Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn gained feedback from local community members Tuesday [Oct. 8] with discussion from constituents ranging from firearms to childcare and government transparency.
Gunn's MSU visit was part of his second annual "Mississippi Solutions--an Idea Tour." In addition to Starkville, Gunn is holding similar town hall-style meetings this week throughout Mississippi. He said the meetings are an effort to create an idea-sharing, solution-inspiring forum for all Mississippians.
Gunn, a Republican, began serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2004.
"The objective is to bring the Legislature to the people," Gunn said. He explained that the events were not designed to be a political forum or debate, but to give people a chance to voice thoughts and suggestions to Gunn and other legislative representatives.
At the Starkville event, Dist. 19 Rep. Randy Boyd, Dist. 35 Rep. Joey Hood and Dist. 37 Rep. Gary Chism were on hand to listen as citizens voiced concerns.
"We want to hear from you," Gunn said. "We want to at least provide you with that opportunity."
MSU President Mark E. Keenum, who introduced Gunn, said he has enjoyed working with the speaker and found him to be committed to hard work with a strong vision and passion for moving Mississippi forward.
"We're very honored to have Speaker Phillip Gunn here at Mississippi State. It's very important as he's going around the state with his listening tour for him to choose to come to Mississippi State University, our state's largest, most comprehensive research university," Keenum said.
Gunn kicked off the tour Monday in his hometown of Clinton, before holding meetings in Clarksdale and Olive Branch. Earlier Tuesday, he held events in in Oxford and Corinth. Meetings in Vicksburg and Natchez are scheduled for Wednesday, and Gunn will finish the tour Thursday with events in Laurel and Pascagoula. He said the locations were chosen strategically because all Mississippians would be within an hour's drive of at least one of the tour meetings.
Among the issues brought up during citizen comments Tuesday were the Affordable Care Act, Common Core standards in education, protection of the Second Amendment, fingerprint scanning at childcare centers, child support laws, accountability of public funds committed to economic development projects and a shortage of highway patrol officers.
Kosciusko Mayor Jimmy Cockroft attended the session and told Gunn the city would like local option sales tax authority to provide funding for adequate street maintenance.
"We just can't get over the hump," he said after describing crumbling roads. He asked legislators to consider ways to help, such as by providing small municipal grants.
Gunn said that thus far on the "Idea Tour," some common themes have risen from the meetings, as well as some insight on unique issues.
Keenum said the university's legislative priorities for this year focus on the budget.
"We're very fortunate right now that our state economy has improved considerably, and we're looking forward to a good budget year," Keenum said. "We've made a significant request for all eight public universities, but we think it's a fair request, that's reflective of the work that we collectively do in educating, conducting research and serving the needs of our state."
Gunn said higher education funding was one of his personal top four priorities in 2013.
"It continues to be a priority for us. We recognize the value of higher education in Mississippi, and we want to make sure that it stays that way," Gunn said.
For more information about Mississippi State University, see www.msstate.edu.