recently, “…while the Democratic minority in the Mississippi Legislature will continue to try to force the state to ‘opt-in’ to ACA’s Medicaid expansion, they have neither the votes nor the clout to move the needle on that issue at this time.”

Boards, Agencies to face scrutiny

A cloud of scrutiny has emerged over the Coast thanks to the self serving actions of a few, providing the opportunity for new watchdog legislation in an effort to restore the public’s trust. Thanks to the troubles facing the Port of Gulfport and the federal investigation into the Department of Marine Resources, both entities could garner some legislative attention this session.

Sources tell Y’all Politics bills are being drafted to reconfigure the Port of Gulfport Board and perhaps the Commission on Marine Resources, as well as other legislation aimed at addressing the need for more transparency and oversight at the Department of Marine Resources.

The Department of Public safety is also about to be grilled this session or so it seems. The overwhelming sentiment from legislators who have spoken with Y’all Politics is that DPS is spending too much money in the wrong places, setting up an interesting chess match between Governor Bryant who has repeatedly stated that he wants this session to center around public safety and lawmakers who oversee the purse strings.

Headline grabbing Bills

Governor Bryant’s call for drug testing of welfare recipients has made headlines even before the session begins. The notion is popular with his conservative base and will see a good bit of support within the Republican ranks; not so much with Democrats as you would expect. The recent Florida federal court ruling on the matter should provide extra fodder for Democrats to chide the Governor while painting him as uncaring and out of touch.

Potential legislation involving corrections and sentencing will also be hot topics as lawmakers and policy advisors in Bryant’s staff seek to revamp the system. These bills could find bipartisan support. Rep. Andy Gipson will be a player in this effort.

Such bills will likely seek to implement changes to the criminal justice code in an effort to restore certainty to the sentencing process, stiffen penalties against drug traffickers, give the judiciary the say in house arrest and any non-prison alternatives, expand the use of drug courts, and impose true minimums for time served. What results should be longterm savings. Those savings could be used for reentry and rehab programs which should help reduce the recidivism rate. “Right now about 44% of offenders who are released wind up back in prison,” one legislator told Y’all Politics, “and addressing that disconnect is necessary.”

Some lawmakers may also be interested in revisiting and strengthening enforcement of the state’s firearms preemption law. These legislators believe a number of municipalities have adopted ordinances beyond their legal authority to regulate firearms.

Performance based budgeting is also up for discussion. If this can find its way through the Mississippi Legislature it could very well be the single most significant budgetary reform in a generation. It already has wide spread Republican support; it’s just up to leadership to hone in on any lingering questions and get it done. Watching this play out as the Democrats scurry will be entertaining.

Teacher pay raises may be in the mix, thanks to the discussion getting a go ahead from Speaker Gunn. House Democrats will seize on this opportunity and make as much hay as possible.

Common Core will also be in the spotlight as the Senate Conservative Coalition and others seek to pull back the reins on the new federal education standards and their implementation in Mississippi school districts. While the majority of the curriculum appears to be district driven, the heart of the initiative has many who fear education’s takeover by the federal government leery especially when it involves federal funding dangled as a carrot on a stick for states who implement Common Core standards. As John Stossel wrote, “…when the federal government imposes a single teaching plan on 15,000 school districts across the country, that’s even more central planning, and central planning rarely works. It brings stagnation.”

However, so much of the politics of this is being driven by the Senate Conservative Coalition so don’t think for a moment there won’t be some proxy politics at play with regards to the U.S. Senate race and state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s place in it.

Bills that Should Pass but Probably Won’t

Every year bills are dropped that in most reasonable minds outside of the Capitol should pass but don’t whether over concerns of self preservation, the enormity of the reform, or perhaps significant lobbying efforts opposing the legislation.

Here are a few bills Y’all Politics has learned will likely find their way into the hopper although they may never grace the Governor’s desk, but should:

– All elected school boards and all appointed school superintendents
– Ending the inventory tax
– Allowing citizens in municipalities to vote on short term, optional sales tax increases for specific economic development projects
– Doing away with inspection stickers
– Reducing the size of the Legislature
– Requiring the Legislature to hold sessions every two years instead of every year
– Allowing charter schools in any district

As bills are filed and headlines emerge, Y’all Politics will post the latest news and analysis on the 2014 session. Follow us on Twitter @MSyallpolitics and LIKE us on Facebook.

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Magnolia Tribune

This article was produced by Magnolia Tribune staff.