Democrats lay out agenda; one tapped to lead key committee

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Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, during state agency budget hearings with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, will chair the House Judiciary B Committee. 

Despite what is expected be an uneventful 2019 legislation session, Democrats are proposing an aggressive agenda as one of their colleagues is tapped to lead a key legislative committee.

Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, announced that Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, would assume the chairmanship of the House Judiciary B Committee.

Former Rep. Andy Gipson, who accepted an appointment as state agriculture commissioner, previously chaired the committee. Under Gipson, a Republican from Braxton, the committee known simply as Jud B to Capitol insiders, handled some of the most controversial bills related to the courts and law-enforcement each session.

In past years, bills that broadened the ability of domestic abuse victims to cite such abuse as grounds for divorce, created the 15-week abortion ban, religious freedom law, each went through the committee. Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory, who is also a Democrat, is chairman of the Judiciary B Committee in the Senate.

Cockerham, an attorney, has served in the Legislature since 2005. An ally of Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, she is considered a centrist Democrat who occasionally crosses the aisle to vote with the Republican majority in the House. She, along with Rep. Deborah Dixon, D-Raymond, are the lone Democrats to hold chairmanships in the House.

Rep. Gary Staples, R-Laurel, will take over as chairman of the Energy Committee, which Cockerham previously chaired.

The Legislative Democratic Caucus discusses their priorities for the 2019 session on Jan. 9, 2019.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Democratic Caucus met to outline their legislative priorities to the media and remind people they’ve consistently supported several issues Republican leadership seems open to this session, like teacher pay raises and possibly expanding Medicaid.

“I think politics factor into everything that is done under this Capitol dome,” said Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who is also the House minority leader. “But the bottom line is if it’s the right thing for Mississippi, then these folks around me and behind me are going to support it.”

Together, Democrats say their 2019 priorities include legislation that supports public education, health care, infrastructure, economic justice, criminal justice and election reforms.

“The fact that we have been persistently supporting these issues for about a decade and now the governor has moved towards our position and it looks like something might happen on several of those topic areas…We think that’s positive for all Mississippians,” Baria said.