By Tommy Reynolds
Thursday, February 13, was the deadline for Original Floor Action on general bills and constitutional amendments. If a bill was reported out of a committee, but was not addressed before this deadline, it died. Measures that survived floor debate have now gone to the Senate for deliberation.
House Bill 424, which I proudly co-sponsored, has very great implications for the young people of this state. The measure creates the 2014 “Mississippi Promise” community college tuition gap pilot program. The bill provides funds to help eligible students of public community and junior colleges pay the cost of tuition not covered by federal, state, institutional and private aid.
Eligible semesters of the pilot program are fall 2014, spring 2015, fall 2015 and spring 2016. It is hoped that this support for students who want to attain higher education will prove so successful that it will become a permanent educational benefit for eligible Mississip-pians.
We all know and appreciate the opportunities that our community and junior colleges provide to students who either cannot attend a university or are seeking education in fields that do not require bachelors or graduate degrees.
Additionally, these institutions are good civic partners – their employees, cultural events, sporting attractions, and academic opportunities are economic engines for their areas. We feel confident that the good benefits of this important program will far outweigh any expense it may cause us. The payback will be immeasurable. This bill passed on a strong bipartisan vote of 116-3.
We also passed a measure that extends the same rights of religious expression to students in community colleges and universities that were granted to K-12 students last year. House Bill 517 provides that students may pray or offer other religious expressions, including wearing religious icons, without fear of reprisal. This measure was strongly supported by the House on a bipartisan vote of 111 – 6.
Another bill that saw great enthusiasm among members was House Bill 638, which revises when health insurance policies must include coverage for treatment of mental illness in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Our society now recognizes that mental illness is a condition that deserves the same attention to healing as any other kind of debilitating illness. The effects of untreated mental illness are devastating to the patient and their families.
Sadly, the effects also sometimes impact entire communities. I was happy to support this measure, and will continue to advocate for the full support of our state for those who are living with mental illness. These individuals may be our neighbors, friends or family members. They deserve our help. The bill passed handily, 114-5.
I offered an amendment to House Bill 545 on the house floor, which was overwhelmingly adopted by the House, to preserve personnel board protection for school attendance officers throughout our state. The bill without the amendment would have removed these important protections to our school attendance counselors. It is important to recognize that the personnel board was established decades ago in an effort to keep elected officials and others in power from firing employees in order to give state jobs to their friends, family and cronies.
This is why the system is in place, so that hard-working employees will not be arbitrarily terminated without any protections or means to appeal the decisions.
While it may be true that some agencies have room to trim their employee rosters, there are ways to address the issues through reduction in force, realignments and other means that will not disrupt the work flow of the agency or create havoc in the workforce.
In closing, I am pleased to be co-sponsor of a measure that requires inclusion of a component of Erin’s Law as part of the mandated curriculum of school safety plans. House Bill 439 was the result of work begun last year when Erin Merryn came to the Capitol to help educate members about the perils of children who have no means of reporting to authorities if they are being molested.
Ms. Merryn made a most compelling case for our schools to incorporate instruction to help terrified little victims tell a trusted adult about sexual abuse. This measure passed unanimously.
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main Street, Water Valley, MS 38965, by email at email@example.com or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.