JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant presented a generally optimistic outlook about Mississippi during his State of the State address, focusing on job creation and saying he believes the state can improve its academic performance with charter schools and merit pay for teachers.
Republican Bryant, who’s beginning his third year as governor, said he wants to hire more Highway Patrol troopers, improve the budget process, end abortion and continue trying to reduce the teen pregnancy rate. He said the University of Mississippi Medical Center and private companies are launching a program to expand care for diabetics.
And Bryant said he wants to add the slogan “In God We Trust” to the state seal, a proposal that received a standing ovation from some legislators and other elected officials in a packed House chamber yesterday evening at the Capitol.
He noted that when he took office in January 2012, Mississippi’s unemployment rate was 9.4 percent, and it’s now 8.3 percent. He introduced Tadaharu Yamamoto, president of Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi, who was in the public gallery overlooking the House floor. The company plans to start hiring in February for the plant it will open in West Point.
“Yokohama Tire could have placed its new plant anywhere in the world,” Bryant said. “Every state in the nation would have been honored to have this great company and its new facility. … Mr. Yamamoto, I thank you for your confidence in our state, and I look forward to deepening our friendship and our business ties. I wish your company many years of success in Mississippi.”
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, who delivered the Democrats’ response, noted that 1 in 5 Mississippians live in poverty. He said officials need to put aside partisan differences to try to improve the state.
“Today, more Mississippians are struggling than ever before,” Wiseman said. “Unemployment is unacceptably high in our state. Incomes are too low, and opportunities are too few and far between. These problems are too big for any one party or any one idea to fix.”
Bryant, who started his career as a deputy sheriff, said he wants to make the prison system less expensive and more efficient.
“I have no sympathy for violent or career criminals, and I believe that any modification to the correctional system should put the victim first,” Bryant said.
The governor is asking lawmakers to approve a project to use the ACT as a high school exit exam to replace existing subject-area tests in math and other subjects. He said a charter school law, enacted in 2013, could bring innovation to classrooms. Four of Mississippi’s 151 school districts are using merit pay for teachers, and Bryant said he wants at least 70 percent to use it by 2018.
Though Mississippi has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, Bryant said it decreased in 2012. “We believe that every Mississippian deserves to be born into a mature, two-parent family,” he said.
Bryant did not propose any new restrictions on abortion, but he defended a law he signed in 2012, requiring hospital admitting privileges for anyone who performs the procedure. Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has been unable to obtain the privileges for its OB-GYNs, and filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 seeking to block the law. The clinic remains open, by court order, while the lawsuit is pending.
“On this unfortunate anniversary of Roe versus Wade, my goal is to end abortion in Mississippi,” Bryant said, referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion.
He also said the University of Mississippi Medical Center, GE Healthcare, North Sunflower Medical Center and C Spire are launching the Mississippi Diabetes Telehealth Initiative.
“This groundbreaking pilot program will use telehealth technology to pair resources from the University Medical Center with health care providers and 200 of the most complex diabetes patients in the Mississippi Delta,” Bryant said. “This coordinated care approach will improve disease management and health outcomes for generations to come.”