Lawmakers address controversial topics
HATTIESBURG, MISS. – Abortion and teacher pay raises are two of the biggest subjects lawmakers discussed during this year’s legislative session, and time is ticking down as many lawmakers claim that this year, they will end the legislative session two weeks early. Monday morning, five lawmakers addressed Pine Belt residents inside of the Trent Lott Center located on the University of Southern Mississippi's (USM) campus. During this year’s Legislative Forum hosted by the ADP, lawmakers took-on questions from the public and explained how the state plans to balance its $6 billion budget. “We got many issues before us,” the District 103 State Representative, Percy Watson said. “A lot of issues are not resolved at this point.” One of the many issues happens to be teacher pay raises. While both the house and senate agreed that teachers need to be paid more, neither one of them could agree on a final number. “The house passed [a bill] for $4,000 last week,” the District 41 State Senator, Joey Fillingane said. “Ours is at $1,000, right now.” The $3,000 difference is largely due to the fact that lawmakers want to make sure they have enough money left to provide state employees with a pay raise as well. “You don’t want to leave one group out at the expense of another,” the District 44 State Senator, John Polk said. “One of the worst things to happen would be to spend more [money] than we actually have,” the District 106 State Representative, John Corley said. “Then next year, we’ll have budget shortfalls.” Another heavily debated topic floating around Jackson this year happens to be Senate Bill 2116, also known as “The Fetal Heartbeat” bill. This particular bill prevents a woman from having an abortion once a doctor detects a fetal heartbeat, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. “I have major problems with it,” Rep. Watson said. “It’s clearly in violation with Roe v. Wade, [and] we will see litigation.” “On Tuesday, it’s my prediction that the Senate will take up the ‘heartbeat’ bill and it will pass,” Sen. Fillingane said. “It will go to Governor Bryant, [and] he has already announced he is looking forward to the bill hitting his desk, so he can sign it… I’m very proud of that.” It still remains to be seen exactly what will happen in the next couple of weeks, as lawmakers try to bridge their differences. However, the pressure is on lawmakers to work quickly, especially if they want to end this year’s legislative session before April 7.