State lawmakers agree on key accomplishments

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – State Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, and Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, agreed Monday on what many say were the two biggest issues of the just completed legislative session – changes to the criminal justice system and a teacher pay raise – but differed sharply on Medicaid expansion.

Blount, House Public Property Committee chairman, and Gibson, House Judiciary B chairman, provided a recap to the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute/Capitol press corps luncheon of the just completed legislative session.

Blount questioned the wisdom of refusing billions in federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to cover people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 per year. Gipson again reiterated, “Obamacare has fallen apart at the seams” and said the state is wise not to participate.

Both said changes to the criminal justice system that came out of Gipson’s committee will help curb the growth in the prison budget while ensuring violent criminals are locked up longer. One key way the bill has the potential to save money is giving judges more sentencing options, such as house arrests and drug courts.

Blount said the legislation has the potential to be the most significant of the current four-year term. Gipson has said it has the potential to save the state $266 million over a 10-year period.

On the issue of the teacher pay raise, both said they supported the $2,500 pay raise over a two year period. But both want to make sure that when the third year of the raise takes effect – a yearly bonus for faculty and staff for school performance goals – that good teachers in C, D and F schools are rewarded.

“We don’t need financial incentives for teachers to leave those districts,” Blount said

Gipson,who credited the early support of Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, for passage of the pay raise, said, “We shouldn’t punish a teacher just for being in a C, D or F district.”

On the Medicaid issue, Blount said the $155 million in state funds already committed to three malls being built in the Jackson area, near Memphis and on the Gulf Coast would have paid the state’s share for the first six years of Medicaid expansion to match more than $1.2 billion annually in federal funds.

“Medicaid expansion is not going away,” he said, predicting local health care providers would ultimately become more vocal about the need to accept the federal funds that more than half the states already are accepting.

Gipson disagreed.

“People I represent don’t want to be on Medicaid,” he said. “They want a job. They want their own insurance.”

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com