Legislative Report, March 20, 2013

By District 20 Rep. Chris Brown

In your House of Representatives we faced another major deadline this week as they continued to address Senate bills on the House floor. By Wednesday, we needed to address all general, nonrevenue bills received from the Senate. If a Senate bill was not taken up and passed by Wednesday, it died on the Calendar. Thursday was the last day for reconsidering Senate bills and Friday was the deadline for tabling Motions to Reconsider.
To start off the week, we had a hearing Monday to discuss Medicaid expansion.  Because there is no longer a Medicaid technical bill alive in the Legislature, committee members requested the hearing to have the opportunity to discuss the issue. The committee members and a packed audience heard from Lucien Smith, deputy chief of staff and policy director for Gov. Phil Bryant; Theresa Hanna, executive director for the Center for Mississippi Health Policy; Christie Herrera, vice president of policy at the Foundation for Government Accountability; Gary Marchand, chief executive officer Memorial Hospital at Gulfport; Dr. Bob Neal, senior economist; and Dr. David Dzielak, executive director for the division of Medicaid. After the presentations, it was a very educational hearing and we still do not know what is in the bill more than two years after Nancy Pelosi’s infamous statement “You have to pass it to see what is in it.”
SB2199 requires that all local school superintendents should be appointed beginning Jan. 1, 2016. However, House members amended the bill to require a direct referendum to be held in 2014 in conjunction with midterm congressional elections. This would allow the people to vote in favor of elected or appointed superintendents. In districts where a qualified candidate does not exist to run for election appointing a superintendent promotes a higher chance of district success. The bill passed by a vote of 62-55.
SB2658 has been commonly referred to as the “omnibus bill” because it is comprised of so many different elements: establishing a universal, statewide literacy screener for lower elementary students; creating a statewide literacy coaching program; requiring third-graders to meet basic proficiency standards in reading before advancing to the fourth grade; instilling intensive reading instruction for children who fall behind in grades K-3; offering a certain number of scholarships to students who have a 3.5 GPA and a 28 ACT score to become teachers in Mississippi for at least five years; offering those same scholars incentives to teach in D and F districts; and creating a pilot program in four Mississippi school districts to implement the performance-based compensation program for teachers. Amendments passed requiring high schools with graduation rates below 90 percent (changed from 80 percent) to submit plans on how they propose to increase graduation rates and requiring prospective teachers to have a 3.0 GPA to gain admission to the schools of education at our state’s colleges and universities. The bill’s initial requirement to make at least a 21 on the ACT was eliminated through a floor amendment. The amended bill passed by a vote of 82-38.
SB2659 authorizes local school districts/boards to determine their own security plans. The Department of Public Safety and the Department of Education ultimately must approve proposed security policies. Furthermore, any employee authorized to carry a concealed weapon on a school campus would be required to take and pass a firearms safety course. The bill passed 75-41.
On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Bryant signed Senate Bill 2633, the Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act of 2013, into law. The measure protects students from being discriminated against in a public school for expressing their religious viewpoints or engaging in religious activities. I was a co-author of the companion house bill and was glad to help defend Religious Liberty in Mississippi.
SB2244 exempts sales tax on food items school children sell during fund-raisers.
SB2816 allows elderly and/or physically or mentally handicapped residents of institutions to file for homestead exemption on their homes (should they still own one) and not on the facility where they reside.
SB2833 affords a $2,500 tax credit to parents who adopt a child during the year the adoption takes place.
SB2625 states that if any public official is convicted of embezzling they cannot be rehired by any state, county or municipality government.
SB2553 exempts cottage food operations from certain licensing requirements. It exempts non-potentially hazardous foods like jams, jellies, baked goods, tea and dry herbs.
Representative <b>Chris Brown</b> serves District 20 in the Mississippi House of Representatives. He can be reached at CRbrown@house.ms.gov or (601)359-2434.

About Ray Van Dusen

I've been with the Monroe Journal since Aug. 2009 as a staff writer, but took the role as news editor in late 2012. I'm always looking for interesting story ideas from around Monroe County. You can reach me via email at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.