More comments from some of South Mississippis legislative delegation about the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 3:
What we think we will be focused on is not always what we end up focused on With our freshmen, I see sharp, well-prepared philosophically intact individuals who have expressed a desire to come up ready to work Its a big task, but we have a very capable speaker elect (Philip Gunn). He is talking to Republicans, Democrats, blacks, whites, liberals and conservatives, and mapping out his plans One big issue for me is going to be with corrections. We have continued to underfund the Department of Corrections, which means leaving criminals out on the streets or turning them out after they serve a fraction of their sentences Some of the complaint is the cost of keeping them in, but I try to impress on people the cost of letting them out. My aunt was murdered by a repeat offender that I much rather would have house at $35,000 a year. He killed five people before he got to her Judges and law enforcement are also frustrated.
Rep. Mark Formby, R, District 108, House since 1993
We heard a presentation last week from the head of Medicaid for Mississippi. For 2013, we are going to need $780 million for the states match. One year later, under the current plan with no changes, itll be a $90 million increase. And if you go out eight years, almost a billion dollars more ... I dont know how you get there from here. Those are numbers that are mindboggling, almost falling into the unsustainable category ... I think one thing we'll see move back to the front burner is increasing the homestead exemption ... In Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties, we have seen significant increases in values for homes since it was last changed in '98 or '99, even with the economy. There is continued discussion on raising it to some level, $100,000 or indexed in some way. That would help a lot of retirees on fixed incomes. But then the county is required to write some of that value off its books and doesn't collect the taxes. There has to be a happy medium on that somewhere.
Rep. Manly Barton, R, District 109, incoming freshman
Homebuilders are really struggling, for many reasons, but No. 1, the housing market; No. 2, insurance; No. 3, stricter codes. Those guys need some help, need incentives to bring people back to the Coast and rebuild on all those abandoned lots ... Id like to exempt all the materials used in single-family homes south of I-10 from the state sales tax. That would almost pay for the uptick in what they pay for more stringent codes. Were already working with municipalities to try to do away with sewage and water hookup fees not legislation, but conversations at the state and local level.
Rep. Charles Busby, R, District 111, incoming freshman
With the budget, we are still in a precarious situation with revenue -- we did not meet our estimate for November. We have the Medicaid statute repealing, and were faced with Obamacare and the deadline this year on the healthcare exchange. This is going to be a huge issue and Medicaid is going to take up a lot of our time.
Rep. Hank Zuber, R, District 113, House since 2000
Im looking forward to the session. I want to get up ther and get all this politicking behind us and everybody get up there and work for the betterment of the state, and everybody get along Weve got to get a handle on insurance, find ways to get more companies down here writing policies.
Rep. Randall Patterson, D, District 115, House since 2004
I dont know all of the answers for education, but from what Ive seen spending is up 400 percent over the last several years but test scores have gone up less than 1 percent. If you were running a business and getting a return like that, you would have to do something different ... I do believe charter schools will have a good chance and be something looked at this year. I would like to be a little more educated on how theyll work, but I think there is a need in some parts of Mississippi for charter schools.
Rep. Casey Eure, R, District 116, served since 2010
Healthcare is a major issue for this state and weve got to do whats best for taxpayers and make sure we can afford everything we do We are facing a lot of challenges I do think South Mississippi will have a very strong seat at the leadership table.
Rep. Scott DeLano, R, District 117, House since 2010
As of July 1 of the coming year, Mississippi is requiring each school district implement abstinence or abstinence-plus curriculum. With Mississippi the state leading in teenage pregnancy, that is something I will be looking into to see if anything needs to change in that bill to make sure we are effectively and aggressively dealing with the issue. Im a founding member of Saving Our Sisters, so thats a passion of mine, and its everyones problem.
Rep. Sonya Williams Barnes, D, District 119, incoming freshman
People are ready for positive things, ready to see us work together, both Republicans and Democrats here on the Coast. We have all been talking about how we will work together Im really excited about the people Im going to be up there with At the end of the day, I think the budget is going to be the hardest thing we deal with Like Hank Bounds said, so far, its been like trying to take a sip from a fire hydrant.
Rep. Carolyn Crawford, R, District 121, incoming freshman
This is going to be a tough one. We dont have any more of the one-time money from the federal government that we used to plug holes last year. The leadership is going to have to look long and hard and figure out how to patch the budget together with duct tape and bailing wire ... My focus will continue to be on insurance, but weve also got to make sure education is adequately funded and make sure PERS remains solvent but at the same time that we dont reneg on promises made to county and state employees.
Rep. David Baria, D, District 122, incoming freshman, previously served in Senate
For me, as an attorney, I want to look at our criminal law and see if there are things we can improve ... Ive got a couple of things Im putting together, really just laws that need modification. One is vulnerable adults exploitation. The Supreme Court just overturned a criminal conviction because of problems with the law as written ... There are a lot of issues for the Coast, but the budget is going to be one of the biggest things.
Sen. Sean Tindell, R, District 49, incoming freshman
One is a bill Ive introduced the last three years requiring drug tests before you can receive public assistance, and also verifying the citizenship for assistance ... We also have two insurance pieces. One is a catastrophic savings account, which allows people to set up tax-deductible accounts, correlated to what their deductible would be, then use that money to cover deductibles. Thats not a huge thing, but every small bit helps. The other is a clarification, spefically when a higher hurricane deductible kicks in. From what Ive heard, sometimes folks get hit with higher deductibles when they shouldnt have With education, charter schools will be a big issue. This will be the fourth year in a row Ive submitted legislation on it. I feel like this is the year that we can get them Im also pushing for opportunity scholarships, which other states are doing. The funding mechanism is businesses can be given tax credits when they put money into a scholarship fund. Students with disabilities can use this to attend schools more directed toward their disabilities, and students in challenged schools can use them to help get into a better school We also need to make all school board members elected and superintendents appointed. A lot of time the better superintendents are not the best politicians.
Sen. Michael Watson, R, District 51, Senate since 2008
Whats on everybodys mind is economic development. Our district is kind of handicapped without having rail service from Waynesboro south, and north is rated only 5 mph. It needs to be upgraded from Waynesboro to Meridian, and we have a commission working from Waynesboro south to tie in George County, the state port and mobile. Our local leaders have been working on this several years ... Otherwise, its just going to be difficult balancing our fiscal needs with the money coming in, but I realize tax increases are out of the question. But Im optimistic. We have a lot of folks very energetic and enthused about the upcoming session and all working together.
Sen. Phillip Gandy, R, District 43, incoming freshman
For one thing, weve got to address and take care of redistricting. It cannot be left in limbo any more. For the bottom three counties, weve got to figure out a way to alleviate the high cost of insurance ... I own a pest control company, and do home inspections, so we get a leading edge feel of what the economy is doing and why, and the cost of insurance is a big part of why rebuilding isnt not better than it is ... Weve got to lower taxes an insurance costs.
Sen. Philip Moran, R, District 46, incoming freshman
Im reintroducing a bill to catalogue and quantify the value of our natural resources, as other states have done. That is something we need, as we are doing the BP restoration, and with permitting decisions and urban planning going on ... I also plan to fight the fight on voter ID. I might be able to go along with the bad parts of is, such as the costs, which have never really been quantified, if we could have some improvements such as voting on Saturdays, mail-in voting, and things that make voting easier.
Sen. Debbie Dawkins, D, District 48, Senate since 2000