By Tommy Reynolds
The session is winding down, and we have just completed deliberating on general measures passed by the opposite chamber. There were a number of good bills that came our way from the Senate, and one measure we sent over to them has certainly given us hope that a substantial, across-the-board teacher pay raise will be a reality this year.
House Bill 504 was passed in February. I supported an amendment to this bill that would have provided for a $5,000 across-the- board pay raise for our teachers, effective July 1. Our amendment to provide for this raise was not adopted. As a result, a several year package was adopted which would have provided for only a $1,000 pay raise for the next year, and would not have been effective until January 1, 2015, with additional raises over the next three years. Our amendment was defeated on a largely party line vote.
House Bill 504, as sent to the Senate, also contained a requirement that veteran teachers must meet so called “benchmarks” which were called “accountability standards” which actually included items such as membership in a Rotary Club committee or one of over a dozen steps which would have qualified someone under that proposal. I had great questions about the wisdom and rationale of this proposal. Also, in view of the fact that teachers have not received a raise in seven years and are lagging substantially behind neighboring state salaries, as well as the southeastern salary average, I believe our teachers needed a major increase in order for their salaries to be competitive and for our state to retain needed teachers.
When the Senate received House Bill 504, the Senate took the opportunity to remove the House language from the bill and instead insert a comprehensive amendment that substitutes an across-the-board pay raise of $1,500 effective July 1 this year and an additional $1,000 at the beginning of the next school fiscal year, together with the possibility of additional raises in subsequent years based on the school’s achievement level.
This, to me, is a much more logical approach. Many of my colleagues and I believe the Senate bill is the worthier of the two proposals. At this writing, if we are offered the opportunity to vote on the measure, we have decided to vote to concur in the Senate changes. Should we prevail, the bill will go straight to the governor for his signature. However, if opponents of the measure prevail, it will either go to conference or die on the House calendar. I believe that it is better to have a $2,500 pay raise that we know will happen than to go to Conference Committee where it may well not happen, and Mississippi teachers could go another year without any compensation adjustment.
The House Judiciary A Committee amended and the House passed Senate Bill 2049, which includes an additional Assistant District Attorney for the 17th Circuit Court District. This District encompasses Tallahatchie, Yalobusha, Panola, Tate and DeSoto counties – one of the fastest growing areas in the state. Justice system officials of the area requested this assistance in order to make sure that criminal cases can be prosecuted timely. I am very pleased that we were able to achieve this important goal for the district. The measure has been sent to the Senate for concurrence.
I supported Senate Bill 2829, which authorizes the 15 community mental health centers in Mississippi to begin seeing primary care patients if they so choose. This idea stems from the fact that access to healthcare for many patients served by community mental health centers in Mississippi is extremely limited, particularly as these individuals do not often qualify for Medicaid or any other type of healthcare coverage and therefore receive only limited medical care. The center physicians, although they have specialized in the mental health area, are nevertheless doctors with the training to treat primary healthcare needs. The measure allows these doctors to also treat patients for “walk-in” type illnesses. No money is being appropriated for this effort. The bill passed unanimously.
I was proud to welcome Mississippi Forestry Associ-ation officials from Yalo-busha and Lafayette counties to the Capitol last week. The timber industry is an essential component of our state’s economy – it is the third most important industry, generating $1.03 billion in economic output, not to mention ecological enhancement. Mississippi has 125,000 forest landowners overseeing approximately 19,600,000 acres of timber. We should do everything we can to make sure these enterprises thrive.
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main St., Water Valley, MS 38965, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.