The 2020 Mississippi Legislative Session kicked off today. The old and new slew of Senators and Representatives made their way to Jackson to begin work, gaveling in at noon.

Governor-Elect Tate Reeves presided over the Senate while Lt. Governor-Elect Delbert Hosemann brought in the House until a temporary Speaker of the House was elected. Rep. John Read filled that role.

In the Senate, members voted unanimously to elect Senator Dean Kirby as the next President Pro Tempore and former Senator Buck Clarke as Secretary of the Senate, who is largely responsible for keeping the journal of the Senate and scheduling committee meetings.

The Senate then moved to elect Jim Armstrong as the next Sergeant at Arms, the main security guard for the Senate. Rules were presented by Rep. Hob Bryan and approved by Senators with only Sen. Norwood voting present. Minimal changes were made to the rules, including language on live-steaming in committee rooms. While it is not currently set up, it has been named as a priority of Lt. Governor-Elect Delbert Hosemann.

Two new committees were created through the approved rules to include Technology which will hold seven members from the Senate and 11 from the House, and Gaming which will have nine from the Senate and 19 from the House.

After approving Rep. Read as Temporary Speaker of the House, Rep. Richard Bennett moved to nominate Philip Gunn as Speaker. This recommendation was seconded by Rep. Cockerham and Rep. Huddleston and nominations were closed. Gunn was unanimously elected as the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives. This is Gunn’s third term to serve after being elected first in 2012 and again in 2016.

The House then approved Andrew Ketchings as House Clerk. Both chambers voted for new members to Management and Rules Committees before adjourning.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn spoke with reporters just before lawmakers went home for the day, giving some insight to what he sees as major priorities for the year.

Gunn said he plans to focus many of his efforts on job creation and ending the ‘brain drain’ out of Mississippi.

“We did a summit last year on workforce development last April,” said Gunn. “That’s a broad umbrella when you say ‘job creation’ but I think that is the number one issue for people.” He also said healthcare, infrastructure, education and MDOC could be on the horizon.

Gunn said when it comes to Medicaid expansion he is still opposed to the idea. He would, however, consider ideas of reform and better ways for the program to operate.

“I’m open minded and will listen to ideas but in the traditional use of the term medicaid expansion, no I am not for that,” said Gunn.

With the recent urgent situation within MDOC’s prison system, Gunn said lawmakers could be involved in addressing issues in the future as they move forward.

Gunn particularly plans to introduce a workforce development bill for a job creation initiative and teacher pay raise. Through the summit in April, Gunn said several things came out of it that he believes could help improve the workforce in the state. One of those things is called Work Keys. This is an ACT-type assessment that high school students could take free of charge if they chose to head straight into the workforce after graduation or pursue a skilled labor career.

“Work Keys is testing for career tech type jobs,” said Gunn. “One thing we’ve done in the past is pay for the ACT for high school juniors and we are proposing we do the same thing with Work Keys.”

One top priority for Lt. Governor-Elect Hosemann is transparency and the possibility of live-streaming some committee rooms. Gunn said to his understanding that is looking to be a large expense but said he plans to see how the Senate’s investigation into that process develops and possibly adopt it for the House, as well.

“We have not really looked at the cost of doing that,” said Gunn. “Candidly, I have not had a great human cry for live streaming the committee meetings.”

Gunn reiterated that all the action that the House makes on bills is available online linked to each measure. He said live-streaming those rooms will be strictly a decision of cost.

The 2020 Session is set to last 125 days this year.