A look at three state representatives and their goals for 2017

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The 2017 Mississippi Legislative session convened last week as lawmakers worked to file their respective bills before the deadline approaches on Monday.

Pearl River County representatives are putting together a variety of legislation, some they have been pushing for years while some concern new issues.

Rep. Mark Formby of Picayune is beginning his 25th year as a state legislator, now as part of the majority party.

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“For the first 18 years I was in the minority,” Formby said. “I spent 18 years really working to get bills passed, and working against the flow.”

Since Gov. Phil Bryant was elected five years ago, the majority party has switched, Formby said.

“I think in the first 18 years I had three or four bills signed by a governor…and 60 signed by this governor in the last five years,” he said.

During the 2017 session, Formby said he wants to focus on a number of areas, including transportation, education and criminal penalties.

Some of those bills include requiring the Mississippi Department of Transportation install rumble strips on every new overlay and mandate vehicles in the left lane of all highways merge right and yield to all emergency vehicles, including private vehicles using hazard lights.

Formby said these measures will ensure continued safety of other drivers.

“It’s one of the simplest things we can do that can save a ton of lives,” he said.

While state law currently states vehicles must move from the left lane so emergency vehicles can pass, Formby said the bill would expand the measure to include private vehicles experiencing an emergency situation such as a heart attack or seizure and need a clear roadway to the hospital.

In terms of education, Formby is again supporting a number of bills that would reduce mandated public school days to 170 instead of 185, and require the school year to begin later as a way to reduce student’s exposure to the heat.

Formby is also advocating for a bill that would allow homeschooled children living within a school district to participate in extracurricular activities and enroll in certain classes at the school that would further their education.

On the criminal side, Formby said he supports legislation that would keep habitual criminals in prison to prevent future crimes from being committed. He is also advocating for increased penalties for drunk drivers involved in an accident while their license was already suspended due to a previous DUI conviction.

State Senator Angela Burks Hill of Picayune said she is gaining traction on her bill that would increase penalties for the abuse of dogs and cats.

Burks also introduced a companion bill that she said would add domestic pets to protective orders, allowing a judge to remove a pet from an abusive situation during a domestic violence case, or rule that the defendant cannot dispose of or harm the animal.

As part of efforts to increase transparency in locally elected offices, Burks is supporting a bill that would mandate campaign finance reports be available on county and municipal websites, thereby increasing free public access to those documents.

In the same regard, Burks said she hopes to make judicial performance review proceedings subject to public meeting laws as most states already do.

In the education sector, Burks said she refilled a bill to replace common core standards with higher quality in response to a drop in national test scores.

Burks is also advocating for further protection of medical professionals involved in childbirth. Her proposed bill would give added legal protection to a doctor from that delivered a child born with an unexpected disability.

State Sen. Joseph Mike Seymour is also proposing a significant amount of legislation concerning agriculture, livestock, taxes and Second Amendment rights.

Seymour said one of his priorities is amending homestead exemptions to those 65 years or older, or totally disabled, that would freeze their property taxes.

Doing so would allow those that qualify to have a consistent tax rate for the rest of their lives, he said.

Seymour said he hopes to limit the power of agencies to regulate firearms during hunting season. Specifically, he hopes to repeal the mandate that says a person may not carry a loaded gun in a car or truck during hunting season. Seymour said this limits a person’s civil rights and an agency shouldn’t oversee that.

While ongoing complaints have stemmed from confusion in the Department of Human Services and Child Protective Services, Seymour said he hopes to eliminate some roadblocks by allowing legislators to file for releases of confidential paperwork. This would allow legislators to assist with custody issues in the court system.

Other local legislators were not available for comment by press time on Tuesday.

About Julia Arenstam

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