House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, responds to a reporter's question following adjournment on the first day of the 2023 Legislature at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The answer to our problems is not more government. The answer is strong, loving families, flourishing churches and schools, neighbors caring for neighbors.
I was recently blessed with the birth of my newest grandson. I can’t help but to wonder what the country will look like when he comes of age.
Much of our nation, after all, is in a steep cultural decline. There are various responses: denial, depression, defeat. Some say, “Mississippi is a conservative state, we don’t have those problems here.” But anyone willing to look with open eyes can see that we are not immune to the problems of our nation’s culture. Those problems are not just coming – they’re here.
Others say, “What can we do about it?” We don’t have to accept cultural upheaval as foregone conclusion. We’ve had hard times before, when many insisted America was past its peak. In each moment of past adversity, we came through with strong leadership. President Reagan said decline is not inevitable; our fate depends on what we do. I believe something can and must be done.
I think Mississippians, and all Americans, can chart the course of their own destiny. The first step is understanding that strong cultures don’t happen by accident. They are the result of deliberate decisions that sustain the institutions from which cultures are built.
Institutions are the foundation stones of culture. The family is the keystone. But by itself it cannot stand the strain when the institutions that reinforce it are left to crumble. We also need strong churches and schools, and caring communities.
The answer to our problems is not more government. The answer is strong, loving families, flourishing churches and schools, neighbors caring for neighbors. Neglecting to maintain these institutions and over-relying on government entitlement programs to solve every problem is eroding our culture’s foundations. It is time we ended our unhealthy dependency on government and shored up these core institutions with commonsense policies.
We took the first step toward reclaiming the culture in my second term as Speaker. In 2018, the Mississippi House of Representatives led in passing HB 1510. The law ultimately led to Roe v. Wade being overturned. That was the biggest win for creating a culture of life in a generation; one that extends far beyond the boundaries of Mississippi.
But the work did not end with restoring the right of states to protect unborn lives. The Speaker’s Commission on Life has recommended next steps toward building a life-affirming culture. Those recommendations have passed the House of Representatives and are now before the Mississippi Senate.
To strengthen our state’s private network of Pregnancy Resource Centers, we increased tax credits available for donations to those centers from $3.5 million to $10 million.
To encourage struggling women to choose life, HB 1318 reforms our state’s safe-haven law to increase access to and safety of baby drop boxes.
To make adoption more affordable and accessible, we passed HB 1342, which reforms adoption agency licensure, and HB1671, which doubles the tax credit for adoption expenses from $5,000 to $10,000.
To strengthen our foster care system, we passed several bills: HB 989 and HB 1149 to make Child Protective Services more efficient and effective. HB 1671 establishes a $10 million tax credit to incentivize private donations to transitional homes. These non-profits provide a home to pregnant women and young adults who have aged out of foster care and are working toward independence. HB 510, the Foster Parents Bill of Rights, will improve the foster care experience to encourage more Mississippians to open their homes to foster children.
To help parents collect overdue child support, we passed HB 1490, which will allow mothers to petition CPS to suspend the hunting license of dads who haven’t met their obligations.
To improve access to healthcare for mothers, babies and other low-income Mississippians, we established a $4 million tax credit for donations to faith-based groups and other charities that provide care at very low or no cost to their patients. These charities will provide cost-effective, high-quality care without creating or expanding another government entitlement program.
To help mothers get and keep work, we increased access to childcare by establishing a childcare tax credit. For the first time, Mississippi working families can get a tax credit to help defray the costs of their children’s daycare. The credit will be equal to one-half the federal credit of the same type.
To protect vulnerable children struggling with their gender identity, we prohibited gender transition procedures and medications for children aged 18 and under.
To protect children from being exposed to pornography through their online school accounts, we passed HB 1341, which requires vendors to implement stronger safe online database measures. The Senate has included a portion of that bill in SB 2346, which is headed to conference.
To promote the strong sense of right and wrong that is indispensable to a decent culture, we passed HB 1373, which requires K-12 schools to release students from school upon request of their parents for a limited period each week for religious or moral instruction. That legislation is still alive as a House strike-all to SB 2361.
These bills build on the first steps we took in 2018 when we stood up for life. We do not have to let that culture of life fade. We do not have to fold our hands and watch our institutions crumble. Decline is not inevitable. It is up to us. In the House of Representatives, we are beginning to reclaim the culture.