Mississippi Legislative Session Concludes
Today marks the conclusion of the Mississippi Legislature’s 2015 regular session. Republican legislators return home to their districts having passed a number of important measures and conservative policies signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant.
Balanced Budget and Record School Funding
The Legislature ended the 2015 session with a balanced $6.2 billion budget that spends recurring revenue on recurring expenses, fills the Rainy Day Fund and invests in priority needs. Public schools will see a record level of funding under a $2.52 billion budget. Education funding increased by $288 million in programs that directly impact classrooms over four years. The Legislature has increased support for teacher pay raises, reading coaches, prekindergarten, National Board Certified Teachers, teacher supply funds, school safety programs and vocational education. The budget also includes increases for the state’s public community and junior colleges and for its public universities.
Increased Opportunities for Special Needs Students
Mississippi will be the third state in the nation to offer school choice to children with disabilities. The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act (Senate Bill 2695) creates a pilot program to provide special needs students with scholarships to pay for educational expenses. The measure will provide a $6,500 scholarship to participating students, and the funds can be used for expenses like educational therapies, tutoring and tuition at a private school when the public school in which the student is enrolled is not meeting his or her needs. Currently, just slightly more than 20 percent of special needs students graduate from high school.
Protecting Second Amendment Rights and Public Safety
The 2015 legislative session resulted in new protections for Mississippi gun-owners and increased support for public safety. Senate Bill 2394 reduces the fee on concealed carry permits, clarifies that such permits are not needed to carry a non-holstered pistol or revolver in a fully enclosed case, such as a purse or briefcase, and establishes a certain classification for honorably retired law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 2619 recognizes military service for carrying an enhanced concealed carry permit, exempts members of the National Guard or Reserve units from state residency requirements for such permits, and protects Mississippians from overregulation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on commonly used rifle ammunition. Senate Bill 2500 authorizes a pay increase for on-the-road troopers in the Mississippi Highway Patrol and agents at the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Finally, the budget allocates $200 million in revenue bonds that will help fund road and bridge repairs throughout the state.
Government Contracting Reform
The Legislature passed bills tightening the rules on how agencies contract with vendors. House Bill 825 places restrictions on contracting laws, increases scrutiny on government purchases, and tightens regulations on sole-source contracts. The bill remakes the Personal Service Contract Review Board, requires a review of procurement practices once every two years by the legislative watchdog committee, and ensures pricing details and terms of contracts are public records. Senate Bill 2400 places restrictions on emergency contracts issued by agencies.
- A measure making Mississippi the third state seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget (SB 2389).
- A measure eliminating vehicle inspection stickers (House Bill 982).
- A measure to increase transparency at publicly owned hospitals (Senate Bill 2407).
- A measure to waive out-of-state college tuition for eligible military veterans and their eligible dependents (Senate Bill 2127).
- A $20 million investment to upgrade the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula and $6 million in the expansion of Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson.
- A measure restricting Mississippi’s financial involvement with any person or company that conducts significant energy-related business with Iran (House Bill 1127).
- A measure calling upon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama to withdraw its intrusive clean power plan (Senate Concurrent Resolution 637).
House Democrats voted to kill what would have been the largest tax cut in state history. The $555 million tax relief plan proposed by Republicans and backed by Gov. Bryant would have, among other things: eliminated the 3 percent and 4 percent tax brackets levied on income, reduced the overall tax burden on small business owners, and removed the investment penalty, or franchise tax, on businesses’ property and capital. Eliminating the franchise tax alone would have grown the state’s GDP by $282 million and added 3,514 jobs within 10 years, according to a Mississippi State University study. As a tax measure, the House needed a 3/5 vote (72 members) to send the legislation to Gov. Bryant for his signature, the legislation having already been passed by the Senate. All 66 House Republican members voted for the tax cut; only one Democrat did.
Retiring Republican Legislators
The following Republicans are retiring from the Legislature following the 2015 session:
Rep. Rita Martinson (Madison, served from 1991-2015)
Rep. Bobby Howell (Kilmichael, served from 1991-2015)
Rep. Brian Aldridge (Tupelo, served from 2003-2015)
Rep. Hank Lott (Sumrall, served from 2011-2015)
Rep. Tommy Taylor (Boyle, served from 2011-2015)
Sen. Perry Lee (Mendenhall, served from 2003-2015)
Sen. Giles Ward (Louisville, served from 2007-2015)
Sen. Tony Smith (Picayune, served from 2011-2015)
The MSGOP is grateful to these individuals for their years of service to our state and in furtherance of conservative policies. We wish them and their families well as they move on to future endeavors.