The Mississippi Legislature resumed its normal three-month session this year and passed some important legislation while leaving some unfinished business.
A teacher pay raise, some criminal justice reform bills and a new state flag were among the highlights. Some of the misses included reforming the state’s wine and spirits distribution warehouse and changing the way the state provides incentives for businesses to relocate or existing in-state businesses to expand.
The Legislature also passed a bill that will allow holders of occupational licenses from other states to have an easier path to getting a Mississippi license if they move here. Before, if the state didn’t have a specific reciprocity agreement with the state, the license holder would have to go through the same processes of obtaining a license as a first-time license seeker. A similar bill that would make it easier for licensed teachers from other states moving to Mississippi to obtain a license also was signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reeves’ biggest priority, a repeal of the state’s income tax, didn’t pass in the session. A bill in the House would’ve started the phase-out process tied to some revenue goals and increased some other taxes, but the skepticism of Senate leaders kept it from passing their chamber and reaching the governor’s desk.
Most laws go into effect on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.
One of the biggest issues facing the Legislature were the problems with the state’s monopoly on the wholesale distribution of wine and spirits. The state owns an aging warehouse near Gluckstadt and for years, retailers could receive products within a few days of submitting orders. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that and the warehouse couldn’t keep up with the demand. So lawmakers convened a study committee over the summer, heard from experts and held hearings.
The problem was no solution was forthcoming as the chambers couldn’t agree on a method of reform. The Senate favored off-loading operation of the warehouse to an outside contractor. Since state law mandates procurement contracts can only last for a term of four years, a change in vendors could prove disruptive to retailers. The House proposed getting the state out of the liquor and wine distribution business entirely, but retailers were concerned that it would lead to higher prices for them that they’d have to pass on to consumers.
The main alcohol-related legislation passed was a bill that would allow retail delivery of alcohol to customers.
Bills that made it the governor’s desk
Senate Bill 2536, also known as the Mississippi Fairness Act, will require schools to designate sports teams for either one biological sex or the other, with the exception of co-ed teams. It was authored by state Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune and was signed into law by the governor.
House Bill 1302 would allow optometrists to provide care to patients commensurate with their training and experience, including prescribing certain drugs and was signed into law by the governor.
HB 633 will require the state Department of Education to create a computer science curriculum in public schools. It was authored by state Rep. Kevin Felsher, R-Biloxi. After several years of trying, advocates of having computer science training in schools finally got a bill to the governor’s desk, where it was signed into law.
SB 2798 will allow rate-regulated utilities to lease their surplus fiber optic cable capacity to broadband providers for areas that are unserved or underserved. The bill was authored by state Sen. Joel Carter, R-Gulfport and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
SB 2795 would change the way the state does parole. Non-violent offenders would be eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence and violent offenders would be eligible after serving at least 50 percent of their sentence. The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, and is awaiting a possible signature by the governor after a similar bill was vetoed last session.
HB 551 would allow ex-cons to receive driver’s licenses. The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, and was signed into law.
HB 196 would require the state Department of Corrections to provide basic healthcare for pregnant inmates and was also sponsored by Bain. It awaits a possible signature by the governor
Ran out of steam
SB 2822, was known as the Mississippi Flexible Tax Incentive Act or MFlex Act, would’ve simplified the economic development incentive process and was authored by state Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch. It would use one easy-to-use calculation on initial investment, jobs, wages and benefits that would’ve likely enhanced transparency. The bill died in conference when the two chambers couldn’t agree on a compromise.
The House passed a bill that would’ve started the process to phasing out the state’s income tax. When the Senate killed that bill, House members added it in to a bond bill for capital improvements at the state’s universities. That language was later excised in conference.
The Senate passed a bill that would’ve created a medical marijuana program similar to Initiative 65 if that measure was struck down by the state Supreme Court. The original bill died in the House and the Senate attempted to graft the language onto a bill that reauthorized the CBD oil program. Like the tax bill, this language was also removed in conference.