Although their work might be delayed, Mississippi legislators say they are excited to get things done come 2021.
On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, suggested that lawmakers consider postponing most of the 2021 session until March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Under the current schedule, the session will begin at noon on Jan. 5 and run through April 4. Republicans control both the House and Senate of the Legislature.
Hosemann said he thinks it would be best if legislators handle a few pressing matters come Tuesday and then leave the Capitol for the next three months.
A vote would have to be taken to postpone the session.
Many legislators and Hosemann tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this year.
This suggestion has caused split reactions from Greenwood area lawmakers.
Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, said via text message that she had spoken with Hosemann to express her concern with how this could affect some of the state’s decision makers.
“It doesn’t really affect someone like me who no longer has a business,” she said. “But there are many members of the Legislature who consider this as ‘part-time’ work. They make arrangements to be away from their businesses, farms and other work for the usual length of session. I hope their needs will be taken into consideration. We were able to conduct the Senate’s business last year by using safety protocols. I think we can proceed in a similar way this year.”
Likewise, Rep. Kevin Horan, R-Grenada, said he thinks postponing the session would not be the right move.
“I understand everyone’s concerns. But we are expecting teachers in classrooms and other government agencies to be at work, so I don’t know why we can’t be in the Capitol, getting things done with safety measures in place,” he said. “I think we need to go in.”
However, Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, disagrees with Horan and Chassaniol.
Jordan said delaying the session would be the safest move, saying he was “for it 100%.”
“I believe we will get better participation if we move it to March, April and May,” he said. “If we all rush back and people haven’t been vaccinated, it could cause problems.”
Regardless of whether the session is or isn’t postponed, these legislators say they are ready to get working on big ideas for the state.
Horan said he will be focusing on both transportation issues and criminal justice reform.
Saying he is trying to accomplish a comprehensive transportation plan, he explained, “I’d like to see at least a portion of a four-lane highway between Grenada and Greenwood complete.”
Horan, the chairman of the House Corrections Committee, also said he will be focusing on improving reentry programs in place to help those released from jails and prisons.
Chassaniol, who chairs the Senate’s Tourism Committee, said she has “been working on a number of projects” that primarily focus on ways to make the state’s parks more viable through tourism.
“We’ve been working with Visit Mississippi, the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the Department of Archives and History as we collect data about Mississippi’s parks and those from our neighboring states,” she said. “The current pandemic has caused tourists to search for outdoor venues, and we believe this is a good time to pursue the improvement of Mississippi’s state parks. There may be legislation introduced this year to move forward on this issue.”
Jordan said he agrees with that idea, adding that the state’s history could help bring visitors to the area. He also said he believes the new state flag will help bring in people to explore Mississippi and its ever-evolving history.
“I think it is going to help quite a bit,” he said. “Our municipalities could do better if their stories would be told — especially in the Mississippi Delta.”
Among the items Jordan hopes to bring forward, he said, are better funding for education and assistance for medical care facilities and staff. He said COVID-19 has highlighted faults in the state’s educational and health-care institutions.
“I hope we can fund education and hope we can get through this virus to get some sort of normalcy,” he said. “Education, and by all means, hospitals and mental health.”
Education has been a top priority for many state leaders.
On Tuesday, Hosemann said the most important issue he will be pushing is giving teachers a pay raise.
According to the most recent figures from the Southern Regional Education Board, Mississippi has some of the lowest teacher salaries in the country.
Last session, the Senate passed a bill to provide a $1,000 pay raise to most teachers and teachers’ assistants. The plan would have given raises of $1,100 to teachers in the first two years of their careers. The bill was thwarted due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosemann told the news media Tuesday that the Senate will start the 2021 session with the same teacher pay raise proposal as last year.
Rep. Solomon Osborne, D-Leflore County, could not be reached, and Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, declined to comment.
• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or email@example.com. On Twitter at @AdamBakst_GWCW.