Rep. Dana Criswell, From Your Capitol - Week of January 2, 2018
Mississippi's 2018 legislative session has begun, and as always it will be an interesting year. In just our first week we've seen a shuffle of committee chairmen which started with Rep. Richard Bennett (District 120, Long Beach) becoming the new chair of the education committee.
The Speaker also announced new chairmanships of several other House Committees:
Gaming Chairman: Casey Eure (District 116, Saucier)
Interstate Cooperation Chairman: Tracy Arnold (District 3, Booneville)
Marine Resources Chairman: Timmy Ladner (District 93, Poplarville)
Ports Harbors and Airports Chairman: Jeff Guice (District 114, Ocean Springs)
State Libraries: Greg Haney (District 118, Gulfport)
Chairman Bennett has a huge task before him as we attempt to re-write our state's education funding formula. I look forward to working with our new chairman as we improve our public educational system.
MORE ON ROADS AND BRIDGES
House Bill 354, which aims to set aside any state revenue growth of more than two percent for the repair and reconstruction of state, county and municipal roads and bridges. This measure passed by a vote of 118-2. Another was House Bill 357, legislation that would authorize the issuance of $50 million in bonds to cities and counties for bridge improvements. This passed by a vote of 116-4.
Finally, House Bill 359 would prohibit the construction of any new roads that have not already acquired right-of-way. The purpose of this bill is to help the state maintain the roads it already has before starting any new projects. The bill passed by a vote of 71-42. All three bills were held on a motion to reconsider, which means they will be brought up again in the future.
After much debate and consideration I supported and voted for all three of these bills. In my two years as a legislator we've spent a great deal of time discussing roads and bridges. Legislatures across the deep south have seen a coordinated effort to increase their gas taxes. Mississippi has resisted the easy answer of simply raising taxes and has opted to take the more difficult route of controlling government and actually studying the issue.
House Bill 359, the issuance of $50 million in bonds caused the most concern for me. In general, I oppose the state borrowing more money because our debt is already too high. We must learn to live within our means and stop the pattern of increasing our debt year after year. But just like my family's budget occasionally we must borrow money, and I believe borrowing money for the specific purpose of making needed bridge repairs is a reasonable decision and action to take. This was a difficult decision for me and one I know some conservatives will disagree with, I welcome their debate and further discussion as we move through this session.
I have authored several bills that will be submitted and assigned to a committee early next week. So far only one of my bills has been assigned to a committee. House Bill 413 would remove stun guns from the firearms permit law. A stun gun is not a deadly weapon but was mistakenly listed in the firearms permit law. My bill would simply clean up that law by removing stun guns.
Other legislation that I've been working on includes repealing the vagrancy laws that are discriminatory and unconstitutional and expanding the Dyslexia Scholarship program to helps parents better address their child's educational needs. Next week I will discuss these bills in more detail.
Serving in the legislature is the most difficult task I've ever undertaken. But as I've learned throughout my life difficult task are usually the most rewarding. I appreciate the opportunity the people of Olive Branch and District 6 have given me to make a difference in our state and our community.
If you have any questions or suggestions please contact me.