The Mississippi Senate began to wrap up its business for the session on Wednesday, adopting all but a handful of the remaining Conference Reports. It was a contentious day, as many of the reports were met with fierce opposition. The Senate adopted the following conference reports, without opposition unless otherwise indicated.
HB 901 transfers money between certain state funds—into the Budget Contingency Fund, from the Health Care Trust Fund to the Health Care Expendable Fund, from the Capital Expense Fund to pay for hailstorm repairs and for the MAGIC project (a data processing system)—and also extends the repealer on the Health Care Expendable Fund and establish the Local Governments Emergency Communication Equipment Revolving Loan Program.
HB 132 ratifies and clarifies the conveyance of former state property (the site of the Columbia Training School) from the Department of Human Services to Marion County.
HB 1043 provides a procedure to expunge certain felony convictions for those who were under the age of 18 when they were convicted. The Conference Report was adopted, with Sen. McDaniel voting no.
HB 1231 creates the Truth in Sentencing Task Force to study the divide between the state’s corrections system and its criminal justice system with regard to criminal sentencing.
HB 1538 designates segments of Interstate 59 in Jones County as “Arwilla Huff Davison Memorial Highway.” Sen. McDaniel voted Present.
SB 2497 designates a section of MS Highway 51 in Madison County as the Deputy Chief W.T. “Bill” Martin Memorial Highway. The bill as sent to conference also designated another memorial highway, but the House did not agree to that one.
HB 517 designates a certain bridge in Chickasaw County as the “Representative William E. ‘Billy’ Bowles Memorial Bridge.”
Misguided Effort Places Burden on Children to Protect Themselves from Predators
SB 2133 creates a study committee for the possibility of implementing a curriculum in public schools for the prevention of sexual abuse of children. The bill as introduced actually instituted a curriculum, but had been amended by the House to simply create the study committee. This legislation is incorrectly focused. Sex crimes are crimes of violence, and perhaps the Senate would do well to spend its time treating offenders and/or educating adults about how to protect children rather than placing the responsibility on children to protect themselves from predators.
SB 2138 clarifies the date in December on which school employees are to be paid.
SB 2223 adds terrorism as an aggravating circumstance for capital offenses. The Conference Report also clarifies that certain prohibitions on plaintiff inducements shall apply to attorneys licensed in Mississippi or in other states.
SB 2322 prevents the Public Service Commission from regulating the management or internal affairs of rural water or sewer associations. The bill also specifies that members of these associations shall have right to attend its meetings, and that written notice shall be sent before any meeting at which a board election is held. Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory) spoke against the bill, asking why on earth the legislature wanted to get rid of this oversight. Bryan said that regular citizens don’t have the luxury of taking time out to oversee their water or sewer associations, and that that was what the Public Service Commission was for in the first place. Bryan also noted that for a committee called the “Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency” committee, this was a strange bill to be coming out of it. The conference report was adopted, with Senators Bryan, Turner, Wilemon, Blount, Albert Butler, Frazier, Stone, Kelvin Butler, Derrick Simmons, Jones, Jordan, Dawkins, Norwood, and Robert Jackson voting no.
SB 2377 creates a distinction in the law between first-degree and second-degree murder. Sen. John A. Polk (R-Hattiesburg) asked whether the District Attorneys’ Association was behind this bill, and was told by Judiciary A Chairman Sen. W. Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg) that it was. Polk said that he did not want to appear to be soft on crime.
SB 2385 creates a new crime of filing a false lien statement.
SB 2388 allows an adult to obtain a copy of his or her own youth court records.
SB 2396 prescribes standards for the “A” through “F” public school district accountability system enacted in the 2012 session.
SB 2463 increases the amount of time that the Mississippi Development Authority can make payments from the Tourism Project Sales Tax Incentive Fund from 10 to 15 years. Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory) spoke against the bill, arguing that it would take money away from the state treasury, and for little gain. Bryan explained that he could sort of understand this incentive being given for the first few years of a tourism project’s existence, but that after a few years the incentive would lose its effect. “Whoever’s here in years 11 through 15 is going to need that money for basic core functions of government—maybe we can educate a child, maybe we can heal a sick person, maybe we can maintain a water and sewer system, maybe we can actually maintain a road…and in doing that it might actually help encourage economic development,” Bryan said. “This money’s going to one of the big boys; it’s not going to some poor soul that’s struggling to get by…don’t worry.” The Conference Report was adopted, with Senators Bryan, Dawkins, Jordan, Derrick Simmons, Robert Jackson, Frazier, and Turner voting no.
SB 2625 prohibits the state or local governments from hiring people convicted of embezzlement.
Gov’s Big Idea to Improve Graduation Rates? None Requires Individual Schools to Come Up with Plan
SB 2658 enacts portions of Governor Phil Bryant’s proposed education reform program. The bill provides that high schools with graduation rates below 80% must submit a plan for restructuring and improvement, creates the Teacher Education Scholars Program to give scholarships to qualifying students in a teaching education program, and creates a pilot merit pay program in four districts around the state. Sen. John Horhn (D-Jackson) asked why Jackson Public Schools was not included in the merit pay pilot program, since it is the largest district in the state. Education Chairman Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford) replied that he thought the districts had been chosen by the Governor’s office. Sen. Terry W. Brown (R-Columbus) asked whether the Parents’ Campaign supported the bill, and was told by Tollison that they did. Sen. David Blount (D-Jackson) remarked that the Parents’ Campaign also supported the charter school bill. The Conference Report was adopted, with Senators Bryan, Albert Butler, Kelvin Butler, Jones, Derrick Simmons, Jones, Frazier, Norwood, Jordan, Robert Jackson, and Dawkins voting no.
SB 2659 establishes the Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools grant program within the State Department of Education. The program would provide money for armed guards in public schools. The Conference Report was adopted, with Sen. Norwood voting no.
SB 2730 authorizes levee commissioner surveyors to enter onto lands for surveying purposes.
War on Women’s Freedom Continues
SB 2795 creates the not-so-aptly-named “Women’s Health Defense Act of 2013.” The bill denies women the ability to take the abortion drug RU-486 in the way that her doctor best sees fit, putting limitations on who can administer it and how. The bill, as sent to conference by the Senate, provided an exception for the case of the life or health of the mother (along with other exceptions), which the Conference Report amended to the case of the life of the mother, ectopic pregnancies, hemorrhaging, or a “maternal disease or illness.” There is no exception for women with mental or psychological disorders or problems. The conference report was adopted, with Senators Dawkins, Kelvin Butler, Derrick Simmons, Jones, Horhn, Turner, Norwood, and Robert Jackson voting no.
SB 2383 creates the Traffic Safety School Study Committee to study the feasibility and effectiveness of various safety school proposals, such as online instruction or requiring in-person instruction.
MAEP Shell Game
HB 1530 was passed by the Senate Tuesday. It provides that any student who is only present for less than 63% of a school day shall be considered absent for the purposes of funding via the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) formula. Sen. David Blount (D-Jackson) filed a motion to reconsider the conference report, which was immediately followed by Sen. Terry C. Burton (R-Newton) making a motion to table Blount’s motion. Burton’s motion to table the motion to reconsider passed via voice vote.
The following conference reports were RECOMMITTED for further conference:
HB 1290 designates a segment of US Highway 61 in Warren County as the “Purple Heart Trail.”
SB 2526 allows people to transport alcoholic beverages in unopened containers through dry areas.
The Senate also passed HB 1725, which authorizes the city of Oxford to make certain revisions to the management of the Municipal Reserve and Trust Fund.