TUPELO • Several Northeast Mississippi legislators will help determine the future of some pieces of legislation over the next four years after being appointed to preside over several committees in the Mississippi Senate.
Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann last week appointed four Northeast Mississippi legislators to preside over key Mississippi Senate committees, which can hold significant power in the legislative process. Committees are the first place bills are discussed, and the leaders of the committees sometimes have the power to decide which bills advance to be debated before the entire legislative body and which die quietly in committee.
State Sen. Hob Bryan, a Democrat from Amory, was appointed chairman of the Public Health Committee – arguably the highest profile chairmanship that a Democrat received in the Republican-majority Senate this session.
The longtime legislator told the Daily Journal he was thankful to the lieutenant governor for appointing him to the position and said the committee would likely focus on ways to improve the state’s child protective services agency and the state’s mental health agency.
“We have community mental health centers that deal with community-based things,” Bryan said. “So there is a constant struggle to try and have coordination between 14 different community mental health centers.”
Both the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and the Mississippi Department of Human Services have come under increased scrutiny from ongoing lawsuits that have criticized the agencies’ performance and have highlighted budget concerns from the two departments.
Bryan said the committee will have a lot of important work to do this year, but thinks the state Senate is “off to a great start.”
State Sen. Chad McMahan, a Republican from Guntown, was appointed chairman of the Private and Local Committee, which deals with legislation related to a specific group or entity, instead of applying to the general public. Private and local legislation can often deal with granting groups an exemption from general piece of legislation.
McMahan did not have any immediate legislative goals for the committee, but said he, the vice-chairman and the secretary of the committee will look through the legislation assigned to the committee and decide which pieces are important enough to merit consideration for final passage before the entire Senate.
“It’s a tremendous committee. It’s probably the busiest committee on both ends of the House and Senate,” McMahan said.
State Sen. Neil Whaley, a Republican from Potts Camp, was appointed chairman of the Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee, which is responsible for legislation dealing with hunting and fishing laws.
Whaley said hunting and fishing is an economic driver for the state, and hopes to look for legislation in the committee that would further increase its economic impact in the state.
“I also think the state parks are a hidden gem here,” Whaley said. “I think we’ll look at ways to improve those in the coming years.”
State Sen. Rita Potts Parks, a Republican from Corinth, is the chairwoman of the Colleges and Universities Committee.
Parks said over the next four years she is looking to educate high school students on the different higher education opportunities that are available to them whether that's attending a community college, enrolling a four-year university or receiving training from a career and technical institution.
"I think that’s where we’re going to see a lot of focus during this session so that we can help reach out to our students at a younger age," Parks said.
Specifically, Parks said legislation will be introduced at some point to increase workforce training opportunities for high school graduates.
"The state needs technical and skilled labor," she said.
Feb. 24 is the deadline for all general bills to be introduced in the Legislature.