Legislators focus on Mental Health Awareness

By TOM MILES,

Last week, we spent quite a bit of time listening to experts discuss the need for a comprehensive, improved mental health care system in our state as we observed Mental Health Awareness Day at the Capitol.

We learned a lot from Ms. Ruth Ann Rigby, the guest speaker at the Friends of Mississippi State Hospital and Friends of Hudspeth Center’s annual Legislative Appreciation Luncheon. She told us how she went through treatment with 35 people over 20 years ago, and that she is the only one still living. That brought home the importance of funded, accessible alcohol and drug treatment programs.

I met with Chancery Clerks Mrs. Lee Anne Livingston Palmer of Scott County and Mr. Larry Swales of Rankin County who visited with their colleagues all of us as members of the Legislature. That group has a huge responsibility in helping their constituents navigate the difficulties of receiving mental health care.

Thankfully, we are now living in a time that recognizes mental illness is a treatable condition like any other, and that people who suffer from it deserve compassion and help, if at all possible. We must expand the availability of mental health centers to our fellow Mississippians, and we can start by restoring the $24 million in funding that was cut during the past term — measures I opposed.

It was my honor to offer words of encouragement to the graduates of the Star Academy at Morton High School during their graduation program. I am so proud of the students and teachers whose dedication has made this program so successful, and I’m proud of Morton High School for showing this example across the state for others to follow. This is one program that will have lasting benefits for these young people.  

I had the privilege of meeting with officials from Rush Hospital and our local hospital director Heather Davis from Scott Regional to talk about their efforts and needs to improve health care in our area.

I had a blast during the Legislative Show Down at the Dixie National when Miss Addison and Mr. Cade Vowell let me show their cow. Showing livestock is a great way to teach young people responsibility and dedication, and we can surely be proud of our local future cattle farmers.

Members of the Mississippi Economic Council were at the Capitol informing us about coming economic development projects around the state. In discussion with local leaders, I learned of some of the projects that will be creating new jobs in our area. There will be more information on these projects to come. 

The Appropriations committee orchestrated a rejection of efforts to fix the law so that retired state employees can serve in the Legislature and also draw their retirement funds. Despite an Attorney General’s opinion and a PERS rule change, the Speaker does not intend to allow retirees who were elected to the House to be paid for their service and also draw their retirement. This is a huge loss of expertise in my opinion, and it is Mississippi’s loss if they and other retired state employees can’t serve.

We also recognized and honored the Alcorn Braves for winning the SWAC Championship for the second year in a row.