Philip Gunn, who has served as Speaker for 12 years, will not be running for re-election in the 2023 state elections.
On Monday, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn recapped the 2023 Mississippi legislative session and his twenty-year legislative career with members of the media.
The Speaker announced in November that he would not be running for re-election in House District 56. Gunn’s served as Speaker for the last 12 years and is the first Republican to wield the gavel since Reconstruction.
Gunn said everyone wants to think their service makes a difference, and he does believe Mississippi has made significant strides during his tenure.
“I think Mississippi is a better place today for a number of reasons,” Gunn said.
He noted high points in his legislative career, such as changing the state flag, overturning Roe v. Wade, last year’s income tax cut, and the largest teacher pay raise in state history.
Speaker Gunn said there are many things about his job that he will miss, mostly the opportunity to make Mississippi better and the opportunity to pass legislation that improves the state.
Gunn said he certainly intends to be active in trying to help his members who have stood by him over the last couple of years to accomplish all they want to accomplish and that includes being sent back to the Capitol.
He said as for himself, he will be evaluating other options that are available to him, but wants to remain active in the public sector.
The current Speaker said he will continue to work with next year’s leadership and said he assumes Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White will take up the gavel. Gunn said they will slowly transition from his leadership team to White’s.
During the press conference, Speaker Gunn highlighted several legislative accomplishments from this session, including passing legislation to help women and children, workforce development, election integrity, and more.
Pro-Life, Pro-Family Legislation
Speaker Gunn said when Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer, he formed the Speaker’s Commission on Life. He explained that House members set out to draft and create a number of laws in response to that development that they view be pro-life, pro-family, and pro-mother and child.
The Speaker said he is very proud of the work that the committee did and thanked the members: State Representatives Angela Cockerham, Jill Ford, Kevin Felsher, Lee Yancey, Otis Anthony, Sam Mims, Missy McGee, Cedric Burnett, and Dana McLean.
“They all came together last summer after I made that announcement and we set out to look a lot of different areas and address what we viewed to be very much pro-family and pro-life pieces of legislation,” Gunn said.
He said that this year, he counted ten pieces of such legislation that were passed this session.
Gunn walked through the things the House did that were pro-family and pro-life, noting:
- House Bill 1671 providing a tax credit for private businesses and individuals so that they can donate resources that help meet the needs of mothers and children. It increased the pregnancy resource tax credit from $3.5 to $10 million.
- Additionally, the legislature provided a $10 million tax credit for transitional homes. Lawmakers also passed a $4 million tax credit for charitable clinics across the state.
- Legislators passed tax credits for childcare expenses equal to 25% of the federal tax credit. Gunn said this was another idea the House had to help young mothers who are looking to support themselves and their children.
- Senate Bill 2696 doubled the tax credit for adoption expenses in Mississippi. Gunn said members wanted to incentivize adoption.
- House Bill 1318 reformed the laws regarding Safe Haven baby drop off boxes. These exist to allow mothers who feel like they can no longer provide for the child, giving them a safe place to bring the child.
- House Bill 1149 reformed Child Protective Services and members also focused on the foster care system. Gunn said lawmakers wanted to have a way that Child Protection Services could be more efficient and stream-lined in the foster care arena. The legislation makes it a separate agency and provides a better path for permanency while getting the children into loving homes sooner.
- House Bill 510 is the Foster Parent’s Bill of Rights. Gunn said this was another effort to make the foster care system much more efficient.
- House Bill 1315 puts responsibility on vendors to make sure that children who are not of age cannot access pornographic materials.
Speaker Gunn said over the last few years lawmakers have passed legislation to secure the integrity of elections.
Last year, the Legislature passed bills that would ban non-citizens from voting and banned the use of private money to run elections
This year, lawmakers passed House Bill 1310 which increased the funding for election integrity measures and strengthened voter roll maintenance.
“We tried to make sure that everybody who is eligible to vote can vote, but those who are not eligible to vote, don’t have the right to come in and compromise the integrity of our elections,” Gunn said.
Lawmakers also passed Senate Bill 2358 which bans ballot harvesting in the state of Mississippi.
Banning gender transition surgeries for minors
Speaker Gunn was an outspoken advocate for legislation that bans Mississippians under the age of eighteen from undergoing transition surgeries.
“We said they cannot do that if you are a minor,” Gunn said. “Those services cannot be provided in this state to anyone dune the age of of eighteen. So we felt like that was a child protection bill, one that protects teenagers from making decision that would have permanent damaging effects when they may regret that decision later on in life.”
Investment in Workforce
Gunn said legislators have been very vigilant with workforce development in the House over the years.
“We believe workforce development is key to economic prosperity in the state and to job creation,” Gunn said.
He said a number of bills have been passed over the last three years to create career coaches, to create the Office of Workforce Development, to enhance the workforce efforts in the state, and to improve educational opportunities in the state.
This year, the Legislature passed a bill that would fully fund the Office of Workforce Development. Gunn said that creates an opportunity for them to have a stand alone budget and make the decisions they need to do what’s best for economic development in the state.
Speaker Gunn said they put an additional $100 million into education to allow schools to do whatever they need, except for increases in administrative salaries.
“We want this money to go into the classroom or to be used to enhanced the quality of education that they provide,” Gunn said.
Gunn said the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) formula doesn’t work and is a dysfunctional, obsolete program. He said he wasn’t willing to put additional money into it because he thinks it needs to be changed.
The Senate sought to add $181 million to MAEP this session.
Gunn explained that he believes they should continue to put money into education, noting that over the last three years, over $350 million more has been appropriated into education.
Speaker Gunn said over the last few years the House has fought hard in the human trafficking arena.
“We’ve made that one of our main goals, to fight against human trafficking,” Gunn said.
Gunn said $2.5 million was funded this year for the Victims of Human Trafficking Fund that will provide monies for direct service providers who serve the victims of human trafficking. Another $10 million was placed into the Office Against Interpersonal Violence for the Mississippi Child Welfare and Victim Services providers.
Speaker Gunn said human trafficking wasn’t on the legislative radar until about five or six years ago. Since then, he said, they have passed laws to give prosecutors to catch the bad guys and put them in jail, passed laws to help the victims once they and rescued, and more.
“None of that stuff existed a couple of years ago,” Gunn said.
In addition related to crime, House Bill 1020 expanded the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID), which was a much debated issue in the Legislature. Gunn said the bill will help “promote public safety within the Capitol city.”