Teacher pay raises, health care tops agenda for Mississippi Legislature

Published 6:06 am Monday, January 11, 2021

With the Mississippi legislative session just beginning, officials are starting to reveal their public policy wish lists, including proposals to increase teacher pay and improve the availability of health care services.

The Senate Democratic Caucus chairman, Derrick Simmons of Greenville, repeated last week what he and many other Democrats have said for years — that Mississippi should expand Medicaid to cover tens of thousands of people who earn modest salaries and don’t receive health insurance through their jobs. Expansion is optional under the 2010 health care overhaul signed by then-President Barack Obama, and Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not chosen the option.

The federal government pays most of the Medicaid tab, and Democrats say enrolling more people would boost Mississippi’s economy by supporting hospitals and other health care providers.
Expansion is a longshot, though, because Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and Republicans who control the state House and Senate have long said that they believe it could become a budget buster, and they don’t want to put more people on a government program.

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Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has released more details about his legislative agenda than many others in the Capitol, and a teacher pay raise tops his list.

Hosemann also told reporters last week that he wants Mississippi to revise the tax breaks and other incentives it uses to attract new businesses. Hosemann said the Senate will propose an incentive program called MFLEX — think, Mississippi and flexible.

He said the state needs to eliminate some rarely used incentives and create simpler rules that are easy to understand.

“If you’re moving a company with 100 employees to Mississippi, you can sit at your desk and calculate what the salaries are, how much it’s going to cost you and (get) an exact quote of what your benefits will be,” Hosemann said.

The MFLEX proposal would require companies that receive incentives to provide health insurance for their employees. Those offering higher salaries would get more favorable treatment from the state. And the companies would be required to file annual reports so people could know whether the companies are fulfilling the promises they made to the state, Hosemann said.

Hosemann’s legislative wish list this year also includes creating a state tourism agency. He wants to break tourism promotion away from the Mississippi Development Authority, the agency that pushes for job creation. It’s unclear whether his idea will get support from House leaders or from Reeves.

The governor has said little about his own legislative agenda. When he released his state budget proposals in November, Reeves did not include a teacher pay raise, but he said he would ask legislators to put $3 million into a “patriotic education fund.”

“Across the country, young children have suffered from indoctrination in far-left socialist teachings that emphasize America’s shortcomings over the exceptional achievements of this country. Revisionist history has aimed to tear down American institutions, and it is poisoning a generation,” Reeves’ budget document said.

During a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, Democratic Sen. David Blount of Jackson quoted that document and asked state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright whether such indoctrination is happening in Mississippi schools.

“Let me put it this way: That’s not in our standards to be taught,” Wright said.

Wright said if she were to receive a complaint about such teaching, she would contact the local superintendent.

Although $3 million is a relatively small amount of money in a $6 billion state budget, Blount’s questions show that the governor’s request will not be fulfilled without scrutiny — and it might not be fulfilled at all.