By STEVEN NALLEY
Guests from across the Golden Triangle packed the Columbus City Hall Tuesday to share opinions with Mississippi Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn as part of “Mississippi Solutions — An Ideas Tour.”
Multiple members of the Mississippi House of Representatives joined Gunn at the forum, including David Gibbs from West Point, Esther Harrison from Columbus, Gary Chism from New Hope, Chris Brown from Aberdeen, Joey Hood from Ackerman and Tyrone Ellis from Starkville. Gunn said these representatives were not here to speak but to listen.
“We’ve been traveling all over the state the last two days, and this is our fifth town hall meeting,” Gunn said. “We’ve had a whole lot of problems presented but not a whole lot of solutions. Sometimes legislators get into Jackson ... and it’s hard to contact your legislature. So our idea is to bring the legislature to you.”
More than one member of the audience raised questions about Mississippi’s gun laws, including Elaine Vechorik of Sturgis. Vechorik said state gun laws have conflicting language about age requirements, the definition of concealing a weapon and concealed weapons training certification. She also said the state needs to re-evaluate the laws that keep guns out of courtrooms while court is in session.
“That’s a good law that I support,” Vechorik said. “The problem is that judges in Tupelo, Webster and Hinds Counties have taken it upon themselves to say that guns were not only not allowed in the courtroom during session, but not allowed in the entire courthouse. One judge has gone so far as to say guns are not allowed in the courthouse and parking lot. We need regulations that require courthouse administrators to place metal detectors outside the courtroom door, instead of placing them at the entrances to the entire courthouse.”
Another recurring issue was Mississippi law concerning vaccinations, raised by Vicky Rose of West Point. She and her husband Matt Rose moved from Minnesota to Mississippi in 2009 because of Minnesota’s high business taxes and property rights violations, she said, and while Mississippi has been hospitable to them, she views the vaccination law as preventing her from deciding what is best for her children’s health.
“Mississippi is one of only two states which does not allow parents to decide how many vaccines they want their kids to have, if they want to spread them out or selectively vaccinate or if they should completely abstain from them as they consider the health of their children,” Vicky Rose said. “This very issue has families leaving the state (or choosing) not to move here for school or job offers. You can help move Mississippi forward by choosing to support the bill Sen. (Chris) McDaniel will be introducing to the Senate Health Committee this fall.”
Vicky and Matt Rose are also managing partners for TechGuyz in Starkville and West Point, and Matt Rose raised questions of his own about local and statewide business. When he said the state’s inventory tax punished businesses for having their products on hand, Gunn replied that several legislators are working to phase that tax out, triggering applause. Matt Rose said he also questions the wisdom of feeding public money to economic development, including the Golden Triangle Regional Development Authority planned to launch in October 2014.
“When we get half a billion dollars to get a solar company to come here and create a couple hundred jobs, the payout is over 15 or 20 years,” Matt Rose said. “I don’t see how that’s beneficial. It’s the small businesses that spur economic development and create jobs. Small business owners, try to take out a loan these days. We bailed out all those big banks, and they won’t give us a dime.”
Charter schools were another recurring issue, raised by Jason Spears of the Columbus Municipal School District Board. Spears said he was concerned about charter schools not facing the same regulations public schools face, giving conventional public schools a competitive disadvantage.
“How is it that you’re going to allow those two separate entities with their own values and systems of doing things to be in one area?” Spears asked. “How are you going to allow one to be able to operate with their guidelines and then still have the federal regulations imposed on the other? It could, to me, in some way, impede or handicap the school district to be able to go for what the legislature wants to see and to be able to (grow) from an F or a D all the way to a B or an A.”