State Contract Reforms, Help for Special Needs Students and Second Amendment Protections among Priorities
JACKSON—Lawmakers this session responded to Gov. Phil Bryant’s call for increased government accountability by sending him a measure to tighten controls on state contracting procedures. The Legislature also heeded the governor’s State of the State Address and voted to send the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act to his desk. The Mississippi Legislature has adjourned the 2015 regular legislative session.
House Bill 825 increases accountability of state contracting procedures. It replaces some government employees on the Personal Services Contract Review Board with objective outside appointees, lowers the threshold for contract scrutiny from contracts valued at $100,000 or more to those valued at $75,000 or more and implements tighter rules for the granting of sole source contracts.
Senate Bill 2400 reigns in emergency contracting procedures for commodities. State agencies cannot arbitrarily enter into an emergency contract for commodities and must have prior approval from the Department of Finance and Administration except in cases where threats to life and property exist.
“I appreciate the Legislature for passing measures to strengthen Mississippi’s contracting procedures,” Gov. Bryant said. “We are entrusted with the responsibility of being careful stewards of tax dollars, and these bills are a good start in tightening controls on state contracting procedures and making government more accountable to taxpayers.”
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.
The graduation rate for students with special needs in Mississippi public schools is 22.5 percent. Mississippi’s combined graduation rate is 74.5 percent.
“Special needs students deserve the opportunity to succeed, and this bill gives parents the power to provide additional resources to help their children obtain the education and support they need,” Gov. Bryant said. “We have worked for two years to pass this bill, and I am very proud to finally see it on my desk this year.”
Conservative Budget that Prioritizes Education
With the close of the legislative session, Mississippi is set to adopt a nearly $6.3 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, with the majority of increased revenue collections being directed to K-12 public education. The budget also includes increases for the state’s public community and junior colleges and for its public universities.
Second Amendment Rights and Public Safety
The 2015 legislative session yielded new protections of Mississippians’ right to keep and bear arms. Senate Bill 2394 clarifies that Mississippians can carry a non-holstered pistol or revolver in a handbag, briefcase or other enclosed case. Last year, Gov. Bryant signed a bill clarifying Mississippian’s constitutional right to openly carry a firearm. Senate Bill 2619 counts military training toward requirements for enhanced concealed carry permits and protects Mississippi gun owners from federal overregulation of ammunition.
“The right to keep and bear arms is one of the cornerstones of freedom,” Gov. Bryant said. “As a life member of the NRA and vice-chair of the Governor’s Sportsmen’s Caucus, I look forward to signing these important measures into law.”
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.
“These are the front line defenders of public safety in Mississippi—the men and women who put their lives on the line each day in service of others,” Gov. Phil Bryant said. “We’ve worked for several years to clarify the pay scale for these troopers, and am pleased we are able to take action this year.”
Health Care and Economic Development
Mississippi will invest $20 million to upgrade the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula and $6 million in the expansion of Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. The shipyard, which is a premier manufacturer of the world’s most advanced warships and a major employer in the state, will use the funds to make improvements aimed at securing more Navy shipbuilding contracts.
“Mississippi is home to the greatest shipbuilders in the world, and we are proud to invest in Ingalls and the jobs they support.”
Batson Children’s Hospital, Mississippi’s only children’s hospital, is constructing a major expansion that will include new neonatal intensive care beds, a dedicated children’s heart center and upgraded surgical suites. The expansion will provide more pediatric subspecialties and will serve as an enhanced tool for the recruitment of additional physicians.
The hospital has requested a $30 million investment from the state over three years. Private donors will raise $100 million for the project.
“I am an ardent supporter of Batson Children’s Hospital and am very pleased the state has made an initial investment in its expansion. I hope in the upcoming years the Legislature will fully support this project. “
Additional measures to improve health care for Mississippians include:
A $1 million investment in the prevention of infant mortality
A measure to recognize the medical licenses of retired military physicians and physicians assistants so they may practice in Mississippi on a volunteer basis (House Bill 215)
A $200 million investment in transportation infrastructure, including bridges
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 measure that takes a stand for the United States’ ally Israel by restricting Mississippi’s financial involvement with any person or company that conducts significant energy-related business with Iran (House Bill 1127)
“I was strongly in favor of providing tax relief to Mississippians this session and supported elimination of the individual income tax and the business franchise tax. Unfortunately, we were not able to reach a consensus on these issues,” Gov. Bryant said.
“Legislators were also unable to reach an agreement on using excess unemployment funds for workforce training although this has been the practice before whenever these resources were available due to reduced need for unemployment payments. This was the number one priority for our state chamber of commerce and should have been accomplished.
“All in all, we did accomplish a great deal for Mississippi, and I hope I can continue working with this Legislature to pass conservative policies for our state.”