Mississippi lawmakers begin their three-month session on Tuesday with a clear idea of several issues that will be debated.
One of the first agendas will be the adoption of a plan to redesign the four state districts in the United States, expanding the 2nd majority black district, as it has lost population over the course of the last decade.
The only Democrat in the Mississippi congressional delegation, Rep. Bennie Thompson, wanted his district to expand to include all of Hinds County. Instead, the plan put forward by a Republican-led redistribution committee will extend District 2 further south along the Mississippi River and allow Republican Representative Michael Guest to retain wealthy areas of northeast Hinds County in the 3rd district.
Republicans hold a strong majority in the state House and Senate, so the plan recommended by the redistribution committee will be ratified.
At some point during the session, lawmakers will divide the 122 districts for the State House and the 52 districts for the State Senate, also to account for population changes revealed by the 2020 census. This task is complicated because of the number of neighborhoods and because of the egos involved. It is likely that at least one current legislator will see their district dissolved to make way for a new district in a growing area.
Medical marijuana is a volatile problem that will get a lot of attention. In November 2020, a wide margin of Mississippi voters approved an initiative to allow medical marijuana, and a program was slated to be in place by mid-2021. In May, the Supreme Court of State ruled that the initiative was not correctly on the ballot. because the Mississippi initiative process itself was outdated – a move that also left the state without a way for people to petition to bring issues to voters.
After the court ruling, a group of Republican-led lawmakers spent months negotiating a medical marijuana program in hopes that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves would summon the House and Senate in special session to enact it. in autumn. Reeves, however, gave up on their plan. He says this would allow Mississippi to be overrun with recreational marijuana.
A medical marijuana plan is likely to be promulgated during the regular session, with or without the governor’s blessing. Reeves recently said he would try to persuade some Republicans to support him if he vetoed a bill.
Teacher compensation is another big topic for the 2022 session. Lots of politicians are talking about wanting to help teachers, but will it happen? A salary increase was not included in the initial budget recommendations made by legislative leaders.
An effort to eliminate income tax could be the biggest struggle of the session. House Speaker Philip Gunn really wants it – and if he gets credit for it, it could help him among the Tories if he challenges Reeves in the 2023 Republican primary. But the lieutenant governor Does Delbert Hosemann want it? It is not clear that he does. A bill cannot go to the governor if it cannot go to the Senate, where Hosemann presides.
Lawmakers will debate ways to spend $ 1.8 billion in federal pandemic relief money. Executives say they want projects that would bring about generational change. Could this include significant spending to improve Jackson’s water and sewer system? Or will the money for the improvement of water and sewers be distributed among many cities, counties and small water associations?
Lawmakers often grab the headlines on social issues. Republicans will likely attempt to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory, although there is no indication that it is taught in Mississippi schools.
Some lawmakers could try to ban COVID-19 vaccine mandates, even though Reeves has made it clear he has no intention of setting a statewide mandate. Mississippi has some of the strictest requirements in the United States for children to be vaccinated against other diseases before entering a public or private daycare or school, and the state generally receives praise for this from the share of public health advocates. Will the fervor to oppose COVID-19 mandates cause lawmakers to rethink other vaccine requirements? It’s a fight the overworked health ministry would probably like to avoid.
Emily Wagster Pettus has been covering Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.