Among the most popular suggestions at the Jackson stop of House Speaker Phillip Gunn’s Mississippi Solutions – An Ideas Tour were the need for the state to expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and the lack of need for charter schools.
More than 100 people and a handful of legislators joined Gunn at the Capitol to kick off his 9-city, week-long trek across the state to gather ideas and input from citizens about how to move the state forward and improve quality of life.
“We’re trying to bring the Legislature to them,” Gunn, R-Clinton, said.
Out of 16 people who offered their thoughts, three asked Gunn and the lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act. In its June decision upholding the ACA, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the option of expanding their Medicaid programs, but would not incur penalties for not doing so.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said since that expanding Mississippi’s program would be cost-prohibitive because it would add nearly 400,000 people to the rolls. Gunn has promised to examine the issue once the session starts. He reiterated that stance after Monday’s event.
Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, was among the pro-Medicaid expansion crowd, saying refusing to do so could erect barriers to quality healthcare, and increase uncompensated care costs for hospitals. “Some of those hospitals could be forced to close,” Sivak said.
George Schimmel, who sits on the Jackson Public Schools board of trustees but said he was speaking as a citizen, said legislators should be careful when considering charter school legislation to ensure that traditional public schools are not unnecessarily harmed.
“Weakening traditional public schools weakens communities,” he said.
Bryant has said charter school legislation would be near the top of his list of priorities when the 2013 session starts in January. A charter school bill died last session when a group of DeSoto County Republicans coalesced to kill it in committee.
A state’s power to govern itself was the focus of Laura VanOverschelde’s idea. “We’re experiencing a loss in state sovereignty,” said VanOverschelde, the vice president of the Mississippi Tea Party and the organization’s issues chairman. “We’re seeing a federal government that wants to take over the lives of people.” VanOverschelde urged lawmakers to consider legislation that would assert Mississippi’s sovereignty.
Other ideas included state assistance for nonprofits providing financial education to the poor, clarifying statutes governing state control of 16th section land, an increase in the tax on wine, a smoke-free workplace bill, increasing the state retirement age, small business tax reform, and cheaper access to prescription drugs taken to treat multiple sclerosis.
Gunn’s tour was headed to Greenwood and Hernando later Monday. It wraps up Friday in Brookhaven with stops in Tupelo, Columbus, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Biloxi in-between. The full schedule can be viewed here.