By Tommy Reynolds
One of the major issues dealt with during this Leg-islative session that was not dealt with last session — due to gridlock between the two Houses of the Legislature — was the passage of Senate Bill 2913, a multi-million dollar bond bill.
The measure provides funding for needs of our state ranging from building repair and renovation at state colleges and facilities to economic development needs, such as efforts to keep and better our railroads and assistance for small towns and rural counties.
Last year, the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee proposed a bond bill, and the Senate proposed a different version. The bills died in conference committee. As a result, a year went by without funding for critical building and infrastructure repair, and this year Senate Bill 2913 afforded the opportunity to make up for lost time on critical needs. I supported this bill.
I spoke against and voted against House Bill 1009, which was ultimately passed on a 59 to 57 vote, to allow for-profit corporations to conduct the business of the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
This agency has over 3,700 employees who work in every county of our state at the present. This agency has many functions, from child support collection to children and youth services of all types and natures, such as care of abused children.
Under the measure that passed, HB1009, not only would the child support area of the Department of Human Services be allowed to be privatized, but all aspects of the agency could be privatized.
I have a hard time seeing how services for abused children can easily be privatized and the same quality care be afforded to these children. The bill would also allow, if it is fully carried out, that the 3,700 state employees currently under this agency could ultimately be removed from the Public Employees Retirement System. This would certainly not be helpful to the soundness of our state’s retirement system. It is my hope that the Director of the Department of Human Services does not fully privatize the agency as this bill allows, but that the Agency will remain a county-by-county based agency.
A major issue that remains unresolved at the writing of this column is whether the State of Mississippi will accept 100% federally funded healthcare dollars which would be available next year to provide healthcare for over 300,000 working Mississip-pians. The available federal money would provide approximately $1 billion dollars toward healthcare to our state next year.
No vote was allowed on the question of whether the House would be permitted to vote for the expansion of the Medicaid program. So, House Bill 1653, funding the program, failed to get the necessary votes to pass. I think that the House of Representatives should be allowed to vote on a straight up or down vote as to whether members are for or against receiving federal money to provide a billion dollars of additional healthcare coverage in this state.
One of the downsides of the State not accepting the money is the fact that the Federal DSH payments (funds paid by the federal government for uncompensated healthcare for primarily uninsured citizens) to our local and state hospitals are being reduced. If the state does not take the Federal funds that are being provided for the Medicaid expansion, net funds received by our hospitals likely will be greatly reduced. The survivability of many hospitals could be jeopardized as well as the tremendous number of jobs that they provide throughout our state.
There are states where Democrats and Republicans are sharing governing authority and which are searching for “a middle ground” on the Medicaid expansion question. One approach some jurisdictions are seeking is to use the Federal funds provided to expand Medicaid, but instead provide insurance coverage for those eligible to be served by Medicaid expansion. This would be accomplished without add-ing additional persons to the Medicaid rolls.
It is my hope that both parties will be open to compromise on this critical issue. The last thing we need is partisan bickering in this state or nation, and we are all better served by good results and sound policy. Compromise is often the wise course on critical issues.
Please feel free to contact me at 15 CR 429, Water Valley, MS 38965, by phone at (662) 473-2571 or by email at email@example.com.
I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.