Legislators elated with first session

The new state legislature ended its first session in historic fashion as the Republican-controlled chambers passed significant legislation. 

Area legislators were proud of what was accomplished over the past couple of months. 

“It was definitely a privilege to be a part of this legislature,” Sen. Will Longwitz (pictured), R-Madison, said. “You could actually get things done for a change. Compared to the past – it was by no means a given that you could get good laws passed, especially good conservative legislation.”

Longwitz was especially proud of a bill he helped pass that made changes to worker’s compensation. 

“There are problems with our worker’s compensation system that had needed changes for 20-30 years and it was a large coalition of people that made it happen,” he said. “I’m just proud that Republicans were able to lock arms and work together on so many things that we’ve been stymied on in the past. And, we had Democrats come along with us too.”

State Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, was thrilled with the way the session was handled. She, too, said it was nice to see less bickering and more legislating. 

“It was just a pleasure to go to work,” she said. “It was not something I dreaded. Everyone was given a fair chance to present their ideas in committee and floor action.”

The legislature accomplished many things in the 2012 legislative session, including the passage of a budget that sent $200 million to the rainy day fund without authorizing any new debt.

“I’m excited because we got so much done our first year,” Longwitz said. “We cleared so much backlog. I think when the people of Mississippi look at what we’ve done, they’ll recognize it as the pro-growth, pro-family conservative policy they themselves would pass if they had a chance to do it.”

Both Martinson and Longwitz congratulated the legislature on successful redistricting, which was contentious last year.

“On redistricting, we got 46 votes in the Senate out of 52 for our Senate plan,” Longwitz said. “That just shows it is a body that is disciplined and pushing in the same direction for once.

“I also have to point out, if this new redistricting map holds up, I lost big parts of Ridgeland,” he continued. “I was surprised by it and I’m still disappointed because I had so much good support from Ridgeland but that’s the way these things go. Overall, Madison County turned out very well with redistricting. And, we finally have a majority Madison County (Senate) seat that’s held by a Republican.”

Martinson added that a new House seat was created in Madison County, which is a major plus. 

Legislation aimed at economic development was also passed. Martinson applauded the bills focused on craft beers because it has the possibility to increase economic development, specifically in Madison County with a brewery in Gluckstadt. 

Some pieces of legislation did not happen this session, though. 

Efforts to create an immigration bill were unsuccessful. 

A bill that would create charter schools never made it to the Governor’s desk. Martinson, an outspoken proponent of charter schools, said that may be a good thing.

“Charter schools just has to have more work,” she said. “We’ll work over the summer to put together a better charter school bill. That may be a good thing. Sometimes you can’t do everything the first year.”

She was disappointed that one bill she was pushing, a Reading is Fundamental bill, died also.

“Over the years I’ve been really avid in trying to get an emphasis in teaching reading in early-first through third grade,” she said. “It’s crucial a child knows how to read. Everything is predicated on learning how to read.”

The two legislators do disagree on one thing – whether or not there will be a called special session for a bond issue.

“I don’t see a special session happening,” Longwitz said. “Both sides have had discussion. Unless you have an agreement going in, there’s no reason to waste taxpayer money sitting and arguing about something. 

“It just wouldn’t be productive,” he continued. “We can always come back. Even if we don’t have a bond bill this year. Every family in the state is cutting back. It might not be such a bad thing to put off borrowing for a year.”

Martinson disagreed, saying she thinks there will be a special session and that it is important.

“I think we’re going to end up with a special session to take care of the bonding that is needed for the universities and community colleges,” she said. 

Martinson added that the institutions rely heavily on the bonding for infrastructure repairs and upgrades. 

Longwitz noted the accomplishments by the legislature this year to include:

  • Increasing spending for K-12 schools by $30 million, including $19 million for MAEP
  • Prohibiting school personnel from inflating grades for students
  • Passing Dyslexia screening guidelines for kindergarten and first grade students
  • Implementing a Voter I.D. law 
  • Placing a moratorium through 2013 on state purchasing of new cars with exclusions for some law enforcement
  • Increasing transparency in the Attorney General’s Office with regards to outside counsel 
  • Inventory tax relief for businesses to allow them to claim tax credit on inventory
  • Passing of the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act which allows small businesses to propose changes to new and existing regulations that harm small business
  • Passing of unemployment fraud prevention
  • Exempting churches from paying sales tax on utilities
  • Passage of a child protection act that creates new reporting requirements for suspected sexual abuse of children while also requiring fetal tissue to be saved as potential DNA evidence in statutory rape cases when girls 14 or under seek an abortion
  • Requiring doctors who work at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges to a local hospital and be a certified OB-GYN

By MICHAEL SIMMONS
Madison County Journal
5/9/2012