Hughes disappointed with first session

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Oxford’s House of Representative District 12 Rep. Jay Hughes summed up the 2016 Legislative Session as an “abysmal failure” for the people of Mississippi. “It did nothing to move us out of the 50th- or first-place rankings, depending on the topic,” the Democrat said.

The session ended in April with several controversial bills being pushed through and many dying in committee. Legislators set a nearly $6.4 billion budget that trims most agencies’ spending for the year begin- ning July 1.

“The bills that were passed supported the special interest groups and the ones that would have actually helped the people of Mississippi were not,” he said.

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Approving House Bill 1523, known as the “Religious Freedom Act,” went national, and was deemed by thousands across the country as a discriminatory act against the state’s homosexual community.

“It allows one group of people to discriminate against another group of people,” he said.

Hughes said he would “bet the farm” that the new law that protects businesses, local governments and churches from being retaliated against for refusing service to gay individuals and those who engage in premarital sex, based on religious reason, will be abolished by a higher court and deemed unconstitutional.

He said before it could be heard by the Supreme Court, someone would have to file suit claiming they were harmed by the bill.

“I think anyone at this point could claim they were harmed, especially with the economic harm that’s going to be done, and is already being done, because of this bill,” he said.

Hughes is serving his first term as a state representative. He won election in November 2015 against incumbent Brad Mayo. He ran as a Democrat and knows he is the minority in a supermajority. While he was disappointed with HB 1523’s passage, he also was concerned that bills that protect Mississippians died in committee and were never brought for a vote, including a bill that would have allowed domestic violence as a reason for divorce, a bill that would have increased penalties against those who abuse animals and Noah’s Law, which would have made the sale of caffeine pills illegal to minors.

“The soda industry got that bill killed,” Hughes said about Noah’s Law. “They were afraid it was a gateway to make their energy, caffeinated drinks illegal.”

Topics like funding for roads and bridges, addressing the formula in how schools are funded and whether the state should change the state flag were not addressed even though they all made headlines nationally.

“I look through all the bills that were passed, and I struggle to find any that are good for the people of Mississippi,” Hughes said. “But I can find many that are clearly good for the special interest groups.”

Despite his lack of optimistic views on Mississippi government, Hughes said he is still looking forward to the next session.

“I’m a silver-lining guy,” he said. “With all my frustrations, it inspires me knowing we can do better, we must do better. We need better than party politics.”

Hughes supported one of the bills passed this session that requires school superintendents to be appointed rather than elected. Several counties in Mississippi were still electing their superintendents. “It’s a way to attract more qualified people,” he said. “If someone appointed fails at their job, they can be replaced. If they’re elected, they’re there for four years.”

Hughes said his biggest accomplishment this session was not the bills he did or didn’t vote for, but rather the communication and transparency he offered to his constituents. Hughes often posted on his social media sites what was going on during the session.

“People loved it,” he said. “Not because of what I wrote or who I was, but mostly they appreciated the transparency … there’s a whole lot that goes on behind closed doors that the media doesn’t have access too.”

Hughes said looking forward he sees much of the same happening during the 2017 session as long as there is a super majority in place.

“I see a tax shift to the work- ing people after corporations received a $260 million tax cut,” he said. “Mississippi workers will be paying for the repair of roads and bridges … When we can’t fund education, health care, mental health care, our veterans’ care and had to cut another $100 million from the budget, they approve a $260 million franchise tax cut.”

The tax cut deal, or the Taxpayer Pay Raise Act of 2016, would go into effect in 2018. It would begin phasing out the cor- porate franchise tax over 10 years and cost $260 million, and the 3 percent individual income tax bracket over five years, eventually costing $145 million. It would also provide about $10 million in tax cuts for small business owners

Hughes suggested that most controversial bills, such as HB 1523, are just distractions while the Legislature pushes through bills like the corporate tax cuts.

“It’s bat-shit crazy,” he said. “I felt like it was 1937 Germany at times. It’s horrifying to me that grown men and women sacrifice their integrity and don’t vote how they feel, but because someone asked them to vote a certain way.”