OXFORD — As usual, the Mississippi Legislature has significant issues it should address this year along with proposed legislation that could best be thrown in the waste basket.
The state badly needs to expand Medicaid to cover more of its working poor citizens, but that seems unlikely to occur. Gov. Tate Reeves and the majority of the Republican-dominated Legislature apparently have no appetite for it. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, to his credit, has expressed interest in some form of expansion, but he apparently is not pushing it this session.
The lack of support by state leadership, who claim to be for jobs and economic development, is difficult to comprehend given the fact that it would pump about a billion dollars of federal money into the state, help shore up struggling hospitals and afford better health care to the working poor.
Another issue that needs addressing is the state park system, which is in bad need of revitalization.
No wonder the state parks — which should be a major tourist attraction as well as offering recreation to local people — are run down.
Parks funding over the past two decades has been slashed nearly 60%, Jennifer Head, budget administrator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks, is quoted in the Tupelo newspaper. A legislative budget proposal for the coming year recommends trimming another $900,000 from MDWFP.
About 600 structures across the state park system need repairs or replacement, and the system’s staffing numbers have plummeted in recent years. Head said repairs are needed all over, from sewer and water systems to campsites and cabins.
Members of the Legislature are taking notice of the problem, although it’s uncertain whether they’ll come up with a solution.
State Sen. Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp, has introduced a bill to change how many of the state’s 25 parks operate and who oversees them.
His proposal would privatize some of the parks and put some others under local control.
That plan seems fraught with the possibility of a bad outcome. Privatization has a spotty history in Mississippi with prisons and welfare, and it’s questionable whether privatizing parks would fare much better except perhaps for certain segments of the population, including those who get the privatization contracts.
It would be more prudent to quit slashing the park system budget and restore what was cut.
The above are just two of the major issues that bear watching in the Legislature this year.
Then there are solutions looking for problems.
Two of those involve bear attacks and flag burning.
Sen. Albert Butler, D-Port Gibson, has authored a bill giving landowners the legal right to shoot bears on their property, which probably would open season on the animals.
There are a limited number of bears in Mississippi, and it is illegal to kill them except in self-defense.
Critics of the bill point out that, if passed, it would undermine 90 years of work to reestablish a bear population in the state after it was nearly extinguished by hunting.
There are no recorded bear attacks on humans in Mississippi, although a deer hunter, Stephanie McGarrh, found herself in a tree with a bear last fall. She’s opposed to the bill. which Butler says he introduced after some friends in Copiah County said they were fearful of being attacked.
Then there’s the bill introduced by Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, that would ban burning of the U.S. flag other than for the disposal of a worn or soiled flag.
Mississippi already has a statute that bars the mutilation, defacement or defilement of the U.S. flag, the Mississippi state flag and the Confederate flag, but it, like Chism’s new proposal, would be unlikely to stand up in federal court if challenged. Courts repeatedly have struck down such laws on the grounds that defacing a flag is political speech protected by the First Amendment.
Maybe there were some flag mutilations in Mississippi over the past several months, but we don’t recall any publicity about them. Nor have there been any assaults by bears on people in Copiah County.
• Charles M. Dunagin is the retired editor and publisher of the Enterprise-Journal in McComb. He lives in Oxford.