Medicaid expansion is likely dead on arrival in the Mississippi House of Representatives, but additional initiatives on addressing job creation and the worsening situation in the Department of Corrections are likely.
House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) said at a news conference Tuesday that he’s opposed to expanding Medicaid, but would be open to possible reforms and improvements to the program.
“I’m open minded and will listen to ideas, but in the traditional use of the term Medicaid expansion, no I am not for that,” Gunn said. “I’ve not had more people asking me to put more people on Medicaid.”
He also said workforce development and halting the emigration of recent college graduates to other states — a phenomena known as brain drain — is one of the priorities for the session for the House.
He said he supports the legislature appropriating money to allow all of the state’s high school students to take the ACT Workkeys test, which measures foundational skills required for success in the workplace.
The state already pays to have all public high school juniors and seniors take the ACT test, which uses four benchmarks to measure a student’s readiness for college work.
Gunn said he also supports the possibility of true dual-enrollment so high school students can receive credit for vocational tech classes taken at community colleges.
Corrections could be another issue for the House. A riot and escape from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman Farm resulted in a lockdown in prisons statewide. In the last 10 days, five inmates were killed in different state prisons, with three of the deaths coming at Parchman.
Gunn says the legislature is dependent on agency heads to keep them informed on issues in their departments. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves is in the process of searching for a new commissioner of corrections.
“Any agency, whether it’s the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety, the health department, they have agency heads,” Gunn said. “We are a legislature that doesn’t meet year round and they have these agency heads that are responsible for the day to day operations.
“We trust the information they provide us and the decisions we make are only as good as the information we have. Hopefully we will have good lines of communications with the agency heads in the next four years and address all of them.”
On teacher pay, Gunn said that was a function of how much money was available. Last year, teachers received a $1,500 pay hike that will cost taxpayers $76.9 million annually.
According to the revenue estimates in the legislature’s proposed budget for fiscal 2021, there could be about $100 million in additional revenue for appropriators.
“That’s not a one-time expense, that’s now and ever more,” Gunn said about a teacher pay raise. “We’ve got to factor in how much the citizens of this state can afford. The citizens of the state bear all of these expenses and we have to keep in mind what the citizens can afford and not overspend.”