Legislators focus on broadband, transportation
Improvements in broadband internet access and transportation for East Central Mississippi residents head the wish lists of local legislators as the 2023 session begins.
District 44 state Rep. C. Scott Bounds of Philadelphia is hoping broadband internet services will become more available in rural areas in Mississippi where there is little or no service.
The 2023 session of the Legislature got under way in Jackson earlier this month and Bounds said federal funds will be available through grants to help providers with rural investments.
“Being the chair of public utilities, I’m trying to work with broadband providers to get internet deployment into the underserved rural areas,” Bounds said. “You have to remember the government is not in the broadband business. The providers are. But the Federal government is putting a lot of money into it.”
During last year’s session of the Legislature, a drawdown system was set up where private providers could apply through the state for grants. At this point, the state has no money in it, Bounds said.
Mississippi is expecting $162 million coming from the Federal government’s special projects fund for the first quarter of 2023. Providers can put in an application for funding.
“Last year, we established the broadband office for Mississippi,” Bounds said. “That office is getting ready to accept applications for providers to go into the rural areas. I am having conversations with the providers about Neshoba County specifically, what’s it going to take for them to come into Neshoba County and to apply for some of this money and try to get some built out in the areas where we don’t have broadband.”
Bounds said the money must be spent in under served or unserved areas.
“That covers a large part of Neshoba County,” Bounds said. “I’m hopeful we will see some deployment through that fund.”
Philadelphia’s Sen. Jenifer Bounds of District 18 chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. She said she is trying to get more money for infrastructure, particularly in the rural areas.
“We have done that through the emergency road and bridge fund, Branning said. “I have a bill again this year that is going put additional money into that fund.”
Branning added that the amount would be determined later in the session.
Branning is also keeping an eye on the Highway 19 four-laning project in Neshoba County. Work is underway to four-lane the road from House to Philadelphia. That is expected to be complete sometime around the summer of 2024.
“We are continuing to work to get new capacity dollars for projects like Highway 19,” Branning said. “That remains a priority for the Neshoba County delegation.”
She added that some pre-construction planning has been done toward the final phase of the project. “Progress is being made.” Branning said.
With the Roe vs. Wade decision being overturned by the Supreme Court, abortions have been all but stopped in Mississippi and Branning said she is looking at legislation to support mothers and children in need.
“As I have since my first day in the Legislature, I am looking for ways to support and promote life,” Branning said. “I am working on legislation that would bolster foster care. I am making sure we are getting additional funding to child protective services and agencies like that which continue to serve the children in foster care in the state of Mississippi.”
Branning said there is continued talk about eliminating the individual state income tax.
“There is such a revenue surplus, we feel like some of that should be returned to the tax payers,” Branning said.