- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Partisan tensions in the Mississippi House have eased a bit this year, the leader of the Democratic minority said Monday.

Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis told a luncheon sponsored by the Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps that he and Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn have been holding regular meetings.

Baria says Democrats want to cooperate with Republicans when they can to improve education, economic growth and the state’s roads and bridges.

“These problems are serious, but they’re not insoluble,” he said. “I believe that if we’re to address them properly, they will require bipartisan effort at the Capitol. Democrats in the Legislature will work to find common ground with Republicans on these and other issues. But where we can’t find common ground, we’re going to stand our ground on what we believe to be our core values.”

Democrats make up less than 40 percent of the 122-member House, meaning they can’t stop most general bills or even spending items that require a 60 percent supermajority. In 2016, they used procedural weapons to bog down House business after they said Republicans were targeting them in judicial redistricting and trying to wrest control of Jackson’s airports from a board appointed by the city’s mayor. That showdown ended in hard feelings and a shaky truce.

Baria said he recognizes Democrats will have trouble enacting much of their agenda, but says he’s been encouraged by interest in a bill that he authored calling for equal pay for men and women providing the same work. He says Democrats want to see the state provide universal preschool and two tuition-free years of community college.

He says he wants to go slow on any changes to the state’s K-12 school funding formula, saying he wants to see proposals examined carefully. Baria called on Republicans to hold more public hearings on legislation in general, saying that too often, there’s no substantive discussion of bills in committee.

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