In the Legislature, the divide between Republicans and Democrats is one major hurdle for any piece of legislation to cross.

Other major divides include rural and urban areas and the House and Senate as institutions.

This week the Stennis-Capitol Press Forum featured legislators from those divisions to discuss the recently concluded legislative session.

Sen. David Blount (D-Jackson) and Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Simpson County) talked taxes, Medicaid and committee issues. They both used tax policy as arguments on the Affordable Care Act's (Obamacare) Medicaid expansion.

Blount suggested the state could fund its portion of Medicaid expansion if it refrained from offering so many tax incentives which he called a negative draw on the state treasury.

Blount said "an over-fondness of tax credits and rebates" hinders the state's ability to fund education, healthcare and other priorities. He said the legislature passes these tax incentives "without knowing what they cost." He has proposed a rule change to require more information so legislators will be "more careful with giving away money out the back door." He said he voted for some of these proposals but against the $25 million tourism tax incentive for an outlet mall in Rankin County.

Blount makes the Democratic case for Medicaid expansion in a calm, deliberative manner without partisan histrionics. Blount argues Medicaid expansion will cost the state $1.1 billion through 2025, but notes a study by the Institutes of Higher Learning says the state will during that time net $570 million in benefits from expansion, reducing the cost to $555 million over ten years - or $55 million a year - to draw down $12.1 billion in federal funds (a twenty-five to one match) and expand Medicaid to 300,000 Mississippians. He noted the legislature gave half that annual cost in tax credits to the Rankin County project he voted against. Blount believes a sustainable plan to fund expanded Medicaid could be developed.

Gipson supported the Rankin County tax incentive and said "tax incentives used properly and appropriately are great economic tools." He said creating jobs is the best healthcare policy because it allows working poor - who would join the Medicaid ranks under the expansion plan - to get private insurance as part of their job. Gipson also expressed doubts the federal government could keep its funding promises on Medicaid.

"A group of people in the House were willing to go home with no Medicaid budget at all than not to have expansion," Gipson said of Democrats who blocked Medicaid reauthorization and appropriations in the past session. As a result, Gipson expects a special session because he said going forward we currently wouldn't have a Medicaid program and no way to fund it if we did.

Blount also expects a special session and hopes an agreement among the Governor and legislative leaders would be reached in advance so any session would only last a day.

Blount serves as Chairman of the Senate Public Property Committee and fought to have the Department of Revenue located in downtown Jackson. The Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) determined recently that agency should be located in Clinton and Blount said he was not going to argue against that decision. But he said the state still has no comprehensive plan for public property and agencies make leasing decisions in silos without guidance or cooperation. He wants to empower DFA with broader decision making ability and intends to reintroduce legislation concerning a public property plan next year.

Gipson serves as Chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee. He highlighted a number of bills that came through his committee including a clarification of "concealment" in the state's gun laws (HB2), removing concealed carry permits from public inspection (HB485), changes in the Child Protection Act requiring cord-blood sampling for evidence in suspected sex crimes against under age mothers (HB151), streamlining Mississippi's human trafficking law to go after ringleaders (HB673) and strengthening felony child abuse laws (HB1259).

Gipson said he has gotten the most feedback on the conceal carry law because it makes it clear to Mississippians that the Mississippi Constitution allows any citizen to carry an unconcealed gun (like in a holster) without any permit. Despite this, he expects concealed-carry permits will continue to increase and believes Mississippians will exercise discretion in carrying guns in public.

Blount addressed his opposition of two recent appointments: Gov. Phil Bryant's appointment of Terri Herring to the Board of Health and Speaker Philip Gunn's appointment of Joel Bomgar to the Board of Education. Blount opposed Herring (whose nomination was withdraw for geographic noncompliance) based on the opposition of OB-GYNs to her nomination. He opposed Bomgar for his positions (or lack of) on MAEP, vouchers and other policies overseen by the Board of Education. Blount said he views the state Board of Education as a "bulwark against legislative extremism."





Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.