The 2014 legislative session generated many changes throughout the state.
The session ended on Monday and laws such as teacher and state employee pay raises and criminal justice reforms went into effect today.
Sen. Willie Simmons said he is pleased with the new laws and he believes they will be beneficial to the state.
"I feel good about all of these new laws, as a matter of fact, I think this was a great session. We were able to do several things such as the teacher pay raise," said Simmons.
Mississippi’s K-12 teachers will receive $2,500 in raises over the next two years — $1,500 today and another $1,000 raise on July 1, 2015.In 2016-17, eligible schools will get merit payments to be split among teachers and employees, except for administrators.
Schools that rank “A” on the state’s A-to-F system will get $100 per student, while schools that move up one grade would get the same. Schools ranked “B” would get $75 per student.
Teachers also will receive an annual increase of $495, and those with advanced degrees get larger annual increases.
"This was a great thing to do for our teachers because they have not received a raise in years. The raise will be spread out. In addition to the teacher raise, we gave state employees a pay raise. Those making $30,000 or less per year will be receiving pay raises," continued Simmons.
"We have a good group of individuals who work for the state and they provide great services. We need to be competitive with other states in keeping these individuals income up. These were the two laws that I was most gratified for," he added.
The state also passed a new criminal reform law.
The law aims to ensure violent criminals serve 50 percent of their sentences and nonviolent offenders 25 percent.
Simmons said this reform is focused on looking at ways of saving money for the state.
"Mississippi is based on a per capita income. We have the highest imprisonment rate. The rates continue to grow and cause the state a large amount of money," he added.
Specifics of the law include a trafficking charge for more than a kilogram of marijuana, which would carry a minimum sentence of 10 years and maximum of 40 years, with the sentence to be served day-for-day, no early release, the district attorney said.
The legislation also increases the felony threshold from $500 worth of property to $1,000 for felony thefts — grand larceny, taking a motor vehicle, malicious mischief, receiving stolen property, forgery, embezzlement, shoplifting and computer fraud.
Crimes not covered by the new law include false pretense, credit card fraud, ID theft and possession of a stolen firearm.
"We are implementing some reforms that will help reduce the amount of money being spent on the state's criminal justice department. Individuals who are out on probation and commit certain types of crimes will be placed in somewhat of a community detention center, instead of taking up bed space in prisons," said Simmons.
"These individuals will be able to receive treatments for drug related problems, anger management and any other problems that they may have. We are trying to prevent individuals from going back into the system, once they are released," he added.
"This reform also addresses geriatric offenders. After they serve tens years, based upon their offense, they will be released. We also did an evaluation of the jail system to ensure that we were not keeping offenders in jail longer than they needed to be because this costs the county money," continued Simmons.
"All of these things are going to be good for the system, especially in the future. I worked in corrections for over 17 years and to be able to do the reform was very significant to me," he added.
Simmons also said he was elated to provide funds for the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation.
"In Ruleville, we were able to give the Fannie Lou Hamer Cancer Foundation $300,000. This money was donated to help build a cancer resource center," he added.
"Ms. Hamer died as a result of breast cancer and once the facility is up and running, it will allow males and females to come in to determine whether or not they have breast cancer. It will also refer them to sources where they can get further assistance. We see this as being a way to help save lives," continued Simmons.
Mississippi Department of Transportation also received assistance.
"In Bolivar and Sunflower County we have bridge closures and we were able to get $32 million designated for the state aid program that will go to those counties to help them with projects," said Simmons.
Lawmakers plan to spend $6.04 billion in the budget year that begins July 1, up $215 million, or 3.7 percent, more than the budget they passed for the current year. Lawmakers also added about $100 million to the current year's budget, to cover deficits in the state prison system, its Medicaid health insurance program and other programs.
He also mentioned that if the economy continues to grow, that $32 million will be triggered and go towards other highway projects.
"The Port Commission in Rosedale had been looking at how they can improve the roads for trucks during harvest season – this is a traffic nightmare. We were able to get the Port Commission some additional funds to add another lane to the port area," added Simmons.
Lawmakers also passed laws concerning hurricane deductibles, absent voter definition and homestead exemption.
"I hope the 2015 legislative session will be as good or better than the 2014 session. I hope that we will be able to give state employees an additional pay raise and I hope that we can continue to look at ways to fund education. In 2015, I would like for us to get a solution to this whole issue surrounding Affordable Healthcare and expanding Medicaid," he continued.