Senate Democrats release legislative priorities

The Mississippi Democratic Senate Caucus this week released legislative priorities for the 2023 session.

“We look forward to working with leadership and our colleagues in addressing the problems facing Mississippians,” said Sen. Derrick T. Simmons (D-Greenville), Senate Minority Leader. “Together, we can move this State forward in a way that benefits all of her citizens.”

Following is the statement released by Sen. Simmons and the Democratic Senate Caucus:

Every Mississippian deserves a place that they are proud to call home. Mississippians want good schools, good hospitals, good roads, and good paying jobs. As Senate Democrats, we are committed to supporting and crafting policies that will improve Mississippi for all of her citizens and will address the long-term needs of the state.   

HEALTHCARE

Republican policies are closing our hospitals.  Prolonged by the refusal to expand Medicaid and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mississippi’s healthcare system is at risk of near total collapse. For many years, rural hospitals have felt the most strain from underfunding that has led to consolidations and even multiple closures. These political decisions have left Mississippians with real life or death consequences. Without reliable healthcare services for all Mississippians, we face dangerous conditions for women that need maternity care, people that require speciality care, and even basic emergency services. Hospitals provide economic security for thousands of Mississippi families–from custodial staff to physicians. Quality and availability of care should not depend on zip code. We believe that all Mississippians deserve access to mental health services, reproductive healthcare, and preventative care. Senate Democrats urge the legislature to rescue rural hospitals from this worsening disaster and expand Medicaid. 

TANF REFORM

Republicans are responsible for gross mismanagement of TANF, what the Auditor called the biggest public corruption scandal in Mississippi history.  Democrats hosted the only hearings regarding our state’s broken TANF system despite the TANF scandal breaking over two and a half years ago.  Improving transparency and accountability of funding entrusted to Mississippi by the federal government is not a partisan issue.  Senate Democrats intend to see every deficiency corrected in our TANF system and the pool of intended TANF recipients treated as they should be. We advocate for a repeal of the Hope Act which would result, in part, in the elimination of the TANF drug testing requirements, mandatory up-front job search, and unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork.  Mississippi should spend federal TANF funds more aggressively on cash assistance, child care and workforce/educational programs demonstrated to move families out of poverty.  

EDUCATION

Before we can be proud of the money sitting in the coffers, we owe it to children and families to fully fund Mississippi’s public schools. Republicans are sending your tax dollars to unaccountable private schools. Senate Democrats believe that public tax dollars should only go to public schools. From Pre-K to our colleges and universities, we will continue to fight for full funding of education. Full funding includes, but is not limited to, adequately compensating teachers and providing affordable pathways for educators to pursue or renew teaching certifications. In order to prepare our children for the future, we support increased funding for vocational programs with an emphasis on healthcare related positions. Senate Democrats support a pay raise for education support professionals, modern classrooms, and an inclusive curriculum.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Republicans failed to address our infrastructure.  Democrats in Washington, led by President Biden and Congressman Thompson, are responsible for overdue investments in Mississippi. All Mississippians deserve to travel on safe roads and bridges, drink clean water, and access reliable internet. Due to the historic failure to properly invest in municipalities, water and sewer systems are operating with 100-year old lead and clay pipes. 1 in 10 Mississippians drink water with illegal contaminants present and other water systems lose up to half of the treated water due to leaks and breaks. In order to address a crisis of our own making, the state must adopt a comprehensive program to repair our infrastructure for the next 100 years. Cities and towns need continued infrastructure improvements and dedicated long term maintenance funding from unused American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) funds and/or the issuance of bonds. This infrastructure crisis has serious health and economic impacts on every Mississippian. With one of the nation’s highest rates of road fatalities and soaring out of pocket costs on car repairs caused by poor driving conditions, we can not afford another refusal to fully invest in the state’s roads and bridges. Senate Democrats will continue to fight for our cities’ and counties’ long overdue infrastructure needs, including the completion of the original 1987 Road Plan, approved by the state legislature. We are unwavering in our belief that ARPA funds or funds from whatever source should be distributed based on a priority listing (from most deficient/neglect to least deficient/neglect) with “no match” requirement for small cities, towns, and villages in repairing their aging infrastructure.  Public funds or dollars should be equitably spent with people of color, including socially and economically disadvantaged business enterprises, individuals, and contractors who have been historically underserved, marginalized and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality. Senate Democrats believe that infrastructure includes the opportunity for all Mississippians to connect globally and have high-speed reliable internet access.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE & EQUALITY

All Mississippians regardless of age, sex, race or religious beliefs should be able to realize their careers in this state on a level playing field where no biases, prejudices or roadblocks exist. The pathway to a thriving workforce is simple: a living wage for all Mississippians, elimination of the grocery tax, and an improved paid leave system.  In order for the State of Mississippi to recruit and retain hardworking and innovative employees, all state employees need a raise that will allow us to compete in a robust market. Raising wages for state employees opens the door for more Mississippians to thrive in the place that they call home. We support state agencies, commissions, and boards from the lowest levels of government to agency head or chairperson reflecting the diversity and demographic makeup of the state.   

ELECTION REFORM 

The right to vote is a sacred one that many paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to have. The fundamental right to vote should not be suppressed and burdened with unnecessary restrictions; instead, this essential American freedom should be protected, encouraged, expanded, and restored.  Republicans oppose making it easier to vote and have failed to adopt common sense policies that exist in almost every state in the country.  Senate Democrats support full restoration of voting rights for Mississippians who have successfully completed their sentences.  Senate Democrats believe in online voter registration, early voting, expansion of absentee voting, and protections that ensure the health and safety of voters during a pandemic and/or disaster.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Mississippi faces a prison crisis – overcrowding, violence and lawsuits including one from the Department of Justice – largely from Mississippi’s harsh sentencing laws and lack of reentry programs.  Republican policies have made Mississippi the incarceration capital of the United States. Senate Democrats support training for our local law enforcement to include additional funding for the Mississippi Law Enforcement Academy. Senate Democrats will continue to support criminal justice reform through intervention courts and other pre-trial diversion programs, rehabilitative programs, geriatric and compassionate release, parole eligibility, habitual offender laws, expungement, reentry, Fresh Start Act and Ban the Box.  We believe that our returning neighbors should be released back into society with dignity and respect. 

Bob Bakken

Bob Bakken is the most recognized and most trusted name in DeSoto County news and sports reporting, as readers continue to express their appreciation for his accuracy and fairness in the stories he writes. Bob provides content for DeSoto County News and occasionally is heard on the OB Pod podcast talking about area happenings. A former newspaper editor and writer, his award-winning background also includes television news producing, sports media relations, and radio broadcasting.

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