February 15, 2019 10:43:10 AM
Local legislators expressed disappointment Friday with two bills in the Mississippi Legislature affecting education, one of which aims to increase salaries for public school teachers and the other which -- had it not died in committee -- would have raised the pay for school board members.
Senate Bill 2770, which raises teachers' salaries by $1,000, passed in the Senate Wednesday and will next head to the House for consideration. If passed by the House and signed by the governor, it could affect up to 35,000 educators in public schools across the state. The pay raises will be phased in over two years.
But Sen. Chuck Younger (R-Columbus) said the raises should be higher.
"It's just stupid," he told The Dispatch Friday. "One thousand dollars is just not enough. Hopefully, they can raise the amount in committee. It ought to be, at the very least, $1,500. That would pay for a nice vacation, at least."
The bill applies to teachers, teacher assistants, librarians and counselors, according to a press release from the Legislature. The average salary for teachers in Mississippi currently is just less than $45,000.
Meanwhile the House bill bumping the pay raise for school board members failed for the fourth time in as many sessions.
Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus), who introduced the bill, said school board members would have seen a pay raise from $2,400 to $2,600 annually had the bill passed.
"The current salaries were passed in 1995, so it's long overdue for a raise, I believe," Smith said. "I've been presenting this bill for the past four sessions, so it is a little frustrating.
"The good news is that I think I may be able to get that in as an amendment to the bill to raise pay for county officials, which did make it through," he added, referencing a bill that would raise some county officials' salaries by an unspecified amount.
Thursday was the deadline for advancing general bills out of chamber, meaning it was the last opportunity this session for either bill to make it out of legislative committees.
Other bills that were approved in one chamber before the deadline and now go to the other chamber for committee work is a criminal justice bill that would ease penalties on some crimes and expand drug courts to include offenders who have mental illness or are veterans; "heartbeat" bills from both chambers banning abortions after five weeks of pregnancy; a human trafficking victim bill that would prevent charges from being filed against trafficking victims under age 18; and a tanning bed bill that would prohibit people under age 18 from using tanning beds.
The deadline did not impact any specifically local bills, which are all revenue bills not affected by Thursday's deadline, Smith said. The deadline for appropriations bills is Feb. 27.
The only other bill Younger expressed frustration with was a Senate bill to use general fund money to purchase land in Issaquenah County, which he indicated he thought was a waste of money.
"We don't need to be in the land business," he said. "I know they want to use the land so people can hunt on it, but that's something the private sector can do much better than the state. Then, you have to think about the tax revenue we lose from that."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
1. Report: City out of cash by October COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY