Area lawmakers recap recent legislative actions

After rejecting spending bills from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, lawmakers may have to return to the capitol for a special session to re-negotiate the legislation. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said lawmakers also have a few other items that have to be finalized.

Mississippi lawmakers worked through the weekend to push legislation through that would bring more money to teachers, state employees, create the addition of state trooper schools and increase Medicaid benefits.

Lawmakers will agree to a $6.4 billion state budget that includes $215 million more in spending than previous estimates called for in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson.

Gov. Phil Bryant has said this budget is in keeping with three guiding principles: “spending prudently, saving for the future and prioritizing the core functions of government.”

Moak said he rejected the spending bill because it did not cover Mississippi as a whole.

“I don’t know about the individual projects that were in the bill,” Moak said, “But, I’m sure those are valid projects, but you also have to take care of the entirety of the state. And, you should not use the legislative process for your own personal funding of highway, colleges or other projects.

“I think local road and bridges need to be taken care of. That’s what our county supervisors are telling us that they need. That’s where we need the money – to take care of bridges and infrastructure at the local level.”

Moak and Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, work together on many items of legislation for the state of Mississippi, but on Medicaid they have a difference of opinion.

“I think that the Medicaid bill will pass exactly as is,” Moak said. “It will be exactly the same bill as what the senate sent over a few weeks ago.”

Moak believes that by not passing the Medicaid extension legislation the state will be bypassing millions of dollars for healthcare providers.

“Forty-nine of us [in the House] voted to concur with the senate’s position,” which provides for Mississippi-CAN to manage the program – we got back exactly what we sent to the senate,” Moak said.

However, Currie believes the legislation is going to stall in the legislature because of the plan to increase Medicaid benefits.

“The hang-up is on the managed care part of the bill,” she explained. “We can not come to an agreement on Medicaid’s managed care. The reason we cannot agree is that we have a managed care program that is being run by a company, without any accountability. Republicans do not want to agree to the bill that proposes that 70 percent of Medicaid recipients be under managed care – right now 45 percent of Medicaid recipients are under managed care, and there are serious questions about whether or not the people who are on Medicaid now are getting the proper care.”

The Mississippi Coordinated Access Network Currie questions is the company that has been contracted by Mississippi Division of Medicaid to manage the state’s Medicaid program. She has been attempting to get the company to pay entities like King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven and Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center in McComb.

“Mississippi-CAN has not fulfilled three main items in their contract,” Currie said, ” – paying their bills, ensuring that recipients receive proper care and reporting to the state.

“They are not paying our local healthcare providers, so why would I sign a bill saying they get more money? We do not need to fund Mississippi-CAN anymore until they are held accountable for what they are doing with state Medicaid funds,” Currie said.

Currie and Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, both believe taxpayers will be happy overall with what legislators come out with in the end. But, Moak feels that too many Mississippians will not be getting a fair deal when it comes to raises for state employees.

Currie said the April 6 deadline for this year’s legislative session will likely change – “I have already heard about requests to push out the deadline.”

“What I can tell you now is that conference bills are coming out and being signed,” she said. “I just signed a bill for the department of transportation for new trooper schools. And, so far teachers look like they are going to get a pay raise. We were fair and meticulous with spending taxpayers’ money.

“We will have money in case of emergencies, and we are going to be able to pay our bills,” she added.

Teachers will get a $2,500 raise over two years. They will receive $1,500 across the board the first year, a $1,000 raise the second year and there will be a merit-system based pay following that.

Though Moak is glad to see teachers getting a pay raise, he said that workers across the board are deserving as well.

“There’s a $1,000 pay raise in the budget for state employees making under $30,000,” he said, “But, that equates to very little spending. I propose treating every body fairly. People making 31,000 will deserve a $1,000 pay raise ….

“Its an attempt by lawmakers to say, ‘Hey, we are giving a pay raise,’ without really spending that much money, and I don’t think you can say you are giving state employees a raise when it’s such a small segment of people that are getting the raise,” Moak said.

He said the new troopers school will be good for Mississippi and that the funds will come from MDOT monies.

“I think that’s a good program I think that $3.5 to $6.8 million will be in the DOT’s budget and not a single piece of legislation will have to be passed to get it funded.”

Doty said this year’s legislative work has been an accomplishment.

“There will be a significant teachers pay raise, and I think people will be very pleased with what their lawmakers are doing for them,” Doty said. She said the change in revenue numbers has meant an adjustment, but worth the work.

“The revenue estimate was revised just 10 days ago,” Doty said. “But, with this new information the house and the senate have had some new information to work with and they are working down to the wire. It’s been a very busy session. We – me, Moak and Currie, have all worked together and we have come out with some good things for Lincoln County and the state of Mississippi.”

Doty has seen other Lincoln Countians at the capital this year, too.

“It is very rewarding to me to see so many people in Lincoln County come to work on legislation at the capitol, like Sheriff Steve Rushing, who came in to help push legislation about a sheriff’s pay raise, which was all about helping the smaller counties get the pay raises they needed. We reworked those population brackets to make it a more even-handed pay scale. And, Judge Mike Taylor – he is there speaking to issues like drug court, and we are in the middle of redistricting and he is someone the people in Mississippi’s supreme court know they can go to.”

Moak said there are a few other pieces of legislation that need to be finalized during the final special session.

“There is a piece of religious liberties legislation which has a possibility of crashing, and that’s because I believe the bill has little to nothing to do with the Religious Liberties Act.

“And there is current proposed legislation on abortion that will land us in federal court – we will be immediately taken to federal court – if it is adopted. It is exactly like the Arizona bill, and that is where Arizona is with it. So, I do not see that bill passing.”

Lawmakers are returning to the capital today to finalize legislation and the state’s $6.4 billion budget for the budget year that begins July 1.