With more and more meetings being done virtually, COVID-19 cases continue to cause concern at the capitol.
During a press briefing, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann explained that four Senators have tested positive for the virus with additional members out due to contact tracing following conversations with the Department of Health.
Hosemann, who initially pushed for a delay to session in hopes of allowing time for the vaccine rollout to build, explained that each of the positive cases are committee chairmen and that the chamber is working to ensure those members can do as much as they can virtually.
“I’m sorry to see my senators being sick here; Republicans Democrats, It’s nonpartisan. I’m very concerned. The rules committee did a good job coming up with Zoom meeting, but they’re still moving through here. Our Senators are dedicated to the work of the people, so they want to talk to someone about ‘my bill’ coming out of ‘your committee’ and that’s still ongoing,” Hosemann said before detailing the strict protocols that are being followed. “Even with that.. we’ve got 10% of my audience down.”
A fifth Senator has returned with the help of oxygen.
On the business end, Hosemann spoke on the teacher pay raise recently passed by the Senate, stating the House will likely have their own version of the bill introduced and that the two sides will work together to get a bill passed this session. The Senate bill raises the starting salary for Mississippi teachers to $37,000 and provides a $1,000 raise to current teachers.
During his State of the State Address Tuesday, Governor Tate Reeves reiterated his desire to see the income tax eliminated in Mississippi. While Hosemann supports this cause, he says it’s not that simple as the income tax accounts for nearly 1/3 of the state budget—approximately $2 billion.
“I’d like to eliminate all taxes, but we have to pay teachers, it costs $2 billion to educate our children and we’re not paying enough of it. We have roads and bridges that are out. I’ve got a healthcare system that needs to be more effective and available to people,” he said.
Hosemann did state that lawmakers will look to restructure state government in ways that taxes can be reduced, whether it’s income tax, grocery tax, or use tax.
Another priority heading into the session for the Lt. Governor was the revamping of the state park system in Mississippi. A bill introduced aims to create a partnership with the private industry to do just that.
We don’t have adequate places for our people to go with their trailer and take their family fishing. It is archaic, we have ignored too long the normal operating expenses and things we need to be doing to have a viable state park system,” Hosemann said.
The Lt. Governor also voiced his backing for the bill introduced aiming to implement a computer science curriculum in k-12 schools across Mississippi and a bill to potentially speed up the process of launching a medical marijuana program in the state.