Mississippi Legislature begins new term as GOP overhauls House leadership

  • Mississippi’s Republican-dominated Legislature began its annual session on Tuesday.
  • All members were sworn in for four-year terms, while the 122-member House elected Rep. Jason White as its next speaker.
  • White, a Republican who served as speaker pro tempore under his predecessor, former Rep. Philip Gunn, will be succeeded in the advisory role by Rep. Manly Barton.

The Republican-controlled Mississippi Legislature begins its annual session Tuesday, with all members being sworn in for a four-year term and the House electing new leaders after the previous speaker chose not to seek reelection.

Rep. Jason White of West secured promises of support from his Republican colleagues weeks ago to become the next House speaker. He will succeed Republican Philip Gunn of Clinton, who held the leadership post for the past 12 years.

White was speaker pro tempore under Gunn, the second-highest leadership post in the 122-member House. Republican Rep. Manly Barton of Moss Point is in line to become the new speaker pro tem. In that role, he will be a close adviser to White and will preside over the House when White is away.

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Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann returns for his second term presiding over the 52-member Senate. He and six other statewide officials will be inaugurated Thursday.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves will be inaugurated Jan. 9, beginning his second term in that job after previously serving as state treasurer and lieutenant governor.

Reeves is pushing legislators to eliminate the state income tax, saying that will help Mississippi compete with Florida and Texas, which don’t tax income. In 2022, legislators and Reeves enacted Mississippi’s largest-ever tax cut, which reduces the income tax over four years beginning in 2023.

Then-Speaker Pro Tempore of the Mississippi House of Representatives Jason White, a Republican, is photographed at the state Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023, shortly before his ascension to his chamber’s speakership. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Hosemann said legislators could consider another income tax cut or a reduction in the 7% grocery tax, depending on how the economy is faring. Any income tax reduction would continue to be phased in rather than happening suddenly, he said.

“We may well get to the elimination of the income tax, probably at the rate we’re going faster than they proposed last time, by doing it in a cogent, fiscally responsible way versus some political statement,” Hosemann said.

Conservative groups are pushing “school choice” plans, which could allow parents to send their children to other public schools outside their attendance zone if those schools accept the students, or could allow public money to go toward private schools or homeschooling.

Legislators could consider reviving a way for people to petition to put issues on the statewide ballot. In 2021, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the state’s initiative process was invalid because it required people to gather signatures from five outdated congressional districts rather than the four current districts.

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For the first time, they could also give serious consideration to expanding Medicaid to people who work in jobs that provide modest wages and no health insurance.

Medicaid expansion is an option under the health care overhaul signed into law in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. Mississippi is one of 10 states that have not taken the option, with Reeves calling Medicaid “welfare.” Gunn also opposed expansion.

The incoming House speaker said he wants legislators to get a firm idea of how many people could become eligible for Medicaid coverage if it’s expanded. White also said he wants to talk to business leaders about whether they could cover part of the state’s cost.

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“It’s got to be something we can afford and that makes sense,” White said. “We are one of the poor states, if not the poorest. It’s foolish for us to not figure out a way to make this work.”

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