The 2013 legislative session temporarily drew to close today. Because lawmakers failed to renew the state Medicaid program, Gov. Phil Bryant will have to call a special session sometime before July 1. Anyhow, a lot of people had stuff to say, mostly through emailed press statements.
Here's a flavor from around the Capitol:
From Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves:
JACKSON – The 2013 legislative session brought landmark education reforms, including public charter schools and rigorous literacy standards for students, a conservative $5.7 billion budget for fiscal year 2014 and new laws aimed at strengthening and protecting families, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said today.
Of the new measures enacted, key items include legislation allowing a grant program to help schools hire trained law enforcement officers, increased funding for all levels of education and protection of Mississippians’ Second Amendment Rights.
“During the 2013 session, the Senate addressed issues that will have an impact on the state for many years to come, and I appreciate each member of the Senate who worked hard to ensure Mississippi stays on the road to economic recovery and continues to encourage the creation of better, higher-paying jobs,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “I appreciate working with Speaker Gunn to enact strong, conservative policies to push Mississippi forward.”
Key notes from the 2013 legislative session include:
Improving public education
The 2013 session will be remembered for the successful efforts to reform education and raise academic achievement for every student. The first steps toward school choice were made with the creation of public charter schools and legislation to end social promotion of students who cannot read at grade level.
“Mississippi students will rise up to meet these new standards for academic achievement, and parents will respond by demanding better from principals and teachers, many of whom work hard for public education every day,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “A quality education provides a stronger foundation for a well-trained workforce to grow Mississippi. We need graduates who are ready for highly skilled careers that pay well and will keep our children and grandchildren in Mississippi.”
The Legislature approved House Bill 369 creating public charter schools in D- and F-rated school districts with approval from a state authorizing board. School boards in districts rated as A, B or C can veto a public charter school application and deny giving parents educational choice. While Lt. Gov. Reeves pushed for a stronger public charter school law, he believes the new law will help foster demand for school choice across Mississippi.
Other measures passed include Senate Bill 2347, a “Third-Grade Gate” that measures literacy skills for students in Kindergarten through third grade, provides intervention programs for students needing assistance and requires third-grade students to meet reading standards before moving to the fourth grade. Gov. Phil Bryant’s Education Works package, Senate Bill 2658, established a $15,000 scholarship for students who score at least a 28 on the ACT and a 3.5 GPA and plan to enroll in a teacher education program. It also requires high schools with graduation rates lower than 80 percent to submit an improvement plan to the state Department of Education.
Senate Bill 2395 provides matching funds to local early childhood education programs through school districts, private and parochial schools, private childcare centers, and Head Start. Communities that have participated in programs like Excel by 5, Mississippi Building Blocks, and other proven education programs will be given special consideration to receive state funds. Individuals and companies also may donate to local programs.
Reducing debt, controlling spending The Legislature adopted a $5.7 billion budget that prioritized public schools and higher education while keeping spending low. The budget for Fiscal Year 2014, which begins July 1, spends about 2 percent over the current fiscal year and sets aside almost $250 million in the state’s savings account.
The budget added $48.6 million to public education and a total of $53.6 million more to community colleges and universities. The Legislature will spend nearly $35 million on building repairs and technology upgrades rather than issuing debt to cover these expenses, as it has done in previous years.
The state will repeal more than $220 million in unissued bonds and is scheduled to pay off roughly $240 million worth of debt this fiscal year. The $199 million bond package includes the new medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the nursing school at the University of Southern Mississippi and economic development projects.
The budget included:
- $2.32 billion for the Department of Education, a $48 million increase over the current year. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program Formula will receive $2.06 billion.
- $246.9 million for Community and Junior Colleges, $9.5 million more than the current year.
- $713.9 million for the Institutions for Higher Learning, a $44 million increase over this year. Student Financial Aid received $36.2 million, or $6.7 million more than this year.
- $72.8 million for the Department of Public Safety, a $3.4 million increase over this year. The budget provides raises for the Highway Patrol.
- $840 million for the Division of Medicaid, an increase of $18.4 million over the current year. Legislators expect to reauthorize the agency before the fiscal year ends.
- $337 million for the Department of Corrections, which is $26 million more than this year.
Improving safety in community, schools The Legislature passed several measures to improve public safety and add protection for Mississippi students.
The legislature created the offense of attempted murder, which is a new offense in Mississippi. Under House Bill 28, those who are convicted of planning or unsuccessfully attempting to commit murder will receive a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. Current law was ambiguous and those who attempted murder often faced a wide range of charges and sentences that, many times, did not fit the crime. This new law rectifies the situation and ensures that these offenders receive the sentence they deserve.
Senate Bill 2732, known as Lenora’s Law named in honor of the late Lenora Edhegard, allows the Department of Corrections to track sex offenders who are released early using GPS monitoring devices. These devices allow the Department of Corrections to constantly monitor the offenders throughout the remainder of their sentence.
Lt. Gov. Reeves’ Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services program will establish a $5.5 million grant program at the Mississippi Department of Education that will provide up to $10,000 to pay for a certified law enforcement officer at a public school. The local community will fund the remaining costs. Law enforcement officers will be required to train in the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program, which is used by law enforcement nationwide to train officers on responding to shooting incidents.
Lt. Gov. Reeves’ other school safety measure became law earlier this month. Gov. Bryant signed Senate Bill 2647, which required Mississippi courts to report findings of mental incompetence to the FBI’s background check system to ensure individuals with a history of mental illness cannot purchase firearms in accordance with federal law. Sixteen states require courts to provide mental health information to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, including Alabama, Georgia and Texas.
Protecting Second Amendment Rights The Legislature passed several bills supported by the National Rifle Association. House Bill 485 ensures information related to concealed carry permit holders is exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act. Law enforcement will be allowed to share information regarding applicants and permit holders to determine eligibility to have a concealed carry permit. House Bill 2 clarifies state laws allowing Mississippians to carry concealed weapons. Senate Bill 2048 expands the opportunities for hunters to use crossbows in archery and primitive weapons seasons regardless of physical ability.
Strengthening Mississippi values
Several measures also help support Mississippi families, prayer and women’s health. For families who want to open their home to adopted children, the adoption process will be more affordable. Senate Bill 2833 allows families to claim a tax credit for adoption expenses the same year the child is claimed as an exemption.
The Mississippi Student Religious Liberties Act ensures students can express their faith in school, gives them the ability to organize faith-based activities and groups, and allows students to express religious viewpoints in their assignments.
The Women’s Health Defense Act regulates the use of abortion inducing drugs and requires that they be administered in the presence of a physician, as the Food and Drug Administration recommends. The bill also outlaws “telemed” abortions, in which abortion-inducing drugs are dispensed by a doctor who is present only through the use of technology such as video conferencing. Some could use this as a new avenue for abortions, especially now as the status of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic is in question, but this bill makes the procedure illegal.
House Medicaid Committee Chairman Bobby Howell, R-Kilmichael
Earlier in the 2013 session, on January 31st and again on February 15th, the Democrats in the Mississippi House of Representatives voted against the reauthorization of the Division of Medicaid which is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2013.
On Sunday, March 31st and on Monday, April 1st, 2013, the Democrats again voted to kill the Medicaid program by voting against the $ 5.39 billion dollar appropriation that would fund Medicaid in our state for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. They stated their reason for voting against Medicaid was that they wanted to expand Medicaid for the adult population age 21 through 65 who earn less than 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). This is an option under the federal Affordable Care Act often referred to as Obamacare.
This is an understandable goal for the Democratic party, but the simple fact is they are choosing to sacrifice the existing Medicaid program which serves children, aged, blind and disabled, nursing home patients and various other Medicaid programs to make a political statement.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we will already add upwards of 90,000 more Mississippians to Medicaid, just by adhering to its mandates. This will increase the total enrollment in our state to around 730,000 persons and another 70,000 children in the CHIPS program.
Many of us believe that we need much more information from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services before taking on upward to 300,000 more ADULTS to our Medicaid program. The 100% match money promised for the first 3 years is appealing but the long term projection is that costs would far exceed initial benefits in the out years. Without the new ACA mandates, state dollar contributions to our Medicaid program has increased by $288 million dollars since 2009. The budget that we presented was nearly $850 million in state dollars and was about $90 million dollars SHORT of what the division requested. This amount included $32 million dollars to pay for the new Federal ACA mandates.
We need time to study the effects of expanding Medicaid to 300,000 additional adults from age 21 to 65 in our state. There are issues related to funding for our Hospitals and Nursing Homes, but no one is certain of exactly how much money is involved. As Chairman of Medicaid, I receive new information weekly that should be considered as we try to make sound decisions about our Medicaid program. There is simply no logical reason that we should put our Medicaid program in jeopardy with these political antics.
The Division of Medicaid is required by law to give written notice to beneficiaries and providers prior to any changes in the program. Those letters will be mailed soon and it is a shame that the Democratic members of the House of Representatives are willing to put our most vulnerable citizens through this anguish and uncertainty.
We should come together and pass the existing Medicaid reauthorization and funding package so that our current enrollees don’t have to wring their hands in worry for the next three months. This is not the way to treat our most vulnerable population.
Bobby B. Howell Chairman, Medicaid
Mississippi House Democratic Caucus
Jackson, MS- The House adjourned for the session today leaving in limbo the funding and reauthorization of the state Medicaid program. At the beginning of the session Democrats made it clear to the Governor and to the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives that they wanted a conversation and an up or down vote on the most important issue in generations -- Medicaid expansion and alternative healthcare for 300,000 Mississippians. The Governor and House leadership refused to even allow a discussion of this critical issue and this obstinate refusal has resulted in the failure of the legislature to reauthorize or fund the Medicaid program.
Statement from House Democratic Caucus Leader Bobby Moak (D-Bogue Chitto):
“The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Governor Phil Bryant. The Mississippi Senate sent to the House its Medicaid reauthorization bill that would have allowed a vote on Medicaid expansion. In an unprecedented move, the Speaker of the House sent the Senate bill to the Rules Committee, bypassing his handpicked Medicaid Committee, where it was killed. Democrats made at least 35 attempts to have the bill considered by the Republican leadership by introducing resolutions to revive the legislation. Republicans killed the resolutions with no other responses to Democratic offers to compromise.”
Democrats offered to agree to a reauthorization of the program with expansion only if certain triggers were activated and the offer was not deemed worthy of a response from the House leadership. Democrats also offered to House Republican leadership a plan to reauthorize Medicaid for a short period so that the Governor could obtain the information he says he is lacking and to then vote on expansion, but this offer too was met with no response.
During this time the Democratic leadership also appealed for compromise to the Governor. No response was ever forthcoming from the Governor other than press releases and statements to the press indicating that he was opposed to alternative healthcare for working families.
At least 24 organizations including the following groups joined together to support the position and votes Democrats took during the session in attempting to offer alternative healthcare in opposition to the stand of the Governor and Republican House Leadership.
AARP American Cancer Society Action Network – MS Chapter American Lung Association – MS Chapter American Heart Association – MS Chapter Catholic Charities CLA Healthcare Consultants, Inc. Forest General Hospital Just Advocacy of Mississippi Leukemia Lymphoma Society – MS Chapter Mississippi Center for Justice MS Economic Policy Center MS Health Advocacy Program MS Hospital Association MS Human Services Coalition MS Religious Leadership Conference MS State Conference of the NAACP National Alliance of Mental Illness – MS National Association of Social Workers – MS Chapter Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi Public Policy Center of Mississippi Southern Echo Southern Poverty Law Center Southern Regional Office of the Children’s Defense Fund
No groups or organizations have come forward supporting the governor's position. Only our Governor and Republican legislative leadership have stood as opposition, stating there are not enough votes to pass the expansion measure. These statements stretch credulity, however, as if there are insufficient votes to pass expansion why not allow a debate and an up or down vote. Democrats have publicly challenged the Republican leadership and the silence has been deafening.
Democrats will continue to work toward expansion of healthcare for everyone by pushing for a vote on the issue. Democrats stand firm in the position that Mississippi needs the $10-$15 billion dollar infusion into the program and the 9000 jobs that will be created. Democrats wanted to have that vote during the regular session, but now Republicans have forced a special session costing $30 thousand dollars per day, putting 700 thousand Medicaid recipients at risk and jeopardizing the healthcare of 300 thousand more Mississippians. Additionally, if no action is taken you will likely begin to see mass layoffs at Mississippi hospitals, or hospital closures.