By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Republican leadership of the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Phil Bryant felt good about the accomplishments of the 2013 session, which ended Thursday.
“All in all, I think this is an A session,” Bryant said Thursday outside his Capitol office after seeing the Legislature pass many education proposals he had endorsed, such as charter schools, enhanced teacher standards and a literacy-improvement effort in the early grades.
The Republican governor praised the leadership of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Philip Gunn for a legislative session he labeled “transformative.”
Then there was Medicaid.
Legislators ended the three-month-long session knowing they will have to return before July 1 in special session to deal with Medicaid. Democrats were able to defeat legislation reauthorizing and funding the federal-state health care program in an attempt to force Gunn to allow a vote before the full chamber on whether to expand coverage to the working poor as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Everyone acknowledges Bryant will have to call a special session for the Legislature to deal with Medicaid.
He said Thursday he would call the session when there is an agreement – presumably an agreement where Democrats give up the fight on Medicaid expansion since he has said he is adamantly opposed.
While much of the Republican leadership tried to cast the blame for the inability to agree on Medicaid on the Democrats, House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, who made an impassioned speech to try to pass the Medicaid budget earlier in the week, said he fears all members will be blamed.
“We’re going to have the entire Legislature in a septic tank. When we climb out, we’re all going to have the same poo-poo on us,” he said, explaining that each side will be blamed, especially if they cannot come to agreement on Medicaid.
At any rate, legislative leaders preferred to talk Thursday about issues other than Medicaid.
“We have a lot of good things that I believe will make a difference in the lives of Mississippians for years to come,” said Gunn, R-Clinton.
Reeves cited the education proposals that passed, including his plan to provide financial help to districts to put law enforcement in the schools. Plus, he said the Legislature was fiscally responsible in the budget it passed and the bond package it approved to finance long-term construction needs.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, explained that he fears much of the education legislation will result in weakening, not strengthening the public school system.
He lamented the numerous tax credits and tax breaks that were handed out during the session.