UPDATE: While House Speaker Philip Gunn in a press release listed Rep. Debra Gibbs as a member of his commission, she says she is not serving on the commission. Her name has been removed from the list. Gunn’s office on Wednesday confirmed Gibbs will not serve on the commission but provided no other details.

House Speaker Philip Gunn on Tuesday announced membership of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who’ve been serving on a “Commission on Life” panel to guide post-abortion ban policies for the House.

Gunn announced he was creating such a commission in June after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on a Mississippi case that overturned Roe vs. Wade abortion rights. He said the ruling would bring “new challenges” for Mississippi to make sure “those who are born have the resources they need.”

Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation, suffers from lack of prenatal, postnatal and all other forms of health care. It also has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation and one of the highest maternal death rates. It has for years faced federal court decrees to address its substandard foster care and children’s services system.

In a press release Gunn indicated his new commission has already been working, apparently in private, and has “already identified the following areas of need:”

  • Engaging the faith community. “Churches have a tremendous opportunity to step up and minister to women and children,” Gunn’s release said.
  • Helping pregnancy resource centers. Gunn said the commission wants to further incentivize businesses to help these centers. Early this year, lawmakers approved up to $3 million in tax credits for donations to the more than 30 centers in the state.
  • Increasing access to adoption. Gunn said adoption should be “more readily available and affordable.”
  • Creating jobs for moms. Gunn said job opportunities and better access to childcare should be incentivized.
  • Helping families with challenges. This would focus on help for “those suffering from family breakdown, abuse, drug addiction, homelessness, special needs or other crises.”
  • Cultivating a life-affirming culture. Gunn said he wants to implement policies that “encourage strong marriages, stable families and abstinence.”
  • Improving child support enforcement. This is aimed at holding non-custodial parents more accountable.
  • Improving foster care. Gunn said the commission wants more effective child protection and foster care in Mississippi.

Gunn said the commission is guided by principles that families are best for children; the private sector, churches and non-profits “must step forward to answer the need;” and “government must stay in its lane and up its game,” but expanding government is not the best way to meet challenges.

Members of Gunn’s commission are: Reps. Otis Anthony, D-Sunflower; Cedric Burnett, D-Tunica; Angela Cockerham, I-Amite; Kevin Felsher, R-Biloxi; Jill Ford, R-Madison; Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg; Dana Underwood McLean, R-Columbus; Sam Mims, R-McComb and Lee Yancey, R-Brandon.

Gunn said the commission is considering legislation such as expanding tax credits for crisis pregnancy centers, making adoption easier and incentivizing employers to “employ mothers during and after their pregnancy.”

Gunn’s release said, “We will provide the public with updates as we develop more specific proposals.”

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has created a nine-member  “Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families” tasked with guiding policy. The Senate panel has scheduled four public hearings beginning later this month, and has asked for written input from the public.

The Senate group will hold hearings at the Capitol on Sept. 27 and 28, and on Oct. 25 and 26. The hearings will be webcast, archived and open to the public. The public is invited to email written testimony to WCFStudyGroup@senate.ms.gov. The comments will be presented to the full committee.


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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.