Local and state officials gathered at the Inn at Ole Miss to discuss major bills and legislation that would impact the region and state at the annual Eggs & Issues Legislative Breakfast.
Representatives Clay Deweese, Steve Massengill, Jim Beckett and Brady Williamson and Senator Nicole Boyd covered issues such as pay raises and tax cuts, equal pay, health care, education, tourism, landscaping, liquor distribution, outdoor stewardship and transportation.
Officials worked to hit highlights from a particularly busy legislative session. According to Deweese, 258 bills became law in the last session. This article covers some of the legislation discussed over breakfast.
The politicians present took turns presenting several projects that would have a significant impact on the region and the state.
Education and higher education
At the start of the presentation, they announced that a budget of $6.29 billion had been passed, with $852.8 million allocated to higher education institutions and $336 million to community and junior colleges.
This past semester also resulted in the Fostering Access and Inspiring True Hope (FAITH) Scholarship, a program that provides last dollar financial aid to foster children into approved community/junior colleges, institutions of higher education or a workforce training program. In addition, $2 million will fund a graduate scholarship program for members of the National Guard.
It was also announced that the University of Mississippi will house the Early Childcare Learning Center and additional programs to be announced at a later date.
“The Early Childcare Learning Center is a neat program that we were able to secure funding for in addition to our normal credit at Ole Miss,” Deweese said. “We received approximately $25 million and $10 million of that will be spent renovating the old hospital for our early learning center, so we’re very excited about that.”
Transportation was also a key issue on which the committee was pleased to have made progress.
The state received $230 million in new funding to invest in roads, bridges and other infrastructure with $100 million allocated to the state’s emergency road and bridge repair program and $40 million of dollars to the Mississippi Department of Transportation to match federal funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Additionally, $45 million will go to MDOT’s three-year maintenance program, $35 million to ramp up their road capacity expansion projects, and $10 million to ports through the Mississippi. Development Authority.
The restructuring of MS Highway 7 from a two-lane road to a four-lane road was an important cause for Boyd and Deweese. Highway 7 is notorious for its number of accidents, and local authorities hoped to make it a safer route by increasing its capacity.
After years of asking for help to make Highway 7 safer, the project was recently placed at the top of MDOT’s list of its “Safety, Operations and Capacity Projects” for 2022. Highway 7 has been ranked as one of the most important projects through the state’s consideration of safety and traffic controls.
“We were so excited,” Boyd said. The senator heard the news while driving home on a Friday and “nearly ran off the road”.
For years, the project sat on an undated list that authorities and the community could anticipate. According to Boyd, the highway department was unable to handle capacity at the time, only maintenance and upkeep of pavements.
Although Highway 7 may have been classified and given priority for 2022, Boyd advises everyone not to expect immediate construction.
“We have to manage expectations,” she said. “That does not mean that they will start doing road works immediately. This means that this project will be ready to start by the end of the year.
Liquor Distribution Reform
Mississippi is considering building a new liquor facility with third-party contractors managing the operation. The project will cost $55 million in revenue bonds. Although state-licensed independent contractors operate the facility, Mississippi liquor control still holds the authority.
Both Beckett and Boyd said the legislation gives the state the “best of both worlds.”
In fiscal year 2021, total alcohol transfers to the general fund were $158,476,044, the panel reported. It was also reported that Lafayette County holds 100 licenses and hit $17,470,886 in liquor sales.