Floor debates plentiful during deadline week

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Last week’s activities included the very exciting high school basketball championship in the Big House where our Corinth High School Warriors made it to the final four. We are proud of these young men and their coaches. It was great to see my home folks in the Capital City.

In Legislative action, March 10 was the deadline for voting on general Senate bills. The Senate was also reviewing our bills and we were pleased to learn that they had passed House Bill 982 which once and for all does away with inspection stickers.

We took up a number of Senate bills that led to significant floor debate.

Among those bills was Senate Bill 2389, an Article V vehicle to amend the United States Constitution to require Congress to adhere to a constitutional debt limit. It is no secret that our national debt continues to climb, seemingly unchecked. Proponents of this measure believe that it is time for the federal government to adopt a budgeting strategy similar to ours, which requires that we balance our budget each and every year. This is a national effort, and 38 states must ratify the bill in order for a constitutional convention to be held to address the measure. I voted to support this bill, which passed by a vote of 68-51.

Perhaps one of the most difficult bills under consideration was Senate Bill 2695, the “Special Needs Bill,” which establishes a pilot program giving the parents of children with special needs the ability to withdraw their children from public schools. They would be allotted up to $6,500 to go toward school tuition, tutoring and other educational expenses if their schools do not provide the needed programs.

Many of us were troubled that this measure may open the door for further draining of our public school funds. Several amendments were offered, among them mine which offered an array of enhanced services for children with special needs and their families, including a fund to provide therapy, equipment, tutoring, respite care, and a whole range of other services to supplement services the child might already be receiving. All students, whether in public, private or home schools would have been eligible to receive the funds.

The amendment also set up an Autism Coordinator in the State Department of Education. The amendment failed by a vote of 59-56. Other amendments were also offered with the only one surviving being a measure to require parents to submit expense receipts to the Department of Education for reimbursement from their $6,500 allotment. In the end, the bill passed by a vote of 65-51.

I voted against the measure because I felt the threat of draining money from our already strapped public schools would be too great if this precedent was set. Like my colleagues, I believe children with special needs should be provided every opportunity to receive an education allowing them to succeed to the best of their ability. It is up to us to make sure our school districts are fully funded so that these important programs don’t fall by the wayside. And, if they do, that the schools are held accountable to adhere to the rules and regulations already in place for this student population and their families.

I supported Senate Bill 2407, which seeks to open the meetings of public hospital boards. We have had an Open Meetings Act in place for at least two decades; however, hospital boards were exempted from the requirements.

Unfortunately, we discovered this year that the Singing River Hospital Board had allowed their employees’ retirement fund to disappear without telling anyone about it. SB 2407 is an effort to address the specter of any such thing happening again.

We were saddened to see many of the employees who lost their pensions in the House gallery during the debate on this bill. We amended the measure to provide the hospital boards with the same exemptions that other public bodies employ, such as keeping personnel matters, physician contracts and proprietary business decisions out of the public domain. The bill passed by a vote of 109-8. It has gone to the Senate for concurrence or to invite conference due to the amendment.

On March 10, it was my honor to welcome Sandy Childs – Mayor, Sheriff and Judge of the Gift Bottom Community – to the Capitol.

Please feel free to contact me on these or any other measures before the Legislature. Please call me at (662) 287-1620, email nbain@house.ms.gov, message me on FaceBook at Nicholas Ryan Bain or follow me on Twitter @StateRepBain.

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