Legislators prepare for new session
by Rory Doyle
Jan 06, 2013 | 2177 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the start of 2013 come a number of hot topics to be discussed in the Mississippi Legislative session.

Local representatives are geared up for many debates in what will surely be an interesting year.

Rep. Tommy Taylor of District 28, which includes Bolivar, Sunflower and Washington counties, said budget and funding issues, education, Medicare and the prison system will be at the forefront.

"I'm sure there will be lots of debates on the education bills and especially the charter school issue," said Taylor.

The legislature failed to pass bills in 2012 to established charter schools across the state but the issue has not gone away.

Part of Gov. Phil Bryant's plan for education reform in Mississippi involves bringing charter schools to the state, as a means of increasing educational choice for families, flexible curricula and job training programs for students.

If approved, public charter schools could be allowed in any district in the state, regardless of the district's rating.

The state department of education would have to give a stamp of approval to the top ranking districts in order to open a charter school.

"The biggest complaint about the charter schools is that some places that want them don't need them," said Taylor. "Personally, I think charter schools should be a choice in areas where we have failing schools."

Sen. Willie Simmons of District 13, which includes Bolivar, Humphreys and Sunflower counties, said the state-mandated school district consolidations would continue to draw attention this year.

S.B. 2760, the piece of legislation signed into law by Bryant on May 22, requires the administrative consolidation in any county with more than five separate school districts to merge into no more than three.

This law will cause the 2014 merging of North Bolivar School district with Mound Bayou School District and West Bolivar School District merging with Shaw and Benoit School Districts.

"We're seeing a number of districts in the Delta having to deal with this, so I want to see what type of special funding is available to bring more resources as the consolidations continue," said Simmons.

"I'm looking to see what funding we can get to bring about the best improvements."

Simmons said he also has the goal of finding matching funds to reopen the Great River Road State Park in Rosedale following the devastating flood of 2011 that destroyed a majority of the park's facilities.

"I'm hoping to find at least the minimum matching funds to open the park again," Simmons said.

In another river matter, Simmons said he would research enhancing the rail system and ports in the Delta region.

"I believe improvements to our rails and ports could expand products in our area, and this would be a great tool for bringing in more jobs."

Taylor said he would also be being paying attention to budget constraints for the public university system and the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

With an extensive background in law enforcement and the prison system, Taylor said reform is needed in the corrections department.

"We've go to do something — we can't just keep adding money to the budget because we want to do different things with the prison system," said Taylor. "We've got to find a way to make it work.

"I'm opposed to just letting our prisoners get more good time to get out because of budget constraints. A lot of people can be rehabilitated, but a lot of the guys commit crimes when they get out because they want to get right back in."

Medicaid and healthcare are issues on the minds of both Taylor and Simmons.

"Medicaid is always a big money sinker," Taylor said. "It's a big, big part of the budget. Education being the biggest and Medicaid is number two.

"With the Obamacare bill and Affordable Care Act, it's going to be tough to manage everything."

Despite a number of challenges, both leaders remain hopeful for a strong start to 2013.

"We're ready to get going and I'm looking forward to it," said Taylor. "It's going to be a very interesting session — maybe it will be a smooth ride but I really don't think so."

Taylor, in good health, added that he hopes to play a more active role, as he was sick much of the previous session.