BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - About 200 Coast business leaders and lawmakers gathered at the Golden Nugget Tuesday morning for the Coast Chamber’s annual post-legislative briefing.
Local state lawmakers discussed what they saw as the highs and lows of their time in Jackson, looking at accomplishments made and what’s left to be done.
State Senators Deborah Dawkins, Joel Carter and Michael Watson, along with Representatives Scott Delano and Sonya Williams-Barnes formed Monday’s panel, and it didn’t take long before they were tackling one of the hottest topics from this year’s session - teacher pay raises.
This year, legislators agreed on a $1500 pay raise for teachers and assistant teachers. Senator Michael Watson was among those who said the pay raise was a fair solution.
“I think we’ll see more in the year to come, but the also important piece is making sure we’re not pitting our teachers against our other state employees. So, we gave our other state employees a raise as well. We need to make sure we do that for every one to give them the best that we can,” he said.
On the other side, Representative Sonya Williams-Barnes stood firm that teachers deserve more.
“I personally didn’t feel like it was enough," she said, "because we have to make sure that teachers are competitive, and education is a foundation here in our state, and it makes sure we have a good workforce. And if we aren’t competitive and we begin losing teachers, then it could be detrimental to our state.”
Senator Deborah Dawkins said the teacher pay raise is just one of many issues and reasons why she is disappointed with the outcomes of this year’s session.
“I’m not going to pat myself on the back or anybody else because we did not accomplish what we should have,” she said.
Looking ahead to 2020, lawmakers discussed bringing BP oil spill money to the Coast and how to spend it. They also expect to once again talk about the state flag.
Lawmakers filed more than a dozen bills this year to redesign the flag, but they were all killed early in the session.
The briefing also put a special focus on fallen Biloxi police officer Robert McKeithen. A special table was left empty at the front of the room, set and reserved in his honor.