Old Issues Confront Mississippi Lawmakers

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The echoes of a gavel brought both chambers to order Tuesday at the Mississippi Capitol. Lawmakers have three months to come up with solutions to state issues.

"I'm optimistic about this session," said state Rep George Flaggs, Vicksburg Democrat. "2013 is going to be good for the state of Mississippi and good for the taxpayer."

Although there will be plenty of new political battles stretching from gun control legislation to tax reform, the biggest challenge is getting revived from last year's session.

"The most important thing is going to be education," said state Rep. Terry Brown, of Columbus, a Republican. "The charter school bill, that's going to probably dominate the session if you want to know the truth about it."

Veteran lawmakers who may not be completely sold on the idea agree some type of education reform must be front and center.

"We have to make sure that education remains a priority because we're trying to attract industry and an educated workforce is important to attracting industry to this state," said Democrat state Rep. Hillman Frazier of Jackson.

"Economic development, hand in hand with education, I think, will be the centerpieces of this session," said Gov. Phil Bryant.

The session begins the second year of a four year term for lawmakers, many of whom, like state Rep. Steve Massengill of Hickory Flat, were freshman last year.

"It's still a challenge because it's still a learning process," Massengill said.

With added experience, Bryant says he expects a more proactive session and more aggressive legislation.

"It takes that first year to get accustomed to understand the system which is somewhat complex here," Bryant said.

Medicaid expansion is also set to be a point of debate. Many lawmakers feel no decision will be made this year, that's if the issue is even brought up at all.

While many Republican leaders are against an expansion, claiming the state can't afford it, many Democrats say it's a move the state can't afford not to make.

"It may not be ready this year but as we work through it I think within the next two years you will see some expansion of Medicaid," Flaggs said.

Hundreds of bills are currently being drafted, but so far only 18 bills from the House and and nine bills from the Senate have been filed. That number is expected to grow by the Jan. 21 deadline for introduction.