House and Senate Republicans Pass Education Voucher Plan
Legislation giving students with disabilities more educational opportunities has passed both chambers of the Mississippi legislature. Senate Bill 2695, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Collins (R-Tupelo), allows parents of special needs students to access state scholarships for their children to attend a school that best fits their child’s needs. Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R-Pass Christian) introduced similar legislation in the House.
Special needs students with an Individual Education Plan would be eligible for the program. Students would be eligible for a $7,000 scholarship to cover private school tuition or tutoring or other educational services. The funds would not come from the state’s school funding formula or the local school district.
The legislation is a part of Gov. Phil Bryant’s 2015 legislative agenda. The program is modeled after successful efforts in Arizona and Florida to provide the best opportunity for success for students with special needs.
Mississippi Republicans Take Lead on National Effort to Require Congress to Balance Federal Budget; Democrats Oppose
Gov. Phil Bryant has signed legislation that would add Mississippi to the list of states seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced federal budget. Senate Bill (SB) 2389, otherwise called the Compact for a Balanced Budget, would enable Mississippi to participate in a constitutional convention of states to amend the Constitution to limit federal borrowing, require Congress to seek state approval before increasing the debt limit, and increase transparency. It also would require a two-thirds congressional majority to pass most tax hikes.
Democrat legislators opposed the balanced budget amendment, with fifty House and nineteen Senate democrats voting against the proposal.
Typical plans for a constitutional convention require states to act twice, first to call a convention and then to ratify proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Under SB 2389 and similar proposals in other states, the constitutional convention would be limited to a single vote on the balanced budget proposal written in the law, and would provide for automatic approval of the pre-agreed amendment by the states that adopt the compact.
Mississippi is now the third state to join the compact for a balanced budget, behind Georgia and Alaska. At least 38 states must pass similar legislation for the effort to move forward.
Mississippi House and Senate Republicans Pass Historic Tax Cuts
On February 25th, the Mississippi House passed a $1.5 billion individual income tax cut proposal. House Bill 1629, sponsored by Rep. Brad Mayo (R-Oxford), will occur over a 15-year period beginning in Fiscal Year 2017 and will take place only if there is three percent revenue growth in each fiscal year. Currently, Mississippians pay a three percent income tax on their first $5,000 of income, four percent on the next $5,000 of income, and five percent on income over $10,000. With the passage of HB1629, the three percent income tax would be eliminated by 2019, the four percent income tax by 2022, and the five percent income tax by 2030. The bill represents the largest tax cut in Mississippi history.
The House’s passage of the income tax cut is on the heels of the Senate’s passage on February 24th of the Taxpayer’s Pay Raise Act, a $400 million tax relief plan sponsored by Senate Finance Chairman Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall). Senate Bill 2839 would eliminate the 3 percent tax bracket levied on individual income, reduces the overall tax burden on small business owners, and removes the investment penalty, or franchise tax, on businesses’ property and capital. The plan has been praised by Americans for Tax Reform and other prominent national groups.
Gov. Phil Byant, who called on the legislature to pass tax cuts before the legislative session began, praised the House and Senate for passing the bills. “Conservatives in Mississippi are united to give hard-working taxpayers more of their own money back to them. I look forward to signing a tax cut when it clears the Legislature, because both proposals will attract job creators to our state and help hard-working Mississippians,” remarked Bryant.
Governor Bryant’s “Mississippi Works”
Fund Approved by House and Senate
Gov. Phil Bryant’s initiative to create a $50-million workforce training fund by transferring money from the state unemployment trust fund, which has a surplus because of a drop in unemployment, has been approved by both the House and the Senate in the form of Senate Bill 2457. The workforce training fund would be managed by the State Workforce Investment Board and would be committed to training programs at community colleges.
Gov. Bryant applauded the House and Senate for approving the initiative: “Mississippi has one of the healthiest unemployment trust funds in the nation. Due to our state unemployment rate having gone down and the decreased demand on the unemployment fund, this bill will enable us to invest more in skills training at our community colleges and prepare Mississippi workers for building the future.”
The Mississippi Economic Council’s Blueprint Competitiveness Study had previously identified the need for more skilled labor in Mississippi and a centralized agency to manage workforce development.
Cochran and Wicker Vote to Override Obama Veto
of Keystone XL Pipeline
U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker both voted to override President Obama’s veto of legislation that would have approved the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The March 4 vote fell short of the two-thirds needed and the veto was sustained.
“Senators today had the opportunity to put job creation and America’s energy security above partisan interests, but Senate Democrats instead sided with President Obama and far-left environmental activists,” Wicker said. “By doing so, they have denied jobs to tens of thousands of Americans who are actively looking for work. This fight, however, is not over.”
According to the State Department, the project would support more than 42,000 jobs while having a minimal effect on the environment. The pipeline is projected to increase supply of North American energy through the shipment of more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Mississippi Republican Delegation Hears Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu Address to Congress; Bennie Thompson Refuses to Attend
All four Republican members of Mississippi’s federal delegation were in attendance as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently outlined to a joint session of Congress the threats posed by Islamic radicals and the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“It was an honor to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose remarks affirmed the importance of his country’s strategic alliance with the United States and the mutual threats to the security interests of both our nations. The Prime Minister’s speech served as a stark reminder of the dangers our nations must be ever-vigilant against. We share common interests in fighting against terrorist activities perpetrated by Islamic radicals and preventing Iran gaining nuclear weapon capabilities,” remarked Senator Thad Cochran.
Senator Wicker issued the following statement after hearing the address. “Israel remains one of America’s closest allies, and its security is imperative to U.S. interests and the future stability of the region. The bonds of our countries’ long-standing partnership should not be jeopardized by the Administration’s cold shoulder. As Mr. Netanyahu has stated, Israel is ‘a bipartisan issue.’ Israel deserves our continued support, commitment, and respect.”
Congressman Gregg Harper underscored the threat posed by Iran. “Iran is the most dangerous state sponsor or terrorism in the world and I appreciate a leader who recognizes the threat that exists. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has correctly stated that Iran must never be allowed to build a nuclear weapon,” said Harper. “America and Israel should have a shared goal to do whatever is necessary to prevent the threats we face from Iran and radical Islam. Why does our President insist on making a deal with Iran, a country that seeks to destroy both American and Israel? Iran has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted.
Congressman Steven Palazzo voiced his displeasure with the Democrats’ handling of negotiations. “This is not a partisan issue and I’m extremely disappointed in the administration and my Democrat colleagues in the House who have tried to make it one. This is about the survival of Israel as well as the security of our own nation. We must stand firm as a nation and work together with Israel to combat the threat of terrorism that endangers us all.”
Mississippi Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson joined other liberal Democrats in refusing to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address.