Criminal justice on lawmakers’ early agenda

Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, calls for the legislature to end Mississippi's participation in the Common Core Standards for schools at a rally in the state Capitol in Jackson on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, calls for the legislature to end Mississippi’s participation in the Common Core Standards for schools at a rally in the state Capitol in Jackson on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature, which convened Tuesday, will begin work today on what Gov. Phil Bryant has said he wants to make the focus of the 2014 session – changes to the criminal justice system.

The House Judiciary B and Corrections committees will hold a joint hearing today to be updated on the recommendations of a task force that met for much of last year to look at possible changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

House Judiciary B Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said the purpose of the joint hearing will be to discuss the task force’s recommendations and “welcome input from both committees.”

The goal of the task force’s recommendations is to curb the rapid growth in the budget for the Department of Corrections by looking at alternative sentences, such as house arrest, and more intense supervision for people on probation and parole while ensuring longer sentences, in many instances, for those committing more serious crimes.

Bryant, as well as bothLt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, have endorsed the work of the task force, making it likely that at least some of its recommendations will be adopted.

The session opened Tuesday with both the House and Senate taking no action other than the customary steps needed at the start of a 90-day session.

The first couple of days will be mainly informational as committees meet to get updated on various issues. For instance, besides the joint meeting between Corrections and Judiciary B, the House Appropriations Committee will meet today to get an update on budget issues.

Core opposition

Before the session started Tuesday, Tea Party members and others held a rally and press conference to urge members to pass legislation to halt the state Board of Education from enacting new Common Core national academic standards for the schools.

About 50 people attended the Tea Party news conference at the Capitol.

At the news conference, Laura Van Overschelde with the Mississippi Tea Party said Common Core “falls short of upholding American values.”

Common Core was developed by the National Governors’ Association and educators in an effort to require more rigorous academic standards. Those standards have been adopted by more than 40 states, including Mississippi.

Tea Party groups and others say the standards are an attempt by the federal government to take over schools.

The legislative leadership has said it wants to monitor the issue to ensure the federal government does not overstep its authority in setting policy for local school districts. But at the same time, the legislative leadership has endorsed the concept of requiring tougher standards in public schools.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com