Thursday, June 16, 2011

Remember the Cigarette Tax?

Every morning, legislators receive the electronic update from Governing Magazine, a survey of different public policy methods and leadership profiles around the country. I've found Governing Magazine to be refreshing, because for the most part, it just gives facts, news and information, leaving out philosophical or partisan spin. So a reader gets the good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes the mundane from different legislative and executive bodies from around the nation.

One headline I noticed from yesterday's edition was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's veto of an extension of an additional 4-cent cigarette tax. If you're from Mississippi, you probably remember the cigarette tax saga that lasted from 2006-2009, where there was a host of arguments for and against raising Mississippi's cigarette tax (then the nation's third-lowest). Reading this report brought back bad memories of late-night special sessions, rally after rally at the Capitol and a sort of anti-climactic finish when the Legislature finally did raise the tax.

Here's the article from

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Founders Day

Today is Founders Day for The University of Southern Mississippi. On this day in 1910, Governor Edmund Favour Noel signed the bill that created Mississippi Normal College, which would go on to be known as State Teachers College, then Mississippi Southern College, and finally The University of Southern Mississippi.

Just as a reminder on how far we've come from the humble beginnings of our early days, I'm reposting a resolution I authored with other Southern Miss alums in the House last year, when we celebrated our Centennial. Southern Miss to the top!



WHEREAS, March 30, 2010, marks the one hundredth anniversary
of the founding of the University of Southern Mississippi; and
WHEREAS, the University of Southern Mississippi began as
Mississippi Normal College through the passage of House Bill No.
204, which was introduced by State Representative Marshall
McCullough of Lincoln County, then passed by the Mississippi House
of Representatives on March 16, 1910, approved by the Senate a
week later and signed into law by Governor Edmond Favor Noel on
March 30, 1910, with no state appropriation; and
WHEREAS, during the search for a location for the college,
Hattiesburg residents, Dr. T.E. Ross, Mr. H.A. Camp and Mr. A.A.
Montague, saw the tremendous opportunity for their city and state,
and donated 120 acres of land on a stretch of wilderness a few
miles west of downtown Hattiesburg, thus enabling Hattiesburg to
be chosen over Jackson and Laurel as the site for the new college;
WHEREAS, leaders of the City of Hattiesburg and Forrest
County took the bold and courageous step of selling bonds to raise
the needed money to build the first buildings on the new college's
campus; and
WHEREAS, the first classes began at Mississippi Normal
College on September 18, 1912, under the leadership of its first
president, Dr. David Anderson Cook, with the education and
training of new teachers to serve the people of Mississippi as the
college's mission; and
WHEREAS, since its inception, this noble institution has
built a reputation of persevering and succeeding in both good and
tumultuous times, surviving several politically motivated
dismissals of presidents and even attempts by the Mississippi
Legislature to close its doors; and
WHEREAS, this determination to succeed, advance and "do more
with less" pushed the institution to greater heights, as its
mission expanded and its name changed from Mississippi Normal
College to State Teachers College (1924), Mississippi Southern
College (1940) and, ultimately, the University of Southern
Mississippi (1962); and
WHEREAS, under the vision and leadership of nine different
presidents, the University of Southern Mississippi's breadth and
depth of academic programs have evolved from its humble beginnings
of solely training teachers to its current status as an
internationally recognized pioneer in areas such as nursing,
economic development, language disorders, marine research, gifted
education, athletics, the arts and polymer science; and
WHEREAS, the University of Southern Mississippi has graduated
over 125,000 alumni, counting among its ranks statesmen, scholars,
entertainers, educators, athletes and artists; and
WHEREAS, the same desire to survive and succeed continues to
mold and motivate its students, faculty, staff, administration and
alumni, thus ensuring the University of Southern Mississippi's
second century will be all the more prosperous than the first; and
WHEREAS, it is the policy of the House of Representatives to
commend 100 years of service to the State of Mississippi by such
an outstanding institution as the University of Southern
commend the students, faculty, staff, administration, alumni and
friends of the University of Southern Mississippi, both past and
present, on one century of loyalty and excellence, and express
best wishes on guiding the university to greater heights in the
next century.

Why We're Not Extending the Session Right Away

Here's an excellent analysis on why House Republicans will not rubber stamp a vote to extend the 2011 legislative session. So instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I'll just link you to Rep. Greg Snowden's (R-Meridian) blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How the Constitution Says Redistricting Should Work

Here's how the Mississippi Constitution spells out the redistricting process:

ARTICLE 13. APPORTIONMENT; SECTION 254. Senatorial and representative districts.

“The legislature shall at its regular session in the second year following the 1980 decennial census and every ten (10) years thereafter, and may, at any other time, by joint resolution, by majority vote of all members of each house, apportion the state in accordance with the constitution of the state and of the United States into consecutively numbered senatorial and representative districts of contiguous territory. The senate shall consist of not more than fifty-two (52) senators, and the house of representatives shall consist of not more than one hundred twenty-two (122) representatives, the number of members of each house to be determined by the legislature. Should the legislature adjourn, without apportioning itself as required hereby, the governor by proclamation shall reconvene the legislature within thirty (30) days in special apportionment session which shall not exceed thirty (30) consecutive days, during which no other business shall be transacted, and it shall be the mandatory duty of the legislature to adopt a joint resolution of apportionment. Should a special apportionment session not adopt a joint resolution of apportionment as required hereby, a five-member commission consisting of the chief justice of the supreme court as chairman, the attorney general, the secretary of state, the speaker of the house of representatives and the president pro tempore of the senate shall immediately convene and within one hundred eighty (180) days of the adjournment of such special apportionment session apportion the legislature, which apportionment shall be final upon filing with the office of the secretary of state. Each apportionment shall be effective for the next regularly scheduled elections of members of the legislature.”

Speaker McCoy's Statement Preceding the Senate Concur/Nonconcur Vote

Here's the statement from Speaker Billy McCoy made on Wednesday before the Senate's vote to invite conference on Thursday.

“In adopting JR 201, the Mississippi House of Representatives has approved the plan for the redistricting of its members (for a second time), as well as included in the resolution the plan sent to the House for the redistricting of the members of the Senate (without changes). As far as I am concerned, the matter is settled. The Senate has approved its plan, and the House has approved its plan.

For the 50 years that the Mississippi Legislature has been conforming its district lines to meet the demands of one-person, one-vote and the Voting Rights Act, the Legislature has conducted this business with one overriding tradition in mind – that neither house will interfere with the districts of the other house. We have maintained this tradition for half a century, it has served the state well, and I have no intention of changing that tradition for as long as I am speaker.

This year the Mississippi Legislature has passed fair redistricting plans after sixteen (16) public hearings, approved unanimously by the bi-partisan Joint Legislative Committee on Legislative Redistricting, and vigorous floor debate.

Should the Senate choose to invite conference on JR 201, I will not entertain that request nor will I appoint conferees. In addition, the House will immediately transmit JR 201 to the Department of Justice and seek preclearance of the plan for use in the upcoming elections. We will ask the Department of Justice to work with us in adopting this plan to prevent the taxpayers from having to pay for two sets of legislative elections and from having to pay for the expensive cost of litigation. There is no reason whatsoever that the Legislature should incur these unnecessary costs at the same time we are cutting education, Medicaid and mental health.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday 3/8; Redistricting, Visitors

So, here's how it went down yesterday (this is 2nd hand information and from Twitter)...

1. House plan went to Senate Apportionment & Elections Committee...Senator McDaniel moved to table and the Senate committee voted to table, thus killing JR 1 (the House plan).

2. Senate plan came up in the Senate Apportionment & Elections Committee...Senator Joey Fillingane moved to adopt a strike-all amendment which did away with the majority-minority district in Hattiesburg, and this strike-all passed.

3. On Wednesday (today), it will be interesting to see which plan Chairman Terry Burton presents to the entire Senate, and if the Hattiesburg delegation will have the votes to amend the plan on the floor, as he did in committee.

Also on Tuesday, we were lucky enough to have the Hattiesburg Chamber Orchestra play in the Capitol rotunda during the lunch hour. For the second straight year, these incredible musicians dazzled everyone there. I can't tell you how proud it makes me when they come to visit. It solidifies Hattiesburg's place as the center of culture and the arts in this state. And a lot of folks can say negative things about our school district, but no one can touch us in many of the arts programs. After their performance, Chairman Watson and I were able to meet with them in the Ways & Means Committee room to discuss what we do in the Legislature. Then they were able to watch the ATV safety bill debate. It was also good to see Steve, Margie and Taylor Willis, who were visiting with the group.

And to close out yesterday, I send a happy belated birthday wish to my former roommate Isaac Gardner, who's now an accomplished actor and musician in New York City...and ditto for Theresa Erickson, who's pretty much changing the world in Hattiesburg by leading the Pine Belt Community Foundation.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Animal Cruelty Bill Finally Passes

SB 2821 passed the House 119-3 this afternoon. Aside from a few questions on dogs getting into garbage or chasing wildlife, there was little debate on the measure. Reps. Greg Ward and Brandon Jones handled the bill well on the floor, and Rep. Jeff Smith praised Chairman Ward on finally bringing a bill out. The version we voted on was a measure approved by both Farm Bureau and the Humane Society, two organizations that had historically been at odds over the issue.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Proposed Fee Increases to Fund Pay Hikes for Judges/DAs

General docket fee on Supreme Court filings-
would increase from $100 to $200 (this would still be the lowest in the Southeast)

New civil case filing fee in chancery court- $40
New civil case filing fee in circuit court- $40

Traffic violations-
assessment for DA/assistant DAs would increase from $1.50 to $10.

Implied consent law violations-
assessment for DA/assistant DAs would increase from $1.50 to $10.

Game and fish law violations-
assessment for DA/assistant DAs would increase from $1.50 to $10.

Other misdemeanors-
assessment for DA/assistant DAs would increase from $1.50 to $10.

Other felonies-
assessment for DA/assistant DAs would increase from $1.50 to $10.

New assessment for judicial salaries- $75

Friday, February 4, 2011

My Plans for 2011

My Plans for 2011

Four years ago, we began a journey that saw us dream big things for ourselves, our city and our state. We dared to think the political process could be done differently, and the people of Hattiesburg agreed. Serving as your state representative has been an honor. I'll never be able to properly thank all of you-friends, neighbors, church and community- for your support of me and our cause.

I think back to the 2007 campaign and how things have changed since then. As a district, we've seen continued population growth, the announcement of several new economic development projects and a renewed emphasis on our city neighborhoods. For me personally, the last four years brought the purchase of a home, a change in career, and perhaps my biggest overachievement- marrying Kate.

As I've attempted to confront our state's challenges, I'll admit the task has been overwhelming at times. However, my desire remains- to better the quality of life for people; and to provide decent and honest representation for this district.

When I took the oath, I set out to prove politics could be done differently. I've always sought to be known as the guy who worked hard, legislated fairly and pulled people towards common ground. As a Republican, I believe that less government works best- but I also believe our political discourse should remain civil. Sometimes that worked well; other times it did not.

I've also tried to communicate with an honesty and a candor that folks might not be familiar with. Above all, I've pushed an agenda that is fiscally responsible and pro-Hattiesburg, seeking to protect our employers, quality of life and values. And despite a difficult economy, our city has done well. But the job is not done. We continue to face the challenges of keeping homeowners and jobs in our city neighborhoods, bettering our public school system and protecting our health care community. And I intend to keep meeting these challenges head on.

Today, I'm announcing that I intend to seek reelection for state representative for District 102.

I believe our city's best days are ahead. But to be the premier city of Mississippi, we must protect and nurture the resources that make us Hattiesburg- our universities, our health care community, our industries and our strength and independence as a community.

I do not know what challenges the 2011 election will hold. But we intend to win the way we won the first time- by staying positive, working harder and casting a clear vision of what this district can and should be. While we won't hold an event until later or officially start campaigning until after the 2011 session is complete, I want to make my intentions clearly known.

To win, we'll need your help. We'll need your vote, your voice and, not to be cliche, but your prayers. Every bit of your support goes a long way. We can and we will continue to take hold of tomorrow's promise.

And I invite you to join us again in making it happen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Casey Eure, Columbus Day, HEADWAE and other Thursday Ramblings

With inclement weather beginning to bear down on most of Mississippi, the House and Senate elected to adjourn Thursday shortly after swearing in newly-elected Rep. Casey Eure (R-Biloxi). After a two-hour drive to Hattiesburg (kept at a breakneck 45 mph), I'm finally home and actually have a chance to blog between "fetch" throws to my dog.

As for Casey, he'll have to wait until Monday to cast his first official vote in the Mississippi Legislature (unless you count the voice vote to adjourn, which would be a less than climactic opening vote for the history books). In case you weren't around last November, Rep. Eure's predecessor, Rep. Steven Palazzo won a seat in Congress, creating the vacancy. Eure ran first in the first election and won the seat in the runoff on Tuesday.

We didn't move very far down the calendar today. The House leadership brought back up their funds transfer bill that failed yesterday. Apparently, the original bill had a code section in there dealing with a fee, which made it a 3/5 vote that they couldn't quite pull off. So they brought it back up for reconsideration, passed an amendment to delete that section of the bill, which meant the bill only needed a simple majority, and thus it passed. However, we still maintain that it takes more money from the reserves than needed (and more than the House budget negotiators agreed to when the Joint Legislative Budget Committee made its recommendation in December). Either way, the budget will be worked out in conference- but it would go smoother if both sides just went ahead and were realistic on what's feasible this year.

(By the way, the dog has now grown tired of me and is sleeping soundly).

We also designated Columbus Day as an official state holiday, which I did not support. The rationale was that state employees hadn't seen raises in several years, and this was a goodwill gesture. However, Rep. Joe Warren (D-Mount Olive) threw out the figure of $12 million for employee costs per day in committee when it was passed on Tuesday. While this won't change how much the state is dolling out, we are losing productivity. Added to the bill via amendments were "recognition days" (days we recognize but don't make official holidays) African American Day (last day of February) and Women's Day (August 26). Also, Confederate Memorial Day was made a dual holiday by also recognizing at as Civil Rights Memorial Day.

One of the highlights of the day was the HEADWAE luncheon (HEADWAE stands for a very long acronym that I can't remember but denotes appreciation to people involved in higher education in the state). Each college and university, public and private, recognized one outstanding student and one outstanding faculty member. Southern Miss recognized Miss Suzanna Ellzey, a biochemistry major from Hattiesburg and Tri-Delt. Suzanna's a great person from a great family and represented us well. The faculty honoree was Dr. Steven Yuen.

Finally, the official numbers from the U.S. Census arrived for Mississippi today. That means a redistricting plan could be right around the corner.

So I'm off to begin working on the weekly newsletter. If you want daily updates on the happenings of the Mississippi Legislature, you can follow me on Twitter at @toby_barker.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Session Underway

Many apologies for not already blogging by the third day of the 2011 session. Twitter makes it so easy to just send short updates...which by the way, you can follow me on Twitter at @toby_barker. This year, I'll also be continuing my weekly email updates (we've grown our constituent list to nearly 500 people in District 102!). To be on the email list, shoot an email to

We gaveled in Tuesday, January 4 at noon, and most of the Hattiesburg delegation was hard-pressed to make it by then. We had a briefing in Hattiesburg at 9 a.m., where the Mississippi Development Authority filled in the remaining details on the new solar panel facility that is coming to Hattiesburg. Then a few of us stayed for the announcement at 10 a.m., but we had to leave 20 minutes into it to trek up to the Capitol. I managed to make it first with Reps. Larry Byrd and Harvey Fillingane just on my heels.

For our delegation, Tuesday was not the relaxed first day we had known in previous years. A bill had been drafted (HB 403) to authorize the state incentives for the Stion plant, and we had to work both the members of the Ways & Means Committee in the House and the Finance Committee in the Senate, as well as our colleagues on the floor to ensure passage. Around 3:20 p.m., HB 403 had cleared both houses of the legislature and now heads to the Governor Barbour's desk. Tuesday truly was a great day for the city of Hattiesburg, the Pine Belt and all of Mississippi.

Yesterday, House Republicans held off an attempt to override Governor Barbour's veto of HB 1642 from the 2010 session. We also had several hearings to attend. Today, several of Mississippi's Tea Party groups visited the Capitol.

I've noticed several announcements this week for candidates seeking statewide office. Phil Bryant announced on Monday for Governor, Billy Hewes announced at the Capitol on Wednesday for Lt. Governor and Max Phillips announced today.