JACKSON, Miss.–Wednesday night was a late one for Mississippi lawmakers, but they ended their 2014 legislative session after a special session called Wednesday to put 16 new assistant district attorney in areas where the case loads are high and to provide funding for transportation (MDOT, specifically).
Funding for transportation was voted down by the House earlier this week, with representatives angry about special projects added to the $908 million transportation budget in the Senate. The Senate kept those projects, but as a compromise the House got more money for local road construction.
The session ended on a sour note for supporters of the bill that would have given special needs children money to attend schools that might serve them better.
The session also ended without a texting and driving ban, which had passed earlier, but was killed at the last minute. The ban would have had you pay a $25 fine for the first offense and a $100 fine for the first offense, beginning in 2015.
Supporters of Medicaid expansion also left disappointed for the second year in a row. Under ObamaCare, Mississippi could make it possible to add 300,000 people to the rolls, a measure the governor and Republican leadership say the state cannot afford.
Governor Bryant’s camp sent out a news release detailing some of the items passed that were on his agenda for the year.
For public safety, the governor’s main focus for the session:
- Appropriating $6.9 million to conduct a school to train more Highway Patrol troopers. The current Highway Patrol force is approximately 150 officers short, and more than 120 officers serving on the force are retirement-eligible. The funding will provide training vehicles, uniforms, weapons and other equipment for about 60 new troopers. The funding will also cover the salaries for the new officers for the remainder of the fiscal year in which they graduate.
- Enacting comprehensive “Right on Crime” criminal justice reforms (House Bill 585) that will help Mississippi avoid about $266 million in projected increases to corrections costs over the next decade. The reforms included in the bill:
- Restore certainty and clarity to Mississippi’s sentencing system by establishing minimum percentages of sentences that inmates must serve before becoming eligible for release;
- Expand judicial discretion to impose research-proven alternatives to incarceration;
- Create statewide standards for drug courts and establish a veterans’ court system; and
- Ensure the quality and sustainability of the reforms by creating an oversight council and requiring the tracking of outcomes.
- Providing funding to hire 16 additional assistant district attorneys in high-case load districts throughout the state.
- Providing funding to cover relocation for the State Crime Lab as it transitions to a new, state-of-the art facility. The new facility will allow the lab to process more evidence for more cases.
- Adopting SB 2430, a measure to require DNA testing of certain felony offenders so law enforcement officials can determine if the offenders are linked to other open cases.
- Providing additional funding for Mississippi’s drug court system. Drug courts provide incarceration alternatives and treatment opportunities for low-level offenders. The courts are proven to help reduce recidivism.
“When I issued my Executive Budget Recommendation for fiscal year 2015, I urged lawmakers to take a financially responsible step and fill Mississippi’s Rainy Day Fund,” said Bryant. “We filled this savings account while I was lieutenant governor, and I am very pleased the Legislature has heeded my call to do so again. Instead of spending every dollar, we will put nearly $400 million in the state’s savings account if revenue collections meet expectations. This cushion will help protect our budget if the national economy begins to slow again.”
“My budget also modeled spending no one-time sources of revenue on recurring expenses. Paying recurring bills with one-time funding sources can lead to fiscal cliffs and budget shortfalls, and it can also negatively impact Mississippi’s credit rating. I appreciate the Legislature’s effort in passing a budget that follows this same fiscally conservative practice.”
Bryant also said improving the economy was high on his list.
The Legislature adopted additional measures supported by Bryant, including bills to:
- · strengthen Mississippi’s pro-business jobs and economic development climate,
- · require public colleges and universities to develop plans to address teen pregnancy among students (SB 2563),
- · provide $1.3 million to allow high school juniors to take the ACT test in lieu of other high school exit exams,
- · protect gun owner rights (House Bill 314) and provide a sales tax holiday for sportsmen and sportswomen (SB 2425),
- · require drug screenings for TANF applicants (House Bill 49),
- · ban abortions after 20 weeks (HB 1400),
- · and add the national motto “In God We Trust” to the Mississippi state seal (SB 2681).
“All in all, this has been a very productive, positive session for Mississippi, and I appreciate the leadership of House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The legislative process is not always easy, and I thank these two dynamic leaders for their efforts on behalf of Mississippians,” said Bryant.