Hughes preps for another legislative session
A year ago, Jay Hughes wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as a freshman state representative, but he soon figured it wasn’t what he was anticipating. Hughes stirred things up in Jackson in his first year as the District 12 representative from Oxford and even found himself in the middle of a lawsuit with Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, which made a lot of folks around Mississippi to take notice. The Democrat said during an editorial board meeting with the Oxford Eagle this week that he has no plans of changing his style and will continue to buck the system when the three-month 2017 legislative session begins in January.
Hughes said he continues to struggle with people saying “we’re throwing more money at it.” He said the state has not been doing so and Mississippi remains 50th in the nation in regard to education. He points out at that the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) that was created in 1997 has only been fully funded once.
“And test scores went up the following year,” Hughes said. “So we have a scientific test that has only been tried one time and it was a success, yet those who will benefit most by a new re-working declare that one successful test means it was a failure. That’s like not putting gas in a car and claiming it’s a failure because it won’t crank.
“The schools are not broken. The legislators are,” Hughes added.
Nearly 500,000 students are in public education and many of them have become Rhodes Scholars and earned scholarships.
“The system is not broken. The funding is broken,” Hughes said.
He’s not a proponent of EdBuild, a private firm from out of state hired to evaluate the state public education system.
“I’m opposed to it on a multitude of levels, not the least of which is the fact it was completely done in secret,” Hughes said.
Religious Freedom Law
Although this state law remains tied up in U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’ court after he struck it down earlier this year, Hughes strongly believes this is a form of discrimination and a black eye on Mississippi.
“An economic and social embarrassment. People unfortunately use titles to bills to play red meat to certain constituents because people don’t read the bills,” Hughes said. “Just because it was named the Religious Restoration Act doesn’t mean that’s what it was about. It was about allowing someone to discriminate against another Mississippi resident. And if you change the word gay to black, Jewish, catholic, the impact of that would be devastating.”
He wants to know who is going to administer that test to ask someone if they’re gay or not gay? He also added the ramifications of business and industry who decide not to come to Mississippi because of this anti-gay stance could be detrimental to economic growth.
“It’s so unfortunate that we’re spending time on social issues that we know are going to be litigated and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions at a time when we can’t even find any beds in the mental hospital for adult addiction or mental disease or public schools that don’t have enough books for students.”
BP settlement money
Hughes believes the millions of dollars Mississippi received from the BP oil spill settlement should remain on the coast rather than used for infrastructure needs as many legislators around the state have suggested.
“I think the bulk of it should stay on the Coast,” Hughes said.
He said when tornadoes ripped through north Mississippi several years ago and federal money came in to assist the communities and victims, residents on the Coast didn’t believe that money should be earmarked for South Mississippi.
“What happened to the Coast from the BP oil spill was devastating,” Hughes said. “Your talking about families that have generations that just closed up.”
He said the BP money that would be used on the coast for industry, infrastructure and tourism would benefit the entire state long-term.
“I’d love to see a portion of it go towards roads and bridges, but I’m inclined to say the bulk of it should be used down on the Coast,” Hughes said.
Hughes said he would support a state lottery in Mississippi, but also understands the argument it is a regressive tax.
“To me that’s just another attempt to tell people what they should be doing with their money,” Hughes said. “They have a right to blow their money if they want to.”
He said the millions of Mississippi dollars that cross state lines on a regular basis in Louisiana and Tennessee could be used on education here at home.
“Mississippi hard earned dollars went to pay for schools and education in Louisiana and Tennessee,” Hughes said. “And I think it’s a travesty.”
Hughes said he has several bills that he will be promoting during the upcoming session, including introducing term limits of two terms for all House and Senate members, as well as Secretary of State, State Auditor, State Treasurer, State Agriculture Commissioner and Attorney General.
He’s also plans to introduce a transparency bill requiring the public email address, phone records and calendar of elected officials a matter of public record.
“The public has a right to know who they’re meeting with, who they’re receiving email from,” Hughes said, adding there would be exceptions in instances of executive session.
He will also introduce legislation for a tax-free holiday for school supplies similar to what the state does for guns and ammunition.
Another education bill would allow a private person or company be able to designate a donation to a specific purpose for a school district and receive a tax credit.
Currently, it is only acceptable to donate to the general fund of a school district.