mcj-2020-01-08-news-mississippi-seal

The 2020 session of the Mississippi Legislature looks to be largely the same song, next verse from previous sessions, according to comments shared by local lawmakers before returning to Jackson. The legislative session began Jan. 7 and is scheduled to end March 10.

Two anticipated topics carried over from previous sessions is funding for infrastructure and education.

“My opinion is we need to raise the fuel tax a little bit. I think we need a nickel tax on gas and maybe seven and a half cents on highway fuel,” said District 17 Sen. Chuck Younger (R) of Lowndes County. “The biggest goal I see is trying to do something with our infrastructure. It’s falling down and it’s terrible. When you’re riding down a good highway and see a pothole in the middle, it means it’s all coming later. The longer we put it off, the more it’s going to cost.”

District 7 Sen. Hob Bryan (D) of Amory, a proponent of education, also continues to advocate for better roads and maintenance for the state’s aging infrastructure.

“We’ve been going the wrong direction for a number of years,” he said. “In addition to inadequate education funding, our roads and bridges need attention. Some of our water and sewer systems are over 100 years old.”

He’s quick to remind people the legislature enacted $400 million per year in tax cuts to benefit business from out of state.

“Our taxpayers are subsidizing hotel development in southern Madison County while we have a $25 billion highway system with no funding earmarked for maintenance,” he said.

Bryan did not identify any particular action on cue to benefit Monroe County in the upcoming session; however, he continues to press for expanding Highway 25 into four lanes across the county.

“We need better access to Monroe County’s industries. We’ll have to see what plays out,” he said.

He cited one example of infrastructure rehabilitation that was successful when the City of Aberdeen pieced together $5 million several years ago for repairing and updating its sewer system, which previously leaked raw sewage into water runoff after hard rains.

Even with the woes of transportation and infrastructure, Bryan’s number one priority remains securing adequate funding for education.

“The speaker [of the House Phillip Gunn] still thinks we’re spending too much money on education,” he said.

Younger thinks the legislature will allocate more money to fund education and give more teacher pay raises this session.

With his personal plans, he intends to introduce three bills during this session. One deals with occupational licensing requirements making it easy for military spouses to obtain state medical licenses, another pertains to adoptees obtaining birth certificates under certain circumstances, which would give them knowledge of any hereditary health issues, and the third one will request the Mississippi State Medical Association to schedule kratom as a Schedule I drug.

Younger also plans to seek funding to pave the road to Hamilton’s boat ramp, which has been a wish list project of Monroe County leaders. He also recognizes the need to help rural hospitals and address litter problems throughout the state.

Bryan refrained from anticipating what might happen with the transitions in the executive-level state offices.

“Nobody knows yet. It’s like trying to predict the third quarter score in a football game when we haven’t gotten to halftime yet,” he said.

He commended Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann for maintaining a pleasant working relationship with him.

Bryan has a ready ear for input from his constituents

“It’s always helpful to pay attention and speak up. We’re not experts. I have 50,000-plus constituents in my district. I always appreciate hearing from them,” he said.

Freshman lawmakers

Voters elected a couple of new representatives last year. In District 16, which covers part of the northern part of the county, Rickey Thompson (D) unseated Steve Holland who was in office since 1984. In District 39, which covers part of the southern part of Monroe County, Dana McLean (R) defeated Jeff Smith, who was first elected in 1992.

Thompson sides with Bryan on emphasizing the need for adequate funding for education and workforce development.

“We also need to ensure adequate health care for the working poor, especially those served by rural hospitals. I want to continue to push for more jobs that provide adequate income. I look forward to serving both communities,” he said.

McLean ran on education in her race to defeat Smith.

“I came back to Mississippi after living away for many years and found things had changed a lot, but education didn’t,” she said. “Columbus schools were failing. Education in Mississippi has only been fully funded two times in over 20 years. Teachers need to be paid more.”

McLean had a recent personal experience that sold her on the importance of health care.

“My mother had a heart attack during my campaign. Paramedics on the ambulance communicated to the emergency room staff at Baptist Golden Triangle en route and had them ready to save her life. She had 100 percent blockage and had stents put in without having to be taken elsewhere,” she said.

McLean agrees that it is essential to maintain rural hospitals as well as getting a handle on the cost of insurance.

“The cost [of health care] is astronomical,” she said.

On the subject of infrastructure, McLean is in favor of raising the tax on gasoline to raise revenue for roads and bridges.

“We need to spread responsibility around in the most equitable way,” she said. “I’ve already met with the legislative budget office and learned that many of the projects have already been funded but have not been caught up in getting done. It’s not as dire as some would say.”

McLean’s philosophy of leadership is simple.

“You have to remember while you’re there that you’re the voice of your constituents. It’s about them,” she said.

Managing editor Ray Van Dusen contributed to this story.

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