- Associated Press - Sunday, February 15, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi legislators are approaching the midpoint of their three-month session, and they’ve whittled the list of issues to consider.

Bills to loosen the state’s vaccination law or allow home-schooled students to play public school sports are among those already killed.

Among those still alive are bills to tighten the government contracting process and re-evaluate academic standards.

This being an election year, legislators are also pushing proposals that can be reduced to simple slogans: Car inspection stickers? Gone! Concealed-carry gun permits? Cheaper!

Here’s a look:



- Government contracts: Mississippi’s former corrections commissioner, Christopher Epps, and a businessman, Cecil McCrory, were indicted months ago on federal bribery and corruption charges tied to prison-system contracts. They’ve pleaded not guilty and await trial in April. The case prompted lawmakers to examine the contract process across state government.

House Bill 825 (https://bit.ly/1Ak0GVX ), Senate Bill 2400 (https://bit.ly/1E8E2NL ) and Senate Bill 2553 (https://bit.ly/1E8EcEZ ) are designed to bring greater public scrutiny to state contracts. Among other things, lawmakers say they want to restrict the use of no-bid contracts for goods and services. The House bill awaits debate in the Senate, and the Senate bills have gone to the House.

- Academic standards: Mississippi has spent millions of dollars to implement Common Core academic standards, which seek to teach students to rely more on analytical thinking and less on rote memorization. Many, including state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright and leaders of the Mississippi Economic Council, see Common Core as a solid approach toward improving academic achievement. But, some educators and parents distrust the standards and say students are becoming confused and frustrated.

Common Core is particularly unpopular among tea party members who are likely to vote in the Republican primaries, and the two top Republican statewide elected officials, Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, have expressed their distaste for the standards. Three bills seek to address the issue.

Senate Bill 2161 (https://bit.ly/1zwtkvU ) would create a commission to recommend new academic standards, and the state Board of Education could accept or ignore those recommendations. It has passed the Senate and goes to the House.

House Bill 156 (https://bit.ly/1E8u0w1 ) would do something the state Board of Education has already done, in relabeling the state standards. Instead of calling them Common Core, the board since 2013 has been calling them the Mississippi College- and Career-Ready Standards. The bill, which has passed the House and awaits work in the Senate, would do the same.

House Bill 395 (https://bit.ly/1AjUT2G ), which has passed the House and has gone to the Senate, specifies that local school boards would adopt books and curriculum. Again, this is current policy.

- Inspection stickers: House Bill 982 (https://bit.ly/1E8zA1C ) and Senate Bill 2519 (https://bit.ly/1E8zSpc ) would eliminate the $5 annual inspection sticker for vehicles. Supporters of the change say Mississippi’s inspection process is a joke: Honk your horn, show that your headlights turn signals and windshield wipers work. Each chamber has passed its own bill, and members will have to agree on one before it can go to the governor.

- Guns: Senate Bill 2394 (https://bit.ly/1AjNws4 ) would reduce the concealed-carry gun permit fee, from $100 to $80 for honorably retired law enforcement officers, disabled veterans and active duty military members. It would also reduce the renewal fee from $50 to $40 for people younger than 65 and from $25 to $20 for people 65 and older. Active-duty military members would be added to the list of those getting free renewal, joining honorably retired law enforcement officers and disabled veterans. The bill has passed the Senate and awaits work in the House.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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