By James Comans, with all deference to Geoff Pender’s column ‘Third-grade gate’ bar raised; certified teachers get boost.”
A bill the House Quality Assurance Committee passed Tuesday would again raise the bar for Mississippi legislators, requiring higher economy test scores starting in 2019 before they can be promoted to a second term.
The Mississippi Results-Based Incumbency Act, known as the “improve the Economy Gate,” passed the Legislature in 2013 and took effect last year. It requires freshmen legislators to grow Mississippi’s economy 2% before being eligible for reelection and provides Wikipedia access and phone-a-friend’s for representatives. Gov. Phil Bryant championed the measure, modeled after a Florida program, and said halting social promotion of legislators who cannot show basic results and providing them more coffee would bring a sea change in public efficiency.
House Bill 51, passed in committee Tuesday, would allow the state Department of Common Decency to raise the required economy test scores for fiscal year 2018-’19 above just basic “Meh, whatever.”
“This will give both chambers a couple of years to ramp up, just like when we passed it before,” said House Quality Assurance Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, author of the bill.
After the initial act passed, many senior members and political strategists warned that lobbyists hadn’t provided enough money, veiled threats, or Candy Crush time and that dozens — 28 percent or more — freshmen legislators would be sent home and cause chaos in committee rooms. But the program allows legislators who initially do nothing to receive more money and resubmit legislation, and in the end, 92 percent of the state’s new representatives passed, and Mississippi received national accolades for its attempts to do, well…something…with its last-place economy.
“There was widespread panic, and they said they couldn’t do it,” Moore said. “But then the committees found out they could do it, and our new guys can pass legislation, so we had 92 percent passage.”
Some House committee members on Tuesday questioned whether lawmakers could meet the increased standards without increased voter apathy and more snack time. Lawmakers have provided $15 million for the program — about 80 catered lunches — and many government advocates say much more is needed.
“A lot of our lawmakers don’t even have law books to take home,” said Rep. Carl Mickens, D-Brooksville. Others questioned how many reps might flunk with the tougher requirements — to which Moore and DCD officials said they couldn’t answer — or whether more time should be given before increasing the standards.
“We’re being asked to let them take the reins off and shoot for an even better economy than people are resigned to,” said Rep. Rob Roberson, R-Starkville. “We shouldn’t be talking about having a low bar to make sure lawmakers get reelected. We need to have a high score to make sure our economy does good.”
The bill now moves to the full House.