Miss. lawmakers gavel to order for 2013 session

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS,Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers gaveled to order at noon Tuesday, starting a three-month session that’s expected to focus largely on education.

This is the second year of a four-year term. And, for now, there are some vacancies in the Legislature.

House Speaker Philip Gunn announced at the opening of the session that Rep. David Gibbs, a Democrat from West Point, had resigned immediately because of poor health. The governor will be required to schedule a special election.

A special election is being held Tuesday in House District 59 in northern Rankin County. Second-term Republican Kevin McGee resigned in November to settle a state ethics case.

Two Senate seats are open because Democrats Bennie Turner of West Point and Alice Harden of Jackson died late last year.

The election in Turner’s District 16 is Jan. 15 in parts of Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties.

A Feb. 5 election is set in Harden’s District 28 in parts of Hinds County.

Runoffs, if needed, are three weeks after the first election.

Gibbs’ House District 36 is comprised of parts of Clay, Lowndes and Monroe counties. Gibbs has been a member of the House since 1993.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant is urging the House and Senate to allow broad development of charter schools, which are public schools that are free of many regulations. While advocates believe charters will encourage academic innovation, critics worry the emphasis on charters detracts from efforts to strengthen all schools.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, also a Republican, said Monday he believes charter schools should be allowed anywhere communities want them. Some education officials have said charters should be allowed only in areas where schools are struggling.

Legislators are expected to consider putting extra emphasis on teaching reading skills in the early elementary grades, but they’ve released few details about how they might approach the issue.

Health advocates want lawmakers to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands more people, but GOP leaders say the state can’t afford to do it. Starting in January 2014, the expansion is allowed — but not required — under the federal health care law President Barack Obama signed in 2010.