Officials prepare for 2015 legislative session

Published 7:00 am Sunday, January 4, 2015

Education, tax cuts and cleaning up governmental corruption are among the items on the table awaiting state legislators’ discussion during the upcoming 2015 session.

Tuesday, Jan. 6, the Mississippi legislature will go into session at noon in the state capital. State Senator Sally Doty (R-Brookhaven), who made the trip to Jackson on Jan. 2 to qualify for another term as senator for district 39, said education funding is always a hot topic.

“We’ll talk a lot about the appropriate level of funding,” Doty said. “I want to push for more funding for schools.”

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State representatives Bobby Moak (D-Bogue Chitto) and Becky Currie (R-Brookhaven) look forward to focusing on education this session as well.

“We left the last legislative session not fully funding education, so that’ll be on the front bumper,” Rep. Moak said. “I’d like to make sure local school districts get the appropriate money.”

Rep. Currie said she expects the education discussion to include dealing with common core and “working out where we are going to go on that.” She said a big focus of hers is making sure education is back where it needs to be in regards to funding and common core.

Continuing in the realm of education, Rep. Moak is looking to shine light on the bullying problems in schools by proposing a program that provides students a venue to anonymously report threatening behavior or activity endangering them or someone else.

“Bullying for whatever reason is not just physical,” Rep. Moak said in a recent news release. “That’s why I am introducing legislation that stipulates what constitutes bullying through the use of electronic devices. It is meant to protect our kids and teachers but reaches farther than just the school.

Rep. Moak is proposing a somewhat similar plan to target drug and alcohol use in communities by seeking to provide individuals immunity from criminal prosecution when they report, in good faith, to law enforcement, emergency or medical providers of an alcohol or drug overdose.

Another topic the legislature will likely discuss is tax cuts.

“We’ve filled the rainy day fund,” Rep. Currie said regarding last year’s session. “Now we’re looking at tax cuts for people.”

Sen. Doty said there are some different proposals out there, and she’s interested to see what those are.

“I want to see if we can get some money back in the taxpayers’ pockets,” she said.

The next big thing that all three area legislators expect to see brought forth this session is talks regarding the indictment of Chris Epps, former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner who was indicted in November of last year for accepting thousands of dollars in bribes for contracts for Cecil McCrory, an businessman from Brandon.

Rep. Moak explains some government agencies operate using Sole Source Contracts that are not under the same bid laws as other contracts and allows those agencies to give contracts without looking at a range of bids.

“I think there’re going to be a lot of bills because of the Chris Epps saga,” Rep. Currie said. “We’re going to do a lot to make sure things like that never happen again.”

Rep. Currie said whereas in the past authority figures like Epps have found a way to go around laws the legislature has created to combat actions like these, she believes a significant amount of attention will be given to making sure there is no wiggle room in the future.

“It’s going to be clamped down,” she said.

Rep. Moak mimic’s Rep. Curries sentiments.

“Shame on us if we don’t do that this legislative session,” Rep. Moak said about cracking down on conspiracy and fraud in state government agencies.

Other smaller things area legislators are expecting to talk about include funding for roads and bridges, which Sen. Doty and Rep. Moak said was important for the community, and looking at tourism and economics for the area, which Rep. Currie explained involved the train connecting Brookhaven, Bude, Meadville and Natchez.

“Last year, we secured the rainy day fund and established the highway patrol school,” Rep. Currie said. “We’re looking to have a good year.”