By Emily Wagster Pettus
JACKSON – Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn will travel the state in late September to gather ideas for the 2015 legislative session, and he said he’d like to hear possible ways to improve education, health care and job creation.
“I like to describe it as bringing the Legislature to the people,” Gunn, R-Clinton, said in an interview Monday. “So many of them just don’t have the time to get in the car, drive to Jackson, meet with legislators, discuss issues.”
He is scheduled to appear Sept. 22 in Ridgeland and Pearl, Sept. 23 in Cleveland and Senatobia, Sept. 24 in Tupelo and Louisville and Sept. 25 in McComb and Picayune.
Gunn said at least one citizen proposal that he gathered during his 2013 listening tour was pushed into law this year. A police officer who had been injured on the job told Gunn it was expensive to obtain a car tag for a van specially equipped with a wheelchair lift, because the cost of the tag was based on the value of the van. Senate Bill 2472, a specialty car-tag bill that became law July 1, provides a free car tag for one vehicle owned by a law enforcement officer who was hurt on the job, as long as the injury was not self-inflicted.
Gunn said he’s inviting local state representatives and senators, Republicans and Democrats, to join him during stops on his third annual listening tour.
House Democratic Leader Bobby Moak said in a separate interview Monday that Democrats in 2015 will push for teacher pay raises, a grocery tax cut and Medicaid expansion, which Democrats will promote as a way for Mississippi to collect federal money to help keep hospitals open.
“We don’t see any logical reason that you turn down 3 million bucks a day, conservatively, that goes to health care providers and keeps our hospitals open,” Moak said. “We have not seen an alternative plan to make up for that money.”
Under the federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010, states have the option of extending Medicaid coverage to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s an income of about $15,000 a year for one person. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and the income cutoff for Medicaid is about $5,000 for one person, although the program still does not cover many able-bodied adults who earn less than that.
Gov. Phil Bryant and leaders of the Republican-led state House and Senate have opposed Medicaid expansion, saying the state won’t be able to afford its share of the expenses in a few years. The federal government pays most costs of the expansion in the early years.