by Hunter Dawkins

Plenty of issues were on the mind of Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce members, as the Golden Nugget Casino hosted their annual pre-legislative session breakfast.  Potentially a tight legislative budget this election year, the recently passed state lottery, roads and bridges, state public education, projects approved by the BP Advisory Committee, a possible gas tax, and workforce development were just a few concerns with alleged legislation during the upcoming session on January 2.

State Senator Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula) jumped on an unheard issue of human trafficking, expressing his attempt to stop this through legislation this year in Jackson.  Watson has declared and qualified to run for the Secretary of State position, which will have a vacancy from current office holder, Delbert Hosemann.  Hosemann has mentioned his attempt to run for another position.

State Representative Greg Haney (R-Gulfport) expressed that the main topic during the session will be “teacher funding” and said, “we are spending more money than we’ve had” in education, and “people in the education field are slim, we should talk positive because we are fortunate on the Coast.”

Another action to be brought up was state employee pay raise under the current PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) by State Representative and Minority Caucus Chair, Representative David Baria.  All State Employees have not had pay raises at least in 5 years.  Additionally, Rep. Baria stated, “the Legislature has a roll to play in the Counties” with Roads, Bridges, and BP Projects.

Speaking of the BP Money, State Senator Joel Carter (R-Gulfport) said the Advisory Committee will make suggestions, but no pet projects.

Carter followed up saying that school funding is top heavy, with an example of one school district spending $840,000 on bad software this last year.  Watson jumped in with a story of a school building a new turf football field, however, there was a lack of school safety in the same district.

Finally, Moderator Brad Kessie asked about vocational tech training and workforce development where Baria commented that the state has been giving community colleges most of the money, although apprenticeship programs through the labor unions would get money from the start and the state will stop “The Brain-Drain.”  Watson was not fully on board with this, Carter said there was a lot of opportunity for this, and Haney talked about a “Pathway to Possibilities” program.

Watson finished claiming disgruntlement about education funding and the state should be focused on parental-choice education.  Haney & Baria rounded up with rural broadband internet access and the importance of being brought up this year.