Local legislators says education, state budget will dominate session

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, January 7, 2015

NATCHEZ — Adams County’s representatives at the state capitol said they anticipate education and state budgetary issues will dominate this year’s legislative session.

The legislature officially opened at noon Tuesday, with the ceremonial opening lasting less than an hour. In the Senate, Giles Ward, R-Louisville, was selected to replace the late Terry Brown as president pro tem.

Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, said she attended an anti-Common Core rally at the Capitol following the close of Tuesday’s proceedings, a cause the senator said she will continue to push during the legislative session.

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Common Core is a multi-state initiative to ensure a single set of educational standards across the United States. While the initiative started independently of the government, some opponents have characterized its implementation as being hijacked by undue federal influence.

“The rally was great,” Sojourner said. “This was a group of folks who the Senate conservative coalition started working with over a year ago, year and a half. We started with this group of parents from around the state, from our home districts and adjoining districts.

“Last year, we worked really hard to bring it to the attention of both the House and Senate, and were only able to muster 10 votes in senate against it. A lot of that work has really taken off, and those constituents have really taken the charge.”

Sojourner was part of the coalition who traveled the state last year to rally support against implementing the measure. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said he would support legislation scrapping Common Core.

“Last year we didn’t get any support in the House, Senate or the governor’s office, but this year we saw the governor speak at the common core rally (Tuesday),” she said. “He had done more research and listened to the constituents of Mississippi, and he said he is now against it.”

Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia, said he supports Common Core.

“We have 45 other states that are doing this, and it will help our children — when they leave and go elsewhere, they will be at the same level as they were here in Mississippi,” he said. “I know there are some bumps in the road, but I think we need to let folks who educate educate and let politicians be politicians. If there is some way to enhance it, we can do that, but I think at this point to dismantle it would be a grave mistake.”

Butler also said he would fight for education funding, and would renew his nearly annual effort to implement a state lottery to fund college tuition for Mississippi students.

District 94 Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, said he believes the state budget will dominate the session.

Johnson serves as a sub-committee chairman on the House appropriations committee, and the house and senate committees will have a joint meeting today.

“We had $50 million above our estimated (revenue) in December, so we ought to be good moneywise,” he said. “The question that comes in is are we going to take care of some of our needs or are we going to work on tax cuts?”

Johnson said as chairman of the house transportation committee he would angle to get funding to address the numerous deficient bridges across the state.

“My push will be to address the half-billion dollar bridge problem we have in the state, and especially the needs we have in Southwest Mississippi,” he said. “My (legislative submissions) are all centered around funding and restructuring of funding to pick up or elevate our roads and bridges, and education.”

Johnson’s Republican colleague in the house, District 97 Rep. Sam Mims of McComb, said he thinks the session will be productive and that the legislature will end with a solid budget.

“I expect us to have a good, sound, fiscally conservative budget,” Mims said. “I expect us to continue to have a good rainy day account in case our economy heads in the wrong direction, and I expect not to spend one-time monies on fund reoccurring expenses in order to have a solid budget.”

Mims said he would also focus on the state’s health care. Mims is the house chairman of the public health and human services committee.

“I’ve pre-filed a bill that would allow any hospital that has 50-beds or less to apply for a grant,” Mims said. “The grant program would be capped at $10 million, and the cap for each hospital would be $500,000. The small rural hospitals have to reinvent themselves, because health care is changing and they have got to find a way to survive in this new environment.”

District 96 Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, could not be reached for comment.