RELEASE: Gov. Bryant Comments on 2014 Legislative Session

Fiscally Conservative Budget and Strong Public Safety Reforms among Priorities

JACKSON—The Mississippi Legislature adjourned this evening, sine die, meaning lawmakers have completed their business for the 2014 regular and extraordinary legislative sessions. Gov. Phil Bryant had called on lawmakers to adopt strong, fiscally conservative savings policies and comprehensive public safety reforms, and those items were among the measures the Legislature passed.

“When I issued my Executive Budget Recommendation for fiscal year 2015, I urged lawmakers to take a financially responsible step and fill Mississippi’s Rainy Day Fund. We filled this savings account while I was lieutenant governor, and I am very pleased the Legislature has heeded my call to do so again. Instead of spending every dollar, we will put nearly $400 million in the state’s savings account if revenue collections meet expectations. This cushion will help protect our budget if the national economy begins to slow again.”

“My budget also modeled spending no one-time sources of revenue on recurring expenses. Paying recurring bills with one-time funding sources can lead to fiscal cliffs and budget shortfalls, and it can also negatively impact Mississippi’s credit rating. I appreciate the Legislature’s effort in passing a budget that follows this same fiscally conservative practice.”

Last summer, Gov. Bryant pledged that the 2014 legislative session would also focus on public safety. The Legislature passed the governor’s public safety priorities, including:

· Appropriating $6.9 million to conduct a school to train more Highway Patrol troopers. The current Highway Patrol force is approximately 150 officers short, and more than 120 officers serving on the force are retirement-eligible. The funding will provide training vehicles, uniforms, weapons and other equipment for about 60 new troopers. The funding will also cover the salaries for the new officers for the remainder of the fiscal year in which they graduate.

· Enacting comprehensive “Right on Crime” criminal justice reforms (House Bill 585) that will help Mississippi avoid about $266 million in projected increases to corrections costs over the next decade. The reforms included in the bill:

restore certainty and clarity to Mississippi’s sentencing system by establishing minimum percentages of sentences that inmates must serve before becoming eligible for release;

expand judicial discretion to impose research-proven alternatives to incarceration;

create statewide standards for drug courts and establish a veterans’ court system; and

ensure the quality and sustainability of the reforms by creating an oversight council and requiring the tracking of outcomes.

· Providing funding to hire 16 additional assistant district attorneys in high-case load districts throughout the state.

· Providing funding to cover relocation for the State Crime Lab as it transitions to a new, state-of-the art facility. The new facility will allow the lab to process more evidence for more cases.

· Adopting SB 2430, a measure to require DNA testing of certain felony offenders so law enforcement officials can determine if the offenders are linked to other open cases.

· Providing additional funding for Mississippi’s drug court system. Drug courts provide incarceration alternatives and treatment opportunities for low-level offenders. The courts are proven to help reduce recidivism.

“We are working tirelessly to improve our economy in Mississippi, and we have also begun implementing transformational change in our public education system thanks to major reforms passed last year. Ensuring public safety is equally vital to our state’s success. I am very proud of what we have accomplished this year—from adopting policies that require violent criminals to serve at least 50 percent of their sentences to reaching our goal of training more troopers to protect lives and investigate crimes, I believe we have taken strong steps to protect Mississippi communities.”

The Legislature adopted additional measures supported by Gov. Bryant, including bills to:

· strengthen Mississippi’s pro-business jobs and economic development climate,
· require public colleges and universities to develop plans to address teen pregnancy among students (SB 2563),
· provide $1.3 million to allow high school juniors to take the ACT test in lieu of other high school exit exams,
· protect gun owner rights (House Bill 314) and provide a sales tax holiday for sportsmen and sportswomen (SB 2425),
· require drug screenings for TANF applicants (House Bill 49),
· ban abortions after 20 weeks (HB 1400),
· and add the national motto “In God We Trust” to the Mississippi state seal (SB 2681).

“All in all, this has been a very productive, positive session for Mississippi, and I appreciate the leadership of House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The legislative process is not always easy, and I thank these two dynamic leaders for their efforts on behalf of Mississippians.”