January 25, 2012 12:34:00 PM
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON -- Republican Gov. Phil Bryant used his first State of the State address Tuesday evening to unveil detailed policy proposals, from education to health care to energy, saying he wants to create a "Mississippi Works Agenda."
"My first job is to make sure every Mississippian has a job," Bryant said on the south steps of the state Capitol, using the platform that was built for his inauguration two weeks ago. The Jan. 10 inaugural ceremonies moved inside the House chamber because of rain.
"To the taxpayers who are here today, let me express my humble appreciation," Bryant told an estimated 400 to 500 people on the Capitol grounds and a statewide television audience. "You are the sovereigns of this government, and we here are your servants."
Bryant called for development of charter schools and advocated performance pay for teachers based on student achievement. He said the state should encourage dual enrollment for high school students who might be at risk of dropping out of school, allowing them to learn vocational skills at community colleges.
"We will work to give these young adults a marketable skill and help them find jobs," Bryant said. "I will ask the state Department of Education, the community colleges and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to come together to implement this program. We should set an enrollment goal and get to work, so Mississippians can go to work."
On health care, Bryant proposed capping income tax for physicians in under-served areas and providing economic incentives to spur development of medical facilities.
On energy, he advocated offshore drilling for natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico and said he wants to begin converting state government's fleet of vehicles to cars and trucks powered by natural gas.
Bryant said he'll ask lawmakers to approve $31 million in job-creation incentives this year, though he didn't name specific projects.
"Economic development is the sun in our universe and everything revolves around it," Bryant said.
In a televised Democratic response, Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto said it's time for elected officials to "stop grandstanding" about budgets and passing expenses down to local governments. He also said education should be a budget priority.
"We believe in our K-12 programs, community colleges and universities," Moak said. "That's why Democrats in the Legislature will not turn their backs on public education."
Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature.
Bryant said he's asking the Department of Human Services to develop a plan to reduce Mississippi's teenage pregnancy rate, long one of the highest in the nation. He also asked lawmakers to pass a Republican-sponsored bill called the "Child Protection Act," which would require health care providers, clergy members and educators to report suspected cases of child sexual abuse and would require anyone performing an abortion on a girl 14 or younger to keep samples of fetal tissue so DNA tests could be run to check whether the underage girl was impregnated by an adult.
"This will be the first step in identifying the predators who take underage girls to an abortion clinic to hide their crimes," Bryant said.
He said there's no reason for Mississippi to be the most obese state in the nation, and he urged people to take responsibility for their own well-being.
"Mississippians, walk, run, go to the gym, plant a garden or ride a bike," he said. "Getting active is key to your own health care and I again intend to lead by example."
Bryant, a runner, said he plans to sponsor a 5K run this summer, beginning at the Governor's Mansion in downtown Jackson.
He encouraged parents to seek help for dyslexic children using existing state programs.
"As a child, I struggled with dyslexia and believed I was a failure until the fourth grade," Bryant said. "I then had a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Henley, explain to me I simply did not see the letters on the page like other children. I had to practice my reading and work hard to keep up, but I had a desire to succeed. I did what was expected of me and soon began to see the world of the written word, and in doing so, learned to love reading."
Bryant briefly mentioned two topics he frequently discussed during the 2011 campaign -- abortion and immigration.
He last year supported a "personhood" ballot initiative that would've declared life begins at fertilization, which was aimed at eventually eliminating abortion. The initiative was defeated amid concerns that it could limit the use of in-vitro fertilization.
"Please rest assured that I also have not abandoned my hope of making Mississippi abortion-free," Bryant said. "I continue to believe that every life begins at conception and that every child should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Bryant in the past has supported Arizona-style proposals that would allow law enforcement officers to check people's immigration status during encounters such as traffic stops. A bill that would've done that died in 2011 when the Mississippi House and Senate couldn't agree on details.
"I strongly believe that we are a nation of laws rather than of men and that people who illegally cross our border, violating our federal laws, cannot be ignored," Bryant said. "It is not only the state's right but responsibility to determine if these violators are among our general population, particularly when they have also violated the criminal statutes of Mississippi."
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