Lauderdale County officials and supporters gathered at Structural Steel Friday as Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann made a campaign stop in the Queen City.
In remarks to the crowd, Hosemann reflected on his first three years in office and touted his conservative record during his time in the Senate, including reducing the state’s debt, slashing income taxes to 4% and raising pay for Mississippi’s teachers by about $6,000.
“If you will do this for me, we’ll have another best four years we’ve ever had in Mississippi,” he said. “And what I’m going to ask you to do is rehire me for lieutenant governor.”
Before voters head to the ballot box, however, lawmakers must get through another legislative session in Jackson. Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, said this is gearing up to be a busy year.
“There’s a lot on our plate really when you get down to it,” he said.
On top of the list of priorities, he said, is a tax rebate, passing postpartum medicaid expansion and helping the state’s rural hospitals.
Under Hosemann’s leadership, the Mississippi Senate passed a bill last year that would have allowed women to stay on medicaid for up to a year after giving birth. Mississippi, which has the highest infant mortality rate and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, cuts off medicaid access at 60 days, which health care experts in the state have said is too soon to avoid many negative health outcomes.
Despite overwhelming support in the Senate, the postpartum bill was not taken up by the house.
Hosemann said he has also met with local hospitals, including Meridian’s Anderson Regional Medical Center and Ochsner Rush Hospital, to see what the Senate might be able to do to help.
State Health Officer Daniel Edney told legislators in November that more than half of the state’s hospitals were in danger of closing their doors. One culprit driving the state’s hospital system toward the edge was more than $600 million in uncompensated care hospitals provided last year.
“They’re really struggling now economically because their costs have gone up and their reimbursements have stayed the same,” he said.” So we’ve got some hospital things that I want to do here, and you’ll see some plans coming out shortly on those.”
Other priorities, Hosemann said, is expanding the year-round school pilot program, which provides funds for districts to make the transition from a nine-month school year to a year-round model. Several districts had already made the switch, he said, including Gulfport, Hattiesburg and Corinth.
“I’d like for Meridian to consider that,” he said. “Not by edict from Jackson, parents and teachers need to run the education system, but really by giving them a financial incentive if they want to go to a modified calendar.”
Under the program, Hosemann said he doesn’t want districts to feel pressured to change, but to enable districts that wanted to try out the year-round calendar to not be burdened by the financial cost of switching.
On top of an extensive legislative agenda, Hosemann said he is also hopeful the House and Senate will be able to revamp the ballot initiative that allows Mississippians to directly vote on issues the legislature may not be handling.
The ballot initiative was struck down in 2020 by the Mississippi Supreme Court over language that required petitions to have an equal number of qualified electors from each of the state’s five congressional districts. Mississippi lost a congressional district after the 2010 census, and the court ruled the ballot initiative process, requiring voters from five districts, was not valid.
While legislators couldn’t quite get a revamped initiative bill over the bar, Hosemann said a lot of work was done in last year’s session, and he is hopeful they’d have success this year.
“I’m hopeful on a ballot initiative,” he said. “I’d like to have one.”
Houseman said his vision for the bill would allow voters to directly change the law and not the constitution as the previous initiative did. The process would also have protections prohibiting lawmakers from undoing the changes the next time they met.
Regardless of what is passed, Hosemann said he wants to make sure the initiative process was used wisely and followed the will of the people.
“I think it ought to be only for really serious matters that the legislature hasn’t addressed at the will of the people,” he said. “Direct public input is good.”