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Mark Baker

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Weekly Summary

On January 3, 2017, the 132nd Mississippi State Legislature began the second session in the four-year term. This was a familiar week for many, but some newcomers joined the House of Representatives as a result of special elections. Abe Hudson, D-Shelby; Debra Gibbs, D-Jackson; Donnie Scoggin, R-Ellisville and John Glen Corley, R-Lumberton joined the ranks of representatives for the 2017 Regular Session. The year promises to be a special one for the state as Mississippi celebrates its 200th year of statehood on December 10, 2017. The Speaker of the House and Lieutenant Governor held a joint press conference on Tuesday to kick off Mississippi's Bicentennial Celebration, which will occur throughout the year with events held in different areas of the state. Grants from the Mississippi Humanities Council are available for communities planning to recognize the bicentennial. The Mississippi Department of Education provided an overview of the education reform results to the House Education Committee members this week. The Mississippi Board of Education, which heads the department, touched on its six primary strategic goals regarding increasing proficiency in assessed areas, increasing graduation rates, access to quality early-childhood programs, hiring effective teachers, an improved data system and improved school and district ratings. While the department recognizes that there is still work to be done, its report on achievements to date was encouraging. This year the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reported Mississippi was the only state in the nation with a significant increase in scores for fourth-grade reading and math. High school ACT scores have also improved, with 19 districts reporting an average composite score of 20 or higher compared to only nine districts in 2015. High school graduation rates have jumped from 73.7 percent in 2011 to 80.8 percent in 2015, while the percentage of students with disabilities who graduate has also improved by 10 percent since 2011. The emphasis on National Board Certified Teachers has Mississippi ranked fourth in the nation for percent of teachers who are certified. The annual Mississippi Economic Council Capitol Day was held in downtown Jackson and at the Capitol. This event provides a setting for business leaders around the state to gather and meet with legislators and hear from state leaders about the legislative agenda for the upcoming session. A new phase of renovation to the Capitol began last month and is expected to last one year. The Capitol's North Entrance will be closed for the duration of the project. Visitors may use the building's south entrance and handicapped access parking is available on the south side of the Capitol during the renovation as well.


Weekly Summary

Several committees held their first meeting of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session this week, and four bills made their way to the House floor for discussion. On Wednesday, the Rules Committee introduced House Bill 479, which defines and outlines usage guidelines for campaign contributions by any elected official or candidate. The bill prohibits the personal use of campaign contributions and provides acceptable options for how to use leftover money at the conclusion of an elected official or candidate's service or campaign. Enforcement of this legislation would be overseen by the Mississippi Ethics Commission (MSEC). The bill passed by a vote of 102-13 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. The Insurance Committee introduced two bills to the House floor. If signed into law, House Bill 319 would require drivers to show proof of motor vehicle liability insurance to renew their registration. Discussion ensued about the level of effectiveness and logistics of the bill, but the measure ultimately passed by a vote of 82-33. No opposition arose at the introduction of House Bill 469. Enactment of this legislation would give a board of supervisors the authority to realign or redraw fire protection districts in an attempt to draw the districts so that residences are within five miles of fire protection. Both bills will be sent to the Senate for consideration. The Ways and Means Committee introduced House Bill 131, which would authorize the Department of Revenue to compromise and settle a tax liability that is a doubtful claim. The bill passed without opposition and will be sent to the Senate. Throughout the week, the Appropriations Committee sub-chairmen met with numerous state agencies to hear their budget requests for the 2018 fiscal year. Those meetings will continue into next week. On Monday, Jan. 16, legislators are scheduled to hear from the consultants of EdBuild, the organization hired to reevaluate Mississippi's education funding formula. EdBuild will present its recommendations for education spending in a joint meeting with the House and Senate Education and Appropriations committees. Several groups visited the Capitol this week, including members of the Mississippi Municipal League, the Mississippi Board of Nursing, CASA Mississippi and a number of Mississippi's fire chiefs from different areas of the state.


Weekly Summary

The state legislature had a full schedule during the third week of the 2017 legislative session, which began Monday with a joint Education and Appropriations committee meeting, where the consulting group, EdBuild presented their recommendations to revamp the state's education funding formula. First and foremost, EdBuild suggested increasing the base student cost, or the amount of money used to educate the average student, with weights added for students with specific needs. Weights would be included for Low-Income students, English Language Learners, Special Education students, gifted students, students in the lowest and highest grade levels and students in rural or sparse school districts. The consulting group also suggested funding schools based on their enrollment numbers instead of attendance numbers and creating a method of funding that can be easily calculated to promote transparency in education funding. It was pointed out that Mississippi's 73 percent cost guarantee in regard to education funding is much higher than that of other states. EdBuild suggested reconsidering this percentage and allowing school districts to exceed the state cap on the amount of local funds they can raise for their schools. Finally, EdBuild acknowledged that this formula would have to be phased-in over a period of at least five years, because making all of these changes at once would not be feasible. In the coming months, legislators will be responsible for deciding how many or how few of these recommendations to implement. A more detailed account of the recommendations can be found on the state website at www.legislature.ms.gov. On Tuesday, the House chamber hosted the State of the State address. Governor Phil Bryant outlined the accomplishments of this past year and expressed his hope for Mississippi's continued progress in the future. Several pieces of legislation reached the House floor on Wednesday afternoon. The most contested was House Bill 555, which proposes that a three-member commission be established to approve the Attorney General's use of outside attorneys in cases that could result in hefty legal awards. Members who opposed the bill pointed out that the Attorney General is bringing money into the state through these lawsuits, while supporters of the bill accused the Attorney General of engaging in "taxation by litigation." The bill failed by a close vote of 58-60 but Rep. Mark Baker, who introduced the bill, made a motion to reconsider the legislation at a later date. Other relatively uncontested bills introduced to the House floor included a measure lifting the requirement for "no parking" signage, legislation requiring drivers to slow down when encountering certain features on the road, bills creating nursing and physical therapy licensure compacts, an extension of the Infant Mortality Reduction Collaborative and a bill authorizing the Department of Health to establish a Maternal Mortality Review Committee. The House adjourned on Thursday in anticipation of some members traveling to Washington, D.C., to see President-elect Donald Trump sworn into office. Rep. Andy Gipson will represent the House on Mississippi's Presidential Inauguration Committee, comprised of a number of state leaders accompanying Governor Phil Bryant to the Presidential Inauguration. Among visiting groups to the Capitol this week were members of the American Cancer Society, Mississippi Delta Community College, MEMA, Alzheimer's Mississippi and the Mississippi State Medical Association Alliance.


Weekly Summary

Committees met frequently during the fourth week of the 2017 legislative session, as next Tuesday's deadline to have House Bills out of their corresponding committees quickly approaches. After Tuesday, Jan. 31, no additional bills will be added to the House calendar for consideration, and members of the House will begin meeting as a whole for longer hours to discuss the bills that made it out of committees. While most work was done in committee meetings this week, a few bills were introduced to the House floor on Tuesday and Wednesday for discussion. House Bill 555, which initially failed last week by a vote of 58-60, was reintroduced to the floor after a motion to reconsider kept the bill on the calendar. This time the legislation passed by another close vote of 63-56. If enacted, the law would require a three-member committee, consisting of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State to approve the Attorney General's use of outside attorneys in high stakes legal cases. Members of the House Drug Policy Committee introduced House Bill 515 to the floor. This law would enhance the penalty for the illegal sale of controlled substances within close proximity to drug or alcohol rehabilitation facilities. The bill has been set aside for the Speaker to review how this measure might coincide with previous laws on drug penalties, but it should come up again for a vote within the next week. The House voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 680, which would rename the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Building in Jackson as the "Patrick Alan Nunnelee Building" in honor of the late Mississippi Congressman. A number of bills were introduced regarding the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration. These bills aim to clarify and update inventory of state real properties, authorize the sale of certain state owned real property, and require a report on the department's monetary needs. Among the groups visiting the Capitol this week were members of the Mississippi Optometric Association, the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges, the Mississippi Tourism Association, the Mississippi Nurses Association and the National Guard Association of Mississippi.


Weekly Summary

Committee meetings to discuss House bills wrapped up on Tuesday, and the House convened as a whole Wednesday through Friday to discuss the legislation that made it to the calendar. One of the most contested bills this week was House Bill 480, an out of state sellers use tax bill which would collect sales tax on purchases made over the internet. Representative Trey Lamar, who introduced the bill, said there is already a law requiring this tax that is not being enforced and this bill aims to fix that. Supporters of the bill say this would provide the state with the funding needed to repair Mississippi's poor infrastructure. Opponents of the bill do not support collecting more taxes from the people of the state. Although the bill passed originally by a vote of 79-38, it is now being held on a motion to reconsider. Another highly contested bill was House Bill 974. This measure would exempt certain state agencies from the rules, regulations and procedures of the State Personnel Board. Supporters of the bill note that several agencies have asked for this exemption because it would afford them more flexibility and allow agencies to run their departments more efficiently. Opponents of the bill say that this gives too much power to the agency directors and the governor, who appoints many of those directors. The bill originally passed by a vote of 62-57, but is now being held on a motion to reconsider. Legislators also introduced a bill that would make improvements to the area surrounding the State Capitol. House Bill 1226 would create a Capitol Complex Improvement District, which would appropriate funds to the designated area in order to make repairs and improvements. Supporters say this will help enhance the Capitol and fix some problems that exist, especially in the roads surrounding the building. Opponents say they see issues with the execution of this bill and cite the area encompassed by the proposed district as being too large. The bill originally passed by a vote of 99-22, but is currently being held on a motion to reconsider. The point of order made on House Bill 515 last week was resolved. The bill, which increases penalties for those attempting to sell controlled substances near drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, was passed and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. Voters could have the chance to take part in a pre election if House Bill 228 is signed into law. The bill proposes establishing a 14 day period before Election Day for pre election day voting. This would put tighter restrictions on absentee ballots received through the mail, as voters would have two weeks to visit the polls before Election Day. The bill passed by a vote of 113-8 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. House Bill 1328 would establish a salary scale for officers of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. Members of this division are the only State of Mississippi law enforcement personnel required to have a college degree. The bill passed by a vote of 116-5 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. Craft breweries will be allowed to sell beer and light wine produced at their breweries for consumption on or off the premises upon the passage of House Bill 1322. Proponents of the bill say this will bring Mississippi up to speed with surrounding states that have passed similar legislation. The bill passed by a vote of 93-23 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. A number of noncontroversial bills also passed through the House this week, including a bill designating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day in Mississippi and a bill establishing the Mississippi Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which would provide flexible spending accounts for individuals with disabilities. In the coming weeks, the House will continue to meet as a whole to vote on bills that will be passed to the Senate for consideration. Visitors to the Capitol are welcome to come watch the proceedings from the gallery. Capitol visitors this week included members of the Mississippi Society of Anesthesiologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Mississippi Pharmacists Association, the Mississippi Health Care Association and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.


Weekly Summary

The House met as a whole throughout the week to discuss bills that made it out of committees and onto the calendar. Thursday, Feb. 9, was the deadline for representatives to discuss House Bills. Any bills that were not discussed by Thursday died on the calendar. Legislation regarding internet sales tax, House Bill 480, officially passed the House this week and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. The House approved House Bill 974, which would exempt certain state agencies from the rules, regulations and procedures of the state Personnel Board. The bill, originally discussed last week, will allow agency heads to run their departments how they see fit and remove employees' civil service protections. Also discussed last week, House Bill 1226, which details plans for a Capitol Complex District, passed the House with an amendment that will give the city of Jackson more power in addressing the repairs and enhancements that need to be made in the area surrounding the Capitol. The bill will be sent to the Senate for consideration. The Rivers McGraw Act passed the House this week in the form of House Bill 1089. This bill states that within eight hours of the arrest of someone under the age of 21, law enforcement officers must make reasonable efforts to notify parents before releasing the minor. This bill was requested by the parents of Rivers McGraw, a college student who took his own life after being released from an arrest for substance abuse. The measure passed unanimously. House Bill 645, known as the Back the Badge Act, sparked a lengthy discussion among House members. The act increases penalties for violent crimes committed against law enforcement officers, first responders and emergency medical technicians. Many representatives expressed that, while they support protecting officers, they also want to see more done in regards to holding officers accountable for the fair treatment of all citizens. The bill passed by a vote of 85-31. The death penalty became a topic of discussion at the introduction of House Bill 638. The bill revises the methods by which the death penalty can be carried out. In the event that lethal injection is deemed unusable, death penalty could be carried out by use of a gas chamber, a firing squad or electrocution. Supporters say this is necessary to ensure that the death penalty can be carried out by giving alternatives in case one or more methods is blocked or appealed. Those opposed to the bill say the alternatives offered are too extreme and inhumane. The bill passed by a vote of 74-44. The introduction of House Bill 926 proposed the Health Care Collaboration Act. This act would authorize the board of trustees of the state Institution of Higher Learning (IHL) and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) to enter into a health care collaborative with other health organizations in the state. Supporters say this act will save rural hospitals and consumers money, while helping to modernize health care in rural areas. Those opposed say this could give UMMC an unfair advantage over other hospitals that have power to enter into a collaborative, but are not backed by the state. The bill passed by a vote of 89-24. The House Transportation Committee presented House Bill 509 to the floor. This bill would require driver's education curriculum to include information about how to respond to an officer in the event of being stopped or pulled over. An amendment was adopted which would also require the curriculum to teach driver's education students their constitutional rights in regards to being pulled over by a police officer. The bill passed unanimously. Another transportation bill would expand requirements on seat belt usage. House Bill 539 would require passengers in the back seat of the car to wear a seat belt. The bill passed by a vote of 76-40. The House Education Committee presented two bills regarding compulsory school age. House Bill 567 increased the compulsory school age of a child to the age of 18. House Bill 565, originally intended to allow students to miss school for preapproved activities, was amended twice during debate. The first amendment offered would allow a student who turns the minimum compulsory school age at any time during the calendar year to be enrolled in school at the discretion of the parents or legal guardian. The second amendment would lower the minimum compulsory school age to five. Both House Bill 567 and House Bill 565 passed and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. A number of other bills passed the House this week including a bill that will make it easier for victims to receive a Criminal Sexual Assault Protection Order and a bill that lays out a plan to provide the Mississippi Highway Patrol with a new headquarters. Each of these bills will now be sent to the Senate for consideration. As always, many visiting groups joined us at the Capitol this week, including members of the Mississippi Community Education Center, the Mississippi School Boards Association, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Natchez Inc., the Mississippi Association of Health, AARP Mississippi and the Mississippi Dental Association.


Weekly Summary

With general House Bills out of the way, representatives began working on House Appropriations Bills, which will determine how much money is given to various state organizations. The House was responsible for looking at the preliminary budgets of 54 state agencies, including the departments of transportation, public health, Medicaid, education and public safety. Budgets included reverse repealers, a clause which ensures that a bill cannot become law before going to a conference committee for further revisions. With reverse repealers in place, most appropriations bills were voted on in a block to help speed up the process. Bills discussed individually addressed budgets for the Department of Health and the Department of Education. House Bill 1511, which appropriates money to the Department of Health, would give the department approximately $4.2 million less than the agency receives currently. A few representatives expressed concern that this would not be able to meet the needs of the public. Representatives responsible for putting together the budget said this reflects the changing role of the health department and the budget cuts facing many state agencies this year. The Department of Education's budget, proposed in the form of House Bill 1502, received an extra $20 million in general funds for the School Recognition Program. This incentive program provides financial rewards for teachers and staff in high performing school districts. The school funding formula, a source of much conversation this session, was not included in the bill. It is possible that the Governor will call a special session to discuss revamping the education funding formula and whether or not to incorporate the suggestions made by the consulting group EdBuild earlier this year. Next week is the deadline for action on appropriations and revenue bills. After that, House committees will begin considering bills which passed through the Senate. Several groups visited the Capitol this week, including the Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, the Mississippi Egg Marketing Board, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the Mississippi Water Resources Association, the Mississippi Council on Economic Education, March of Dimes, the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits and the Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture network.