At the end of every session, our office takes an inventory of the legislative changes for which we successfully advocated and the items we need to put back on the to-do list.
COVID disrupted some of our plans this year and provided the Legislature with additional appropriation and other responsibilities. Even amidst the pandemic, a number of positive pieces of legislation were passed.
In education, we eliminated a major barrier to teacher licensure which will clear the way for hundreds of students to enter teacher education programs in colleges and universities. Now, a student’s GPA in their first two years of courses determines whether they are permitted to begin the process of becoming a teacher, which experts say is the best predictor of success.
We addressed problems in our mental health system, providing a coordinator with the authority to review the availability of current services and establish procedures to increase access and raise standards. We also provided additional funding aimed at decreasing hospitalization and focusing on quality community care.
In the interest of reorganizing and maximizing efficiency, we abolished two government entities, the Fair Commission and Commission on Marine Resources. We retooled driver’s services to speed up the licensing process by instituting a fee reduction for long wait times.
The State Workforce Investment Board was reconstituted, reducing the number of board members, requiring small business representation, and beefing up responsibility and accountability. The state’s new workforce “czar” will be responsible for maximizing the impact of every dollar we spend on training citizens for higher wage jobs. An additional $55 million was dedicated to workforce development.
Additionally, we championed various bills addressing COVID including limiting liability for businesses and healthcare entities facing frivolous lawsuits. A small business grant program received $300 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. $200 million was appropriated to distance learning and connectivity for K-12 students; $130 million for hospitals, nonprofits, and various other healthcare entities; $100 million to universities and community colleges; $75 million to expand rural broadband; and $70 million to cities and counties.
Although we have more we want to accomplish in the coming years, we built a solid foundation for positive change in the last seven months. All of this is part of the path to our ultimate objective going forward: making Mississippi an even better place for our children and grandchildren.