State Auditor White, Ag Commissioner Gipson, Treasurer McRae, and Secretary of State Watson spoke with Y’all Politics ahead of legislative session.
On January 3rd, lawmakers will gavel in for the 2023 Mississippi Legislative session. Statewide elected officials spoke with Y’all Politics about legislation ideas from their offices as well as policy issues they will be supporting this session.
Secretary of State Michael Watson said his office’s efforts for the legislative session will continue to focus on election integrity. He said that last year lawmakers made a few steps in the right direction, but the state must keep working to maintain safe and secure elections in Mississippi.
Watson said one piece of their election integrity legislation will allow the Secretary of State’s Office to engage in post-election procedural audits.
“Enabling this process helps expose issues our office would not normally uncover unless an election challenge occurred. These audits would include, but are not limited to, the handling of absentee ballots, handling of affidavit ballots, testing of machines, etc.,” Watson said. “In addition to implementing a procedural audit, our election integrity legislation will allow for a separate post-election audit to ensure that the results accurately reflect the votes cast.”
Another component of election security the Secretary is seeking to add is enforcing penalties for fraudulent requests of absentee ballots.
“We have seen confirmed cases of this in Mississippi, and we need to ensure these criminals face punishment,” Secretary Watson said. “Additionally, we will try to strengthen the proof of citizenship legislation that was passed but diluted last year. While last year’s citizenship legislation was an important step, the removal of provisions that would allow the Secretary of State to compare our voter rolls in conjunction with the counties diluted the legislation. Our goal has been, and always will be, to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
Watson explained his “Tackle the Tape” initiative continues to be a resource for Mississippi businesses and those looking to relocate to the state.
“As we continue to find ways to reduce the regulatory burden, we recognize it is important to ensure input is included from a diverse group of stakeholders,” Watson continued. “We are looking to restructure the Occupational Licensing Review Commission to include more representation by including a legislative and fiscal component. To move Mississippi forward, we must continue to break down silos and work together for a better, safer Mississippi for all!”
State Treasurer David McRae said he is still excited from last year, when he, alongside State Senators Walter Michel and Nicole Boyd, worked to pass legislation that allows the State Treasury to coordinate with the Department of Human Services (MDHS) to intercept unclaimed property to satisfy a child support arrearage.
As far as this legislative session goes, Treasurer McRae said he is really interested to see what lawmakers do as it pertains to ESG legislation.
ESGs are funds that focus primarily on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
“Anyone who has followed me recently knows that that’s one of my big passion projects is anti-ESG legislation,” McRae said. “Especially when it deals with Treasury and what we can and can’t invest in.”
Treasurer McRae said he has spoken with several legislators in both chambers and notes that there are some bills floating around and “several coming down the pipeline.”
“I’m very interested to see what they come up with,” McRae said.
McRae said he wants to make sure the state pitches a plan that only considers the investment factors that makes money, not ESG factors.
“I want to make sure we’re in the right investment strategies and not going on these ESG things you see that just don’t make money,” McRae explained.
As far as the Treasury goes, McRae said the legislation pushes them in that direction as well.
“I’m there to help make the state money, I’m there for the great investment opportunities that are presented to us,” the State Treasure stated. “I would support certain bill that have anti-ESG legislation in them.”
Treasure McRae noted that he comes from the private sector and because of that experience, he has been able to help taxpayers through investment returns get back roughly $150 million since he has been in office.
“And that’s with a system I feel is kind of antiquated,” McRae said. “And there’s new opportunities I would like to see the Legislature grant the Treasury and kind of tweak our investment strategy so that we can make even more money off investments… I think that’s one of the main, primary duties of the Treasury, is the investment wing of it. And coming from the private sector, coming from the investment area, I feel like that is something that if the Legislature gives me the power to do, we can make more money for the state, but also protect our investments as well.”
Treasurer McRae said he is working on his ideas with Senators and House members to try to come up with something that will make everyone happy.
State Auditor Shad White said this 2023 session his office will be working with the Mississippi Legislature to strengthen the Open Meetings Act.
“This would ensure that no deals can be made behind closed doors, and if someone tries to, their decision could be overturned. We are also asking to extend the statute of limitations for bribery to match federal law,” White said. “These are a few of the things we hope to work with the legislature to increase government accountability and transparency.”
As for Agriculture and Commerce, Commissioner Andy Gipson told Y’all Politics that as a former member of the Legislature, he greatly appreciates the lawmakers. He added that it is a huge job crafting policy for the State of Mississippi, but it is a job that is incredibly important for the state’s future.
At the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, Gipson said they have a few technical amendments to their agriculture law enforcement statutes they would like to see updated by the Legislature to provide further protections for Mississippi farmers against agriculture related crimes.
“We are also in discussions with legislators about important investments for capital improvements to rebuild Mississippi’s food security infrastructure and livestock facilities that will benefit Mississippi youth and agriculture education, and our State, for generations to come,” Gipson said. “I believe we need to invest in our future leaders – our statewide 4H, FFA livestock and equine exhibitors, and we have a unique opportunity to do so this year.”
Gipson said he is also convinced it is time to closely examine foreign ownership of agricultural lands in Mississippi to ensure there is no threat to the state or country’s food security. He wants to strengthen laws to make sure the state has the tools in place to prevent and restrict foreign ownership of the state’s most valuable resource – Mississippi farmland.
The Ag Commissioner added that outside of agriculture but important to the future of Mississippi, he hopes to see movement on several conservative initiatives.
“I support Legislative efforts to further reduce or eliminate the income tax; adopt policies that encourage investment in our Centers for Pregnancy Choices to assist and support mothers, babies and families; pass a Parents’ Bill of Rights to ensure transparency in education; and pass the Women’s Bill of Rights to end the liberal assault on gender identity,” Gipson stated.
“Finally, I am convinced the State must take steps to keep the rising tide of violent criminals in prison – restore a very high percentage of mandatory minimum time served for violent crimes, and I hope the Legislature will address the failures of governance in the City of Jackson,” Commissioner Gipson concluded.