Legislative session passes many bills

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 4, 2015

During the 2015 Mississippi legislative session, state lawmakers implemented reforms to state contracting procedures, developed a program to benefit students with special needs and clarified Second Amendment protections.
According to a release from the Governor’s office, House Bill 825 boosts accountability of state contracting procedures. The bill replaces some government employees on the Personal Services Contract Review Board with objective outside appointees and lowers the threshold for contract scrutiny from contracts valued at $100,000 or more to those valued at $75,000 or more and executes tighter rules for sole source contact granting, the release states.
According to Senate Bill 2400, state agencies cannot immediately enter into an emergency contract for commodities, instead they must have prior approval from the Department of Finance and Administration, with the exception of cases where threats to life and property exist.
“I appreciate the Legislature for passing measures to strengthen Mississippi’s contracting procedures,” Governor Phil Bryant said in the release. “We are entrusted with the responsibility for 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.”
Senate Bill 2695 is known as the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, the release states. This pilot program is designed to provide scholarships to special needs students for educational expense. Participating students will receive a $6,500 scholarship to offset the costs of educational therapies, tutoring and tuition at a private school, in the event that the public school is not meeting the needs of the student.
According to the release, the graduation rate for students with special needs in Mississippi public schools is 22.5 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,” Bryant said in the release. “We have worked for two years to pass this bill and I am very proud to finally see it on my desk this year.”
During the upcoming fiscal year, Mississippi is primed to adopt an estimated $6.3 billion budget, the release states. The majority of this revenue will be directed to K-12 public education and also increase funding for the state’s public community and junior colleges and public universities.
Senate Bill 2394 provides clarification to Mississippians’ rights to bear arms. According to the bill, residents can carry a non-holstered pistol or revolver in a handbag, briefcase or other enclosed case.
Senate Bill 2619 allows military training to count towards requirements for enhanced concealed carry permits and provides protection for state gun owners from federal overregulation of ammunition, the release states.
“The right to keep and bear arms is one of the cornerstones of freedom,” Bryant said in the release. “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 gives the green light for a pay increase for on-the-road troopers in the Mississippi Highway Patrol and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents, the release states.
District 47 State Senator Tony Smith said he always enjoys working on bills like Senate Bill 2500.
“This bill created a salary scale for these public officers,” Smith said. “They have never had a pay scale and will be able to see what they will make, based on rank, five or ten years down the road.”
The state is set to 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 release states. The shipyard will utilize the funds to initiate improvements designed to secure more Navy shipbuilding contracts. The Baston Children’s Hospital’s expansion will include new neonatal intensive care beds, a children’s heart center and upgraded surgical suites.

Further highlights of the 2015 legislative session include:
–– $1 million for the prevention of infant mortality.
–– House Bill 215 recognizes the medical licenses of retired military physicians and physician assistants so they may practice in Mississippi on a volunteer basis.
–– $200 million for transportation infrastructure, including bridges.
–– Senate Bill 2407 aims to increase transparency at publicly owned hospitals.
–– Senate Bill 2127 would waive out-of-state college tuition for eligible military veterans and their dependents.
–– House Bill 1127 would restrict Mississippi’s financial involvement with any person or company that conducts significant energy-related business with Iran.

“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,” Bryant said in the release. “Unfortunately, we were not able to reach a consensus on these issues.”
Smith said there were three things he was disappointed in this year. The first being that legislators failed to give taxpayers a tax cut because leadership could not agree on a bill, he said.
“The second was Senate Bill 2161, which deals with common core,” Smith said. “It passed with an amendment. It didn’t end common core, but rather created a task force to make recommendations to the Mississippi State Board of Education.”
Smith said there is about $50 million from the workforce training tax that could be released to colleges for workforce training.
Bryant said in the release that legislators were unable to reach an agreement on using excess unemployment funds for workforce training.
“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,” Bryant said in the release.

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