August 2, 2013 9:44:58 AM
PHILADELPHIA, Miss. -- After focusing on education and job creation during his first two years in office, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant says he will concentrate on public safety in 2014.
The Republican governor also says he has a "divine responsibility" to oppose abortion and to protect school prayer and gun ownership.
Bryant's comments came Thursday during a speech at the Neshoba County Fair, an annual gathering known as Mississippi's Giant Houseparty.
Bryant said he expects the state to be sued over a bill he signed this year requiring public schools to set aside time for students to express their religious beliefs.
Concerning that potential lawsuit and two other pending cases, Bryant said, "I see these patterns on the left with the liberals."
The Hinds County district attorney was among those who sued the state in late June, seeking to block an open-carry gun law. A Hinds County circuit judge put the gun law on hold, and the state is asking the Supreme Court to undo that.
The state's only abortion clinic sued in 2012 to block a law requiring the clinic's OB-GYNs to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the state from punishing the abortion clinic as the clinic continues seeking admitting privileges, which it has been unable to obtain.
Other GOP leaders spoke Thursday, including House Speaker Philip Gunn, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith.
Gunn, in his first term as speaker of the 122-member House, said he and other leaders helped the state by blocking expansion of Medicaid.
Under the federal health law signed by President Barack Obama, states have the option of extending coverage to people who make up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000 for one person. The current cutoff in Mississippi is about $5,000, although many able-bodied people without children are not covered.
"If you want to bust your pocketbook wide open, you keep voting for candidates who want to expand Medicaid," Gunn said.
Chaney said he disagrees with the federal health law, but added, "Whether I like it or not, I must enforce provisions of this law." He said that includes working with federal officials to establish a health exchange, an online marketplace where people can shop for insurance starting Oct. 1. Chaney is in his second term as insurance commissioner.
Fitch, in her first term as treasurer, said Mississippians, as a whole, need to improve their personal financial habits by saving more and avoiding high-interest loans and big credit card debt.
She said she'll ask legislators next year to require high school students to take a one-semester course about personal finance. A similar proposal failed this year.
"This is a huge missing part for our kids," Fitch said.
Hyde-Smith, in her first term as agriculture commissioner, said agriculture is a $7 billion business in Mississippi.
"Farmers don't seek recognition, but I assure you they deserve recognition," she said.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Attorney General Jim Hood and State Auditor Stacey Pickering spoke at the Fair on Wednesday.