JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators on Tuesday began their four-year term facing the challenge of a cash-strapped and chronically understaffed prison system that has been rocked by violence in recent days.
They could also decide this year whether to boost salaries again for teachers who have long been among the lowest paid in the nation. During the election-year session in 2019, legislators approved a $1,500 teacher pay raise. Every $1,000 increase for teachers would cost the state about $75 million.
Republicans are maintaining control of the 122-member House and 52-member Senate.
“A blank slate lies before us," Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said after his colleagues elected him to a third consecutive term as their leader. “Let us work together to make Mississippi better than it has ever been.”
The opening day was taken up with formalities, and many legislators were accompanied by relatives for the swearing-in ceremonies.
Republican Tate Reeves is completing his second term as lieutenant governor. He presided over the Senate on Tuesday and will again Wednesday. The next lieutenant governor, Republican Delbert Hosemann, will be inaugurated Thursday, along with most other statewide elected officials. Reeves' inauguration as governor is Jan. 14.
Senators on Tuesday elected longtime Republican Sen. Dean Kirby of Pearl as the new Senate president pro tempore. Republican Sen. Gray Tollison, who held that job in 2019, did not seek reelection to the Senate.
After House members reelected Gunn as speaker, they chose Republican Rep. Jason White of West as the new speaker pro tempore, the second-ranking leader of the House. White succeeds Republican Greg Snowden, who held the post two terms and was defeated in the party primary in August.
Among the new lawmakers who took office is Democratic Sen. Sarita Simmons of Cleveland, who was elected to fill the seat long held by her father, Willie Simmons. He is being sworn in Tuesday as one of three state transportation commissioners.
Republican Sen. Melanie Sojourner of Natchez returned to the seat she previously held. Sojourner defeated longtime Democratic Sen. Bob Dearing in the 2011 election, then Dearing defeated her in 2015. He didn't seek reelection in 2019.
Republican Rep. Lee Yancey of Brandon was sworn in to the House. He served in the Senate from 2008 to 2012.
Legislative sessions are scheduled to last four months during the first year of a term and three months during other years. However, Gunn has said he hopes legislators can shave at least a couple of weeks off the four-month session.
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