By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS Associated Press
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers wrapped up their busiest session in years after enacting the biggest teacher pay hike in a generation and enacting the biggest income tax cut in history. of the state.
“Clearly, in any case, the Mississippi Legislature has delivered this year,” Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Tuesday.
After more than a year of economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mississippi tax collections have rebounded in recent months, fueled in part by massive federal spending on pandemic relief.
As they wrapped up their session Tuesday, lawmakers completed work on two sets of spending bills.
The first was a state government budget for the year beginning July 1, using more than $7 billion in state money and billions more in federal dollars.
The second was a plan to spend about $1.5 billion of the $1.8 billion Mississippi receives from the American Bailout Act of 2021, a federal spending package intended to revitalize the economy amid the pandemic. Mississippi will use about $750 million for water system improvements.
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“When you look at the number of issues before us this year, it was pretty staggering at the beginning,” House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Clinton Republican, said at the end of the session.
In the next school year, teachers will receive raises that averages about $5,100, with assistant teachers receiving $2,000. Mississippi’s average teacher salary in 2019-20 was $46,843, according to the Southern Regional Board of Education. The national average was $64,133.
Mississippi will reduce your income tax more than four years. Beginning in 2023, the 4% income tax bracket will be eliminated. The following three years, the 5% bracket will be reduced to 4%. After the first year, the tax-free income levels would be $18,300 for a single person and $36,600 for a married couple.
Republican Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill into law on February 2 to legalize medical marijuana for people with debilitating conditions. It became law immediately, but the first dispensaries will take months to open. In November 2020, Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. The state Supreme Court struck it down six months later, ruling that it was not properly on the ballot because the initiative process was out of date.
Lawmakers updated the limits for the four districts of the US House of Representatives, 52 state Senate districts and 122 state House districts to account for population changes revealed by the 2020 Census.
Mississippi could become the latest state to enact a law requiring equal pay for the equal work of women and men. A bill awaits action by the governor. Critics said the bill is harmful because it would allow an employer to pay a woman less than a man based on the pay history workers bring to new jobs.
Millions of dollars will go toward improving the condition of state parks. Leaders said Mississippi could apply for federal money to supplement state spending.
State and local election offices are forbidden to accept donations from outside groups for election operations, under a bill Reeves has signed. Mississippi joins other Republican-led states in putting in place a ban in reaction to donations Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made in the US in 2020.
The state Department of Health may issue up to five licenses for stand-alone emergency rooms in rural areas, under a bill awaiting the governor.
Beginning in the next four-year period, wages would increase for the governor, lieutenant governor, and six other elected officials statewide; transportation and public service commissioners; and the speaker of the House, under a bill that awaits the governor.
In March, Reeves signed a bill that prohibited schools, community colleges or universities from teaching that any “sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.” It became law immediately. Several black lawmakers said the limitations could stifle honest discussion about the harmful effects of racism.
Lawmakers voted to get rid “Go Mississippi” which has been the state song since 1962. It uses the tune of “Roll With Ross”, the 1959 campaign jingle of segregationist Governor Ross Barnett. A bill designates “One Mississippi,” by singer-songwriter Steve Azar, as a new state song. It also creates a committee to recommend additional state songs of various genres. The bill awaits action by the governor.
WHAT LEGISLATORS DID NOT DO
House and Senate negotiators failed to agree on a plan to revive an initiative process that would allow people to petition to put issues on the state ballot. the The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in May that the state initiative process was unworkable because it required people to collect signatures from five congressional districts that the state had not used in decades.
The Senate approved a bill to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage, but Gunn and House Medicaid Committee Chairman Joey Hood killed it without bringing it to a House vote. Mississippi allows two months of Medicaid coverage for women after giving birth. Advocates for low-income women say extending coverage to one year could improve health outcomes in a state with a high maternal mortality rate.
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