By Errol Castens and Lena Mitchell
OXFORD – Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, brought his 10-city “Mississippi Solutions – An Idea Tour” on Tuesday to Northeast Mississippi audiences in Oxford, Corinth and Starkville. Area legislators accompanied him at each stop.
“Not everybody can drive to Jackson, Mississippi, to meet with their legislator or senator and tell them what their concerns are,” he said to some 75 people at the Oxford Conference Center. “The idea of this is to bring the Legislature to the people.”
Concerns were as varied as taxes, autism, Medicaid and education.
Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson said he finds last year’s firearms open-carry law “pretty murky,” and Gunn said the 1890 state constitution essentially allows open carry everywhere except where private property owners forbid it.
“The only thing the Legislature can do is to regulate concealed weapons,” Gunn said. “House Bill 2 simply clarifies what concealed means.”
“It’s a college town,” Patterson replied. “We’re pretty worried about where we stand with that law.”
While attendance at the Corinth forum was on a par with Oxford, residents voiced concerns about the state’s open carry law and its local interpretation that differed from the Oxford mayor’s worries.
Organizers of Corinth’s Second Amendment rallies urged state legislators to make clear to municipalities that they cannot impose tighter restrictions than the state law allows. One speaker said that when private business owners post a notice that guns may not be brought onto the property, it puts people in a bind who have a gun in their vehicles on the property.
Also in Corinth, concerns about the Common Core education curriculum, a request for increased mental health funding, a request for additional funding for community colleges and issues of other interest groups were aired.
At the Oxford meeting, Holly Springs Mayor Kelvin Buck asked for legislation to allow cities to boost their own sales tax rates.
Autism advocates asked for more funding, contending that early invention saves money on social services later, and for a voluntary driver’s license notation for people with autism, some of whose behaviors could be interpreted by law officers as intoxication or evasiveness.
Several people voiced support for Medicaid expansion and a state insurance exchange.
“I’ve been jealous of friends and family in other states … that have so many plans to choose from,” said one woman. “I personally think that Obamacare is going to be a great thing for our country.”
Holly Springs Alderman Tom Liddy, a pharmacist, said, “I see people every day who can’t afford their medicine.”
Gunn said the state cannot afford to have one-third of its citizens on Medicaid. He said legislators everywhere voice concerns about public health care funding.
Several people in Corinth expressed vigorous objections to the Affordable Care Act, saying implementation to any degree is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.