Conservatives did not get everything they wanted this legislative session, but they got a lot. The Republican controlled House of Representatives led by Speaker Phillip Gunn, and the Senate under Republican Tate Reeves, achieved significant legislative victories.

The Child Protection Act which requires reporting of a sex crime against a minor (including DNA evidence from an abortion conducted on a child less than 14 years of age to determine the father) passed - an achievement on the agendas of Gunn, Reeves and Republican Governor Phil Bryant. In the battles between employers and lawyers, reminiscent of the tort reform struggle, major workers compensation reform was passed and (at column deadline) Attorney General Sunshine reform seemed imminent.

Mississippi businesses got inventory tax relief. The legislature took a first step toward school consolidations in Sunflower County. Redistricting maps are rolling out this week.

The legislature also addressed other issues.

A Jackson sales tax bill was killed. A Hancock County sales tax bill was approved. Churches were exempted from utility sales tax. A much needed judicial pay raise was approved, paid for through increased court filing fees and championed behind the scenes by both Republican and Democratic leaning lobbyists. Legislators also finally realized they can vote on an alcohol bill without a Church revolt: the allowed alcohol level in beer was increased under bipartisan efforts. In fact, while debate was rancorous and behind the scenes struggling was fierce, most bills passed in a heavily bipartisan manner.

Prolife advocates were disappointed in the failure of the "heartbeat" bill, but in addition to the Child Protection Act, the legislature also passed improvements to Mississippi's adoption laws and required anyone performing an abortion to be a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist and have admitting privileges to a local hospital. This effectively could close state's last abortion clinic.


Conservatives did not get everything they wanted
this legislative session, but they got a lot.



Perhaps the biggest disappointed among conservatives was the failure of charter school legislation. Thwarted by the education bureaucracy and a handful of House Republicans from successful school districts, this relief for students and parents in areas of the state needing a different route to public school success will be attempted again next session. Reeves argued against a watered down version of charter schools through a conference committee saying opponents continued to move the goal posts.

Legislation targeting illegal immigrants, opposed by law enforcement and business interests, died despite heavy efforts by groups like the Mississippi Tea Party. Tea Party groups (generally founded on principles of lower taxes, reduced spending, less debt and decreased regulation) advocated for illegal immigration restrictions, charter schools and anti-abortion legislation. They were largely - if not completely - silent on increased fees and taxes passed this session.

In fact, the Mississippi Tea Party legislative score card graded Reeves an "F" on the budget and "F" on the economy. But Tea Partiers should be celebrating Reeves for holding the line in one of the most fiscally conservative issues before the legislature: debt. For all the talk about federal earmarks, little attention is placed on hundreds of millions of dollars in state spending essentially put on the state credit card. Republican and Democratic "conservatives" alike use pro-life, pro-gun and Christian values rhetoric to lay claim to a conservative mantle, only to spend tax dollars like big government liberals.

Many socially conservative Republicans use the term "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) for socially liberal Republicans, yet give a pass to fiscally liberal Republicans simply because they agree with their moral values.

This year the House proposed more than $400 million in bonds; the Senate proposed $120 million. When the two could not agree, Reeves was not afraid to walk away from a bad compromise.

The political and financial blog Jackson Jambalaya reported on past years bonding and reported the amounts passed by the Democrat controlled House of Representatives under Speaker Billy McCoy, and Reeve's Republican predecessor Bryant: 2011 - $615 million; 2010 - $857.9 million; 2009 - $376.4 million; 2008 - $27.8 million. The blog mentioned the state's current debt exceeds $4 billion with another $1.2 billion in bonds authorized but not yet issued.

I don't suggest all the bond projects were without merit. Long term financing of projects which create greater return than expense can be a prudent financial management tool for government. Mississippi has a good bond rating. But bonds can be expensive and over the past four years Mississippi spent $1.49 billion on debt service costs.

Reeves exercise in fiscal restraint shows an economic conservatism sometimes missing among Mississippi Republicans. His policy decisions keep the promises he made during the campaign. The politics of the issue provides him the fiscal conservative high ground among others in the GOP and further distinguishes his record from that of his predecessor Bryant.

Despite inaccurate claims of a slow start and partisan spin about process blunders, the Republicans delivered on their campaign promises with both socially and fiscally conservative achievements.



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Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.