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Education funding, roads & bridges, top key issues at Session midpoint.

Halfway through the 2018 Regular Session of the Mississippi Legislature, the House has finished debating its own general bills. We will begin taking up Senate bills in the coming days. We are also beginning work on budget and revenue bills. I have been working hard to move key priorities for Madison County and Mississippi forward. Apologies for a long update, but below is a brief description and links to some of the bills passed so far. I hope you find these of interest.

There is a long way to go before the Session ends on April 1. (Yes, I can imagine the April Fool’s jokes in response.) I try not to send too many e-mails, but as we continue working at the Capitol, I always welcome your input. You can also track more frequent updates at www.corywilson.ms, or on my Facebook page and Twitter, @CoryWilsonMS.

Photo: Always great to have Madison County "in the House." Earlier this week, I visited with the Leadership Madison County Class of 2018 on the House floor about the legislative process, key bills, and the importance of collaboration and negotiation for leadership.

Photo: "Be Prepared." It was a lot of fun to spend time with these loyal Scouts, Webelos from Pack 164, Pkwy Hills Methodist Church, at their Capitol this month. They asked (numerous) insightful questions about the Legislature. So refreshing to see their interest in government!

Improving Education
Early in the Session, the House passed HB957, a new school funding formula for Mississippi public schools. I voted for the new formula. For me, “the way we have always done it,” and “throwing more money at the problem,” are not answers. The bill is a substantive improvement over the convoluted and outdated MAEP. HB957 targets funding in a more equitable and straightforward way, and the focus is on students. The new formula should also mean more money for growing school districts like Madison County. This week, Education Chairman Richard Bennett wrote a concise summary of how the new formula would work. Here’s a link to his article. The funding bill is pending in the Senate.

Funding for Roads and Bridges
HB722 provides that 35 percent of the use tax collected by the state, currently over $100 million a year, would be distributed for the repair, maintenance and reconstruction of local roads, streets and bridges. I joined the bill as a cosponsor because it is important for counties and cities to have additional resources to maintain local roads and bridges. Overall, this would mean that approximately $108 million would be returned to our local communities, and dedicated to improving the state’s infrastructure. The House passed this bill early in the Session, and it is pending in the Senate.

The House has also passed several other road funding bills. One of these,HB354, would provide that half of the growth in future state revenue be dedicated to infrastructure. Another, HB357, authorizes $50 million in bond money for use in repairing county and city bridges. Finally, HB355 would allow the Mississippi Department of Transportation greater flexibility and efficiency by removing MDOT from the purview of the State Personnel Board for a limited time. This bill would allow MDOT leadership to manage the agency more efficiently, save money, and put more dollars into pavement, and less into bureaucracy. These bills were sent to the Senate earlier in the Session.

The top priority for Madison County (and the Madison County Business League) is funding for construction of Phase II of the Reunion Parkway, between Bozeman Road and Parkway East, including a bridge over I-55. County leaders have stated that the overall project cost is $24 million dollars, with Madison County contributing significant funding toward that total. Speaker Philip Gunn and I are working with the Senate and county leaders to provide state support for a portion of the project. The House sent one bill, HB1553, back to the Ways & Means Committee this week for additional consideration. We introduced another, HB1633, which would provide $8 million in bond money this year to support the project. That is the same amount the House approved for the Reunion project last year.

Making government more efficient and cost-effective
HB1177, the MS False Claims Act, would set up a whistleblower law similar to a federal law on the books since the Civil War. The bill is aimed at saving taxpayer dollars by rooting out fraud and abuse in government agencies.

HB1175 and HB858 continue our effort to reduce regulations and red tape. HB1175 requires occupational licensing boards to review their existing rules and submit a summary to the new Occupational Licensing Review Commission every three years. This will require agencies to justify the regulations on their books on a regular basis. HB858 would shorten the time in which agencies can issue “temporary” regulations instead of permanent regulations that require public feedback. I worked on all three bills as author, or co-author.

Medicaid, Mental Health, and Health Care
The Legislature is working to reauthorize Medicaid this year. HB898 extends the repealer on the Medicaid statute that provides a list of services. The proposed legislation also revises some services. Those include removing the annual limit on physician visits, authorizing OB/GYNs to be reimbursed as primary care physicians, deleting the annual limit on the number of home health visits covered, deleting the monthly limit on prescription drugs for Medicaid recipients, providing for increased reimbursement for psychiatrists, and providing treatment for people that suffer from opioid abuse. The bill also voids three contracts awarded by the Division of Medicaid to managed care companies, which would allow for new companies to apply for those contracts.

Medicaid is not the only health care issue addressed so far by the House.HB419 would build on a pilot program for mental health courts, patterned after our successful drug court diversion program. HB419 would allow mental health courts to be established statewide. HB709 would allow pharmacists to provide additional information to patients detailing options for more affordable medication. And, the House passed HB1198, which would require that certain health insurance policies provide coverage for couples struggling with infertility.

The House also passed HB1510, a pro-life measure restricting abortionafter 15 weeks of pregnancy. I supported this bill because, as someone who is strongly pro-life, I believe it is important to protect both the lives of both unborn children and their mothers.

Other Bills
HB1550 is aimed at reducing “brain drain” in our state. The bill, a work in progress, offers tax incentives for recent college grads to stay in Mississippi. We need to keep our best and brightest, and attract them from across the country, if we want to grow our economy and enhance our quality of life.

HB1241 is an employment law bill that sets consistent state policy for private sector employment. During floor debate, the House passed an amendment to require equal pay for women and men doing equal work. This conforms Mississippi law with federal law.

Much debate has surrounded HB1083, which provides a process for enhanced concealed carry permit holders to appeal any infringement of their Second Amendment rights. I support that concept. Under existing law, passed in 2011, permittees may bring their firearm onto public property. The debate over HB1083 has surrounded university sports venues, and whether firearms should be allowed in stadiums under the law. As this bill works through the process, I predict that the Legislature will strike a balance to protect both our constitutional rights, and our home college football games.

Finally, HB1344 would get us a little closer to direct delivery for wine sales. The bill would allow consumers to order wines, and their vintage would be delivered to a local retailer for pickup. Does not quite allow direct shipment to consumers, but it is a step in that direction.

As always, thank you for your interest and input on these and any other pending bills. It's a team effort. I am working hard to be an effective, conservative voice for you at the Capitol. If I can ever be of help, please let me know.

Very respectfully,
Cory

 

 

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