As session approaches, legislative leaders and lawmakers weigh in on top issues.
The 2022 legislative session in Mississippi will gavel in the first week of January. A number of key issues will appear before lawmakers such as the possible elimination of Mississippi’s income tax, medical marijuana, the initiative process, Congressional and legislative redistricting, distributing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and passing the FY 2023 state budget.
Ahead of January, Y’all Politics talked to legislative leaders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to get their thoughts on the top issues facing both chambers and what Mississippians can expect this upcoming session.
Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann (R)
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann told Y’all Politics that during the 2022 session, senators will be looking at issues pertaining to education, redistricting, and ARPA funds, among many other things.
Congressional redistricting will be top of mind, as Hosemann said that he wants to tackle that early in the session.
As it pertains to raising teacher pay, Hosemann noted that Senate Education chairman Dennis DeBar has held five public hearings around the state in an effort to compile information related to the drafting of a compensation package bill. The Lt. Governor said that DeBar’s meetings have generated a good amount of positive input for his colleagues to consider.
Other areas of focus regarding education, Hosemann added, included concerns with building failures and declining testing scores.
Lt. Governor Hosemann said that there are a lot of issues surrounding health care, particularly with nursing and the ability of those workers to serve in critical markets. Hosemann said he wants to explore a nurse retention program to help bolster the number of nurses in Mississippi.
“We don’t want anyone to be further away than 20 minutes from someplace that can save their life. And in addition to that, our nurses are just exhausted, and they’ve been offered so much compensation out of state that it has been hard for them to turn it down other than they just love being here,” Hosemann said.
When discussing the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, Hosemann believes lawmakers should be looking to supplement local efforts to improve water, sewer, and broadband access. The Congressional infrastructure bill should provide aid as lawmakers give more focus on improving state roads and bridges using both from federal and state dollars.
Hosemann also said that he has been working with state economists and doing as much work as he can to come up with ways to combat the cost of living.
“That really is my biggest fear going into next year. Not that we won’t spend the money well, because we got a lot of people looking at that, but the thing I can’t control or the legislature can’t control, is the cost of living and that inflation cost,” the Lt. Governor said.
Hosemann said long-term planning is happening for Mississippi, with a good amount of momentum to not let the opportunities given to the state go to waste.
“We need to make sure that when we get through this in 2 or 3 years from now, we can look back and see that we got things that will be here 10, 20, 30 years from now,” Hosemann concluded.
Speaker Philip Gunn (R)
House Speaker Philip Gunn continues to push his plan to eliminate the state’s income tax. He spoke at numerous gatherings across the state during the off season promoting the plan to Republican groups and civic clubs.
As for any other issues that are top of mind for the Speaker, that is wait and see at this juncture. Y’all Politics reached out to Speaker Gunn’s office for comment on his top priorities. His office says the Speaker will be hold a press event during the first week or so of session.
Representative Robert L. Johnson (D)
Representative Robert Johnson is the House Minority Leader and leads the Democratic caucus. He sits on House committees on Gaming, Judiciary A, Judiciary En Banc, Military Affairs, Ways and Means, Marine Resources, and Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Rep. Johnson said that as the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, he will be helping to organize and work with the House leadership, the members of his caucus, and the rest of the legislature to see the best and most impactful way to use the $1.8 billion in American Rescue Plan money.
“Right now, more than anything, the people in this state need our help. The working people need our help,” Rep. Johnson said.
Johnson talked about using the ARPA money to help frontline health care workers and clinics who are distributing COVID-19 vaccines. He told Y’all Politics Medicaid expansion is essential, as it would offer health care coverage for 200,000 working people in the state who do not have coverage.
Rep. Johnson said he expects medical marijuana to be taken up by the Legislature early on into the 2022 session. He also said the initiative process should be taken up.
“I think that it is incumbent on us to address the very small technical issue that the Supreme Court identified with the initiative referendum law,” Johnson stated.
As for redistricting, Johnson believes it is extremely important this year. He said that there is going to be some back and forth about the proposed plan that the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee offered for Congressional districts.
Senator David Blount (D)
Senator David Blount serves as the Chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee and Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Blount sits on the Senate Elections; Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency; Highways and Transportation; Public Health and Welfare; Public Property; Universities and Colleges; Medicaid; and Finance Committees.
Blount, a Jackson area lawmaker, wants the state to invest water and sewer infrastructure.
“I will be focused on helping repair and upgrade water and sewer systems across the state. There are obvious needs in Jackson but there also needs all across the state. We need to take advantage of this historic opportunity to fix these systems for the future,” Senator Blount told Y’all Politics.
Representative Richard Bennett (R)
Representative Richard Bennett serves as the Chairman of the House Education Committee. He told Y’all Politics that he expects a variety of topics will be before the committee this 2022 session.
Bennett said legislation aiming to raise teacher pay in Mississippi is at the top of the list and expects legislation to be finalized “right out of the gate.” He explained that legislation to raise teacher pay will also help with teacher recruitment and retention in Mississippi.
Virtual schooling has risen since the pandemic began. Rep. Bennett said that his committee will be looking to implement updated state standards related to this practice, even as it pertains to teachers teaching in other districts virtually.
Bennett said that Critical Race Theory will also be on the radar and has heard that there are quite a number of bills that have been filed to make sure CRT is not taught in Mississippi schools.
“Of course, those bills have not made it to my desk yet and won’t make it to my desk until the session starts,” Bennett said. “But I hear there are a number of those filed.”
The House Education Chairman said the expansion of Pre-K will be a topic of discussion in the Mississippi Legislature this year. Bennett notes that the state has received Educational Enhancement Funds (EEF) that will hopefully give them an opportunity to increase Pre-K schooling and establish it in more districts.
“We’re going to be busy this year,” Representative Bennett said. “Probably busier than I’ve been since I’ve been Chairman of Education.”