The Mississippi Legislature had an unusual session with a nearly two-month long COVID-19 related recess that ended with a flurry before the July 4 holiday weekend.
Among the highlights of this year’s session included removing the state’s flag and approving a referendum for a replacement; expanding scrutiny over occupational regulations; giving students the right to earn credit for apprenticeships; upgraded the charge of animal cruelty on cats and dogs from a misdemeanor to a felony; expanding the ability of cottage food operators to earn more and removing a cap on breweries to sell their own wares directly.
The Legislature also passed bills that force online marketplaces to collect the state’s 7 percent use tax on third-party sellers and tripled the amount of time that it takes to earn a real estate broker’s license from one to three years.
On March 17, the Legislature adjourned for almost two months after Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide executive order that shut down most businesses due to the pandemic and didn’t return until early May.
There is legislation that allows lawmakers to return to the capitol if needed until October, which might be needed considering there was no budget passed for the Department of Marine Resources.
That might not be the only issue that might need to be addressed by lawmakers. Reeves said on Facebook he might be considering a veto on the K-12 education budget after $26 million was cut from a teacher pay program that might lead to 20,000 teachers getting a pay reduction.
There will also be two referendums on the November ballot after lawmakers passed an alternative to a medical marijuana ballot initiative and passed a concurrent resolution that creates a commission to create a new state flag. If a majority of voters approve the new design, it becomes the state flag. If voters decline the new design, the commission will get another chance to come up with an alternative.
As for medical marijuana, the original ballot initiative would create a more free market-oriented program while the legislative alternative would be a highly limited, heavily regulated program that could be dismantled by the Legislature at any time.
Reeves has vetoed only three bills so far, including one that would’ve allowed the city of Jackson to create a program to address disputed or delinquent water and sewer accounts.
Senate Bill 2658 increases the charge of animal cruelty to cats and dogs from a misdemeanor to a felony and enhanced penalties for those convicted of the crime. The Legislature finally passed animal cruelty bill after eight attempts by state Sen.
House Bill 1336, also known as the Mississippi Learn to Earn Act, provides students participating in an apprenticeship or internship in occupations such as welding, plumbing, auto repair, hospitality, manufacturing and other trades the chance to receive elective course credit toward graduation from high school.
This experience could be applied to earning an occupational license in their chosen field. The Mississippi Department of Education will administer the program as part of the existing apprenticeship program and participation in it by school districts is entirely voluntary.
SB 2117 allows military members and their spouses who hold an occupational license from another state to obtain one in Mississippi, provided that their license in the other state wasn’t suspended due to disciplinary action and they pass an exam specific to Mississippi laws and regulations.
SB 2552 ended the cap on the amount of beer that can be sold directly to consumers at craft breweries. Before the bill was passed, breweries were limited to selling either 10 percent of the beer produced there or 1,500 barrels, whichever is the lesser amount.
HB 1104 provides the Occupational Licensing Review Commission the ability to examine an existing regulation to determine whether it increases economic opportunities for citizens by promoting competition while using the least restrictive regulation to protect consumers. Previously, the OLRC, which is comprised of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, could only review new regulations, not existing ones.
Any regulation that doesn’t meet the criteria will become invalid 60 days after it was reviewed.
HB 1212 increased the license requirements for real estate brokers from 12 months to 36 months. A similar bill was passed by the Legislature in 2018, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Phil Bryant.
HB 326 will increase the earning cap on those with cottage food businesses from $20,000 to $35,000 and allow them to advertise on the internet.
Cottage food operators are defined by the Mississippi Department of Health as those who sell non-perishable foods made in their home kitchens such as candy, cookies, pies, cakes, dried fruit, trail mix, jams and jellies and popcorn.
Mississippi had one of the lowest caps nationally before the bill was signed into law. Cottage food operators were removed from MDH regulations by Senate Bill 2553 in 2013.