The 2022 session of the Mississippi State Legislature wrapped up in April of this year. Nonetheless, representatives and senators representing West Jackson met with constituents on Monday, July 25, 2022 to discuss the impact the session had on a central area of the capital city and plans for 2023. The legislative update and forum was sponsored by Bottom Rebuilders and featured Representatives De’Keither Stamps (District 66), Zakiya Summers (District 68), Alyce Clark (District 69), and Bo Brown (District 70) and Senators Hillman Frazier (District 27) and Sollie Norwood (District 28).
While introducing the panel, Rep. Summers noted that “a lot of times, West Jackson gets a bad rap. We hear about it on the news, but there are a lot of positive things that are happening in this community. And we are believing in transformation, and we’re working towards transformation. We have developed a vision for this community with four key components: good homes, good schools, good jobs, and a safe community.”
In the spirit of three of those components – good jobs, good schools, and a safe community – the legislators presented a $100,000 check to the Bottom Rebuilders who are in the process of building a school. The event was held at the Metropolitan Ministerial Fellowship which is the future site of the B.R.I.N.G. School for Workforce Development. It is located at 3171 Robinson Street (behind Chuk Stop where Lindsey Drive ends).
The Bottom Rebuilders is a collaborative made up of Rosemont M.B. Church, Jayne Avenue Neighborhood Association, Supervisor Credell Calhoun (District 3), Rep. Summers, and neighbors concentrated in the Capitol Street, Ellis Avenue, St. Charles Street, and Nimitz Street area. The group is working to “rejuvenate, restore, and restrengthen their community into a strong, healthy, and financially secure neighborhood by focusing on homes, schools, jobs, and safety.”
Rep. Summers stated, “They believe in the mission of the ministerial fellowship that [Pastor Jimmie Edwards] mentioned during his opening remarks. And it is to turn this building into a school for workforce development…We got a hundred thousand dollars passed as part of our local infrastructure appropriations bill that will help to restore this building. I am just so elated and so thrilled that the states saw the vision of this building and the work that we’re trying to do for this community.”
Topics discussed during the forum included public education funding, water/sewer infrastructure funding, medical marijuana, broadband, redistricting and election reform, and workforce development, along with a review of the 2022 session.
Public Education Funding
Rep. Summers mentioned the teacher pay raise bill (HB 530) that passed in the 2022 session. “We worked with our partners at the Mississippi Association of Educators to get the teacher pay raise bill passed, and that bill will give an average pay raise of about $5,100 to teachers. It depends on their endorsement, but it’s higher than the regional average as well as the national average.”
Rep. Summers also co-sponsored a bill that passed that would implement computer science within the public school curriculum. “Now every school will have access to a computer science curriculum that will teach them about things like coding. Everything is moving towards technology, and we have to equip our children with those tools so that we can also attract industry into the city of Jackson, Hinds County, and across the state that will be able to hire our young people once they come out of school.”
Rep. Alyce Clark was able to secure appropriations for the Career Development Center near Provine High School. “We have a jewel right here in our midst over to that career development center. We can train people to be whatever they want to be. When they successfully complete the programs, they make more than some of our teachers make. That’s good and that’s bad.”
For two years in a row, Rep. Clark has been able to obtain $200,000 for the center. She hopes that the center will use some funds for beautification purposes so that people will be attracted to and curious about what can be learned there. She also touched on the fact that a lot of the initial funds for the lottery have gone to infrastructure issues like repairing roads and bridges, but she is anticipating when the funds will positively affect education in the state.
Keeping with the theme of workforce development, Ryan Miller, the director of Accelerate MS, spoke on their programs and desire to expand job and career pathways in Mississippi. Accelerate MS is a coordinating office that was designed to try to develop strategies for the workforce and deploy those strategies throughout the entire state. Miller stated that it is their mission to develop strategies that make opportunities more available and more accessible in our communities.
Accelerate MS now has funding to deploy up to 80 career coaches throughout the state of Mississippi. They will work in schools to provide career counseling to students. They also have partnerships with community colleges to create more career pathways in the healthcare field, including programs for nursing, medical technicians, and other medical staff which is made available through ARPA funds.
The organization also has a technology program. “We wanna make sure that our youngsters and all of our communities are dreaming big about new technological advances in industry and how that might impact your community and, and grow the opportunity for small business,” said Miller. Additionally, future resources for single mothers who want to take part in a training or education program and need additional support and assistance will be available.
Kris Adcock, the director for the MS Medical Cannabis Program, talked about business opportunities and medical marijuana distribution in Mississippi. Adcock stated that medical marijuana will work like any other prescription drug. In addition to identifying if a person’s medical condition falls under the guidelines of the state’s medical marijuana law, eligible individuals will discuss with their medical practitioner (one who is licensed to prescribe medical marijuana) about if it is the best treatment for them.
At this time, there are a dozen businesses who are licensed to cultivate in the state. There will also be licensed dispensaries across the state. The enrollment process for patients will stay open all the time. The application process for facilities (cultivators, processors, and testors) opened up June 1 and the dispensary application opened up July 5. Both application processes are still open. For more information, visit https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/30,0,425.html#licensing.
Water/Sewer Infrastructure Funding
Mike Freiman and Christopher Messemore, from the MS Department of Environmental Quality, were on hand to talk about funding for infrastructure in Jackson. The Mississippi Legislature passed and Governor Tate Reeves signed Senate bill 2822 into law, creating the Mississippi Municipal and County Water Infrastructure Grant Program. The grant program is funded with $450 million of state held ARPA funds. The program surrounds infrastructure projects involving water waste, water and stormwater and will be administered by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
There are many stipulations to apply for funding, including the fact that municipalities or counties who apply will have to match one for one, dollar for dollar with the funds they are asking for through their own local ARPA funding. Counties can transfer to municipalities and municipalities can transfer to public utility that are not regulated by the public service commission. Smaller municipalities who receive equal or less than $1 million in ARPA funding are eligible for two to one matching not exceeding $50 million.
Entities must be MS 811 incorporated. The project must fall under what ARPA guidelines state as a necessary infrastructure investment. And the project must be completed by the ARPA deadline which is currently December 31, 2026. Priority is taken for under-resourced communities and projects that are ready to start immediately. Applications will be due in September with the first award distributed by December 2022 and the second award distributed by July 2023. For more information about the application process, visit mdq.ms.gov.
Sally Doty, director of Broadband Expansion and Accessibility of Mississippi (BEAM), is expecting millions of dollars in ARPA funding and federal infrastructure funding to help communities who have never had accessible broadband (unserved) or who have less than needed access to broadband (underserved). She noted that most of Hinds County has adequate broadband access. There is 14% of Hinds County that is unserved which means they rely on satellite access. Underserved communities have access to DSL.
The Capital Projects Fund is $162 million for the state. This program is projected to be available this fall. The second program that uses money from the federal government’s infrastructure program will range from $500 million to $1 billion in funds. BEAM is currently creating a 5-year plan to structure how broadband will evolve in the state. There is also the Affordable Connectivity program that provides a $30/month discount for broadcast services and one-time assistance for the purchase of a device for low-income households. Service providers have to participate for households to be eligible. Lastly, the Digital Equity Grant which is approximately $20 million seeks to eradicate digital inequities. Skills, workforce training, and more digital devices in libraries are covered under this grant. For more information, visit http://www.beam.ms.gov.
Rep. Summers expressed to the audience, “We need to hear from you all. We go back in session in January, if there are certain items or issues that are happening in your community or things you would like to see, let us know those things so that when we go back into session, we are informed on the things that we need to push for…We need your help with some of our other colleagues across the aisle to get some of this stuff done. We need you making calls and tell your folks that live in other parts of the state to get in touch with their legislators, because we can’t do it alone. In order for us to get something done, we gotta get support from the other side.”
Rep. Clark emphasized, “If there’s something else that you want us to do, just let us know. We can’t do all we want to do, but you be assured we don’t have sense enough to stop trying, and we will keep trying and keep trying and keep trying.”
Legislators also answered questions from the audience. Visit our website at www.jacksonadvocateonline.com for more of this conversation. To contact a legislator, visit http://www.legislature.ms.gov/.