By Stephanie R. Jones
The Mississippi Legislature began its 2016 session on Tuesday with the addition of 25 new members of the House of Representatives and seven new members of the Senate. Among the new members are eight African Americans in the House and two in the Senate.
Legislators were joined in the packed chambers by family members, colleagues and friends for the swearing in.
Joining the House are:
• Chris Bell, Jackson, District 65, Hinds County
• Cedric Burnett, Tunica, District 9 Coahoma, Quitman, Tate and Tunica counties
• Jarvis Dortch, Raymond, District 66, Hinds County
• Kabir Kareem, Columbus, District 41, Lowndes County
• Carl Milkens, Brooksville, District 42, Lowndes, Noxubee and Winston counties
• Orlando W. Paden, Clarksdale, District 26, Bolivar and Coahoma counties
• Kathy Sykes, Jackson, District 70, Hinds County
• Kenneth Walker of Carthage, District 27, Attala, Leake, Madison and Yazoo counties
New to the Senate side are:
• Juan Barnett, Heidelberg, District 34, Forrest, Jasper, Jones and Smith counties
• Tammy Felder Witherspoon, McComb, District 38, Adams, Amite, Pike, Wathall and Wilkinson counties.
Several of the freshman representatives pointed to education funding, economic sustainability and growth and expansion of health care services as key issues for the current session, which were pretty much the same as issues of focus for veteran lawmakers. The newcomers are hoping their contributions will impact the outcomes on such matters.
Sykes, a longtime community organizer, said she’s understands there is no magic fix for pressing issues. “There are a lot of big dreams but the reality is it’s going be a struggle. There are issues that unite us but there are concerns,” Sykes said.
Her areas of concern will be health care, housing and jobs, among others.
“We are going to do our best to try to make a difference for residents of District 70,” said Sykes, who replaces veteran representative and Civil Rights activist Jim Evans, who endorsed her candidacy. “A crucial element to success is involving citizens to hold representatives accountable, and that includes me.”
Walker said his district is very rural and in need of infrastructure in addition to education and expanded health care and he will focus on those issues.
He added that high-speed Internet service is something he wants to address for his district. “It’s very poor, especially once you get to the northern parts of Madison County. Even cell phone service is very poor,” said Walker a construction project manager.
“I will be meeting with some Internet providers in the coming weeks to discuss it.” He said it has been looked into before but was cost-prohibitive but maybe now technology has improved to where it’s possible.”
Dortch, an attorney, said state leaders should be watchful of tax cuts that would be detrimental to the populace. “We need to make sure that as cuts are made they are done in a way that doesn’t cut services.”
Dortch also said he supports fully funding education in the state and expanding Medicaid, something the state has not done. “We are last in the country on education and it should be fully funded if we are going to make progress,” he said. “Thousands in the state don’t have affordable health care. In the long run we are going to hospitals and other medical facilities suffer,” meaning individuals will suffer even more, he said.
Paden, whose district covers Delta counties, said transportation issues are on the top of his agenda along with economic development and education funding. “I’m going to work to get a four-lane highway. We want Highway 6 to be four lanes,” Paden said. “And we need Medicaid expanded for the financial wellbeing of our health centers and citizens.”
After the festivities of the afternoon, a bit of routine work was accomplished such as appointing committees and staff members.
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at email@example.com or (601) 454-0372.