January 11, 2013 10:11:48 AM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
State lawmakers headed back to work this week to begin the first legislative session of 2013. The 90-day session will be conducted at a faster pace than last year's 125-day session.
"Basically, we got here, got acquainted and got started," said Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, the pro tempore of the Senate. "We approved the rules for the session. There wasn't a whole lot of heavy legislation. We'll see more action next week and start taking up some things from the floor."
Brown said bill requests must be made by Tuesday in order for a bill to be discussed during the current session.
One issue that Brown has said will be much debated this term is the re-introduction of a charter schools bill. The current version will be brought to the Senate by Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who is also the chairman of the education committee. The plan is part of Gov. Phil Bryant's "Framing Mississippi's Future" education initiative. Although a similar bill failed in 2012, this year's version has the support of the state's top four lawmakers -- Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Brown.
"We had some hearings on charter schools this week," Brown said. "We feel pretty good about it. We've done enough studies so that we are more knowledgeable and comfortable with the issue. It may not be the answer, but it's a start."
Brown said he expects the bill to be brought before the Senate within two weeks.
Another topic that could be contentious among both Democrats and Republicans will be Medicaid. This is the first year President Barrack Obama's health care will be implemented, leaving an unknown budget variable for the House and Senate.
"Last year, our part of the match was $771 million," Brown said. "This year, it's $980 million. We really don't yet know how Obamacare is going to affect things."
Brown said Medicaid will be one of the last issues discussed during the session.
Meg Allison, House Information Officer, said the House also plans to introduce a bond bill before the session ends.
"The deadline for requesting a general bill to be drafted is Jan.16," Allison said. "In anticipation, several House committees met this week to prepare for issues that will be addressed before the session adjourns on Sunday, April 7. Some of those items include reforming education, addressing Medicaid and healthcare exchanges, creating a bond bill and agreeing on the budget. The staff of attorneys in Legislative Services will be working late nights and through the weekend in order to assist members in drafting and introducing bills."
The House and Senate will reconvene Monday.