Criminal justice reform, Fresh Start Act, donor privacy highlight session

By Steve Wilson
April 3, 2019

The Mississippi legislature wrapped up the 2019 session last week a few days early, but still managed to pass 366 out of the 2,876 bills that were introduced.

Some of the bills advanced the cause of economic freedom and personal liberty. Some didn’t.

Here’s everything of interest that was submitted this year, some that passed and others that died in the process:

Good bills that passed

House Bill 1205 will prohibit state agencies from requesting or releasing donor information on charitable groups organized under section 501 of federal tax law. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jerry Turner (R-Baldwyn), was amended in the Senate to include all organizations covered section 501 of federal tax law. The governor signed the bill on March 28.

HB 1352 is sponsored by state Rep. Jason White (R-West) and is known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act. The bill will clear obstacles for the formerly incarcerated to find work, prevents driver’s license suspensions for controlled substance violations and unpaid legal fees and fines and updates drug court laws to allow for additional types of what are known as problem solving courts.

The bill went to conference on March 27 and the two chambers voted to adopt the conference report the next day. The bill only awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

SB 2781, known as Mississippi Fresh Start Act, is sponsored by state Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg). This bill will eliminate the practice of “good character” or “moral turpitude” clauses from occupational licensing regulations, which prohibit ex-felons from receiving an occupational license and starting a new post-incarceration career.

The bill died for a time in the Senate on March 28, when the first conference report was rejected by the Senate. However, a motion to reconsider kept the bill alive and it was recommitted for further conference. The resulting second compromise was accepted by both chambers on the session’s final day and now the bill awaits Bryant’s signature.

SB 2901, known as the Landowner Protection Act, will exempt property owners and their employees from civil liability if a third party injures someone else on their property.

The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Josh Harkins (R-Flowood). The versionsigned by the governor on March 29 allows civil litigation against property owners due to negligence based on the condition of the property or activities on the property where an injury took place. This was a major point of contention during debate over the bill.

HB 1613, also known as the Children’s Promise Act would allow an income tax for voluntary cash contributions by businesses to eligible charitable organizations that help children. The credit would increase the cap on individual tax credits from $1 million to $3 million.

The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 596 makes Mississippi the 15th state to call for a Convention of the States authorized under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The resolution was approved by the Senate and passed the House on March 27. Since it’s a resolution and not a bill, it doesn’t require the governor’s signature.

For a Convention of the States to occur, 34 state legislatures would have to pass similar resolutions.

The good bills that died too young

HB 1268 would’ve clarified state law regarding constitutional challenges to local ordinances. With local circuit courts acting as both the appellate body for appeals on specific decisions (such as bid disputes) and the court of original jurisdiction, there’s been confusion among judges regarding the law that governs challenges of local decisions, which are required within 10 days.

City and county attorneys have used this 10-day requirement on decisions to get new constitutional challenges — which are new lawsuits and not appeals — thrown out of circuit courts. This law would’ve added language that would prevent application of the 10-day requirement to constitutional challenges.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Dana Criswell (R-Southaven) and passed the House by a 116-2 margin. It was passed out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee, but never made it to the Senate floor for a vote and died on the calendar.

SB 2693 would’ve pre-empted local regulation of short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnb, and was sponsored by state Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-Picayune). It died in committee.

HB 85 would’ve required a warrant for law enforcement agencies to use cell site simulator devices except to prevent loss of life or injury. It was authored by state Rep. Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven) and died in committee without a vote for the third consecutive year.

SB 2675 would’ve reauthorized the Education Scholarship Account program until 2024 and was sponsored by retiring state Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford). The bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote, but died in the House Education Committee on deadline without a vote.

Now the program will have to be reauthorized in the next session or face extinction as the authorizing law expires on July 1, 2020.

HB 702 would’ve allowed cottage food operators to increase their maximum sales to $35,000 and advertise their products on the web. It passed the House with ease, but died in the Senate without any committee consideration.

Direct wine sales– The Mississippi legislature still refuses to allow residents to buy wine at either a grocery store (allowed in most states such as neighbors Alabama and Louisiana) or receive direct shipments at home. With the death of SB 2183 and HB 708 early in the session, we’ll have to wait until 2020’s session to possibly get a change in this regulatory hurdle. Both died without committee consideration.

Charitable health care– One would think in a poor, rural state as short of physicians as Mississippi, legislators would want to allow out-of-state, licensed healthcare providers such as physicians, nurses, optometrists and dentists to practice for a non-profit in Mississippi on a charitable basis.

Nope. Both HB 1491 and SB 2248 died in committee without a peep thanks to the lobbying power of the state’s medical establishment.

No Tim Tebows in Mississippi– Another year and the legislature still won’t allow home-schooled students to participate in extracurricular activities, such as athletics, in their respective school districts. HB 118 and SB 2912 died without a committee vote.

Thankfully dead

HB 1104 would’ve reenacted the controversial practice of administrative forfeiture. Last year, the legislature allowed the expiration of the law that authorized administrative forfeiture — which gave law enforcement agencies the ability to seize property valued at less than $20,000 with only a notice to the property owner.

The bill died in committee when support waned among lawmakers for bringing back the practice.

SB 2542, authored by state Sen. Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula), would’ve appropriated $4,696,500 toward bringing Amtrak service to the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was ended when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005. The bill never made it out of committee.

HB 1573 and SB 2563 were cigarette tax increases which were sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus) and state Sen. Wiggins respectively. HB 1573 would’ve increased the tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1.68, while SB 2563 would’ve hiked the per-pack levy to $2.18. Neither bill made it out of committee.

Ugly bills that passed

HB 1612 will authorize municipalities to create special improvement assessment districts that will be authorized to levy up to 6 mills of property tax (the amount per $1,000 of assessed value of the property) to fund parks, sidewalks, streets, planting, lighting, fountains, security enhancements and even private security services. The tax will require the approval of 60 percent of property owners in the district.

The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Mark Baker (R-Brandon). The Senate amended the bill so it only applies to Jackson (cities with a population of 150,000 or more) and Bryant signed the bill on March 29.

SB 2603 will reauthorize motion picture and television production incentives for non-resident employees that expired in 2017. The bill, as originally written, capped incentives to out-of-state production companies at $10 million. This was reduced in conference to $5 million and it was signed by the governor on March 28.

HB 1283 is better known as the “Mississippi School Safety Act of 2019.” Controversially, it will require school districts to develop and conduct an active shooter drill within the first 60 days of the start of each semester.

It would also establish a monitoring center connected with federal data systems with three regional analysts monitoring social media for threats.

The bill would also create a pilot program for six school districts with a curriculum for children in kindergarten through fifth grade with “skills for managing stress and anxiety.” The pilot plan would be federally funded.

The governor signed the bill on March 29.

House Bill 366 allowed the state’s rural, non-profit electric power associations to start broadband networks. The bill zipped through the legislative process with uncanny speed, going from the House Public Utilities Committee to governor’s signature in 16 days.

Since the EPAs will require some sort of capital — likely sourced through grants or loans from the federal government — to start up broadband networks, the bill went into effect after Bryant signed it on January 30.

There was also a failed bill that would’ve provided state taxpayer funds to help start up these service providers, which will have to be managed separately from the EPA’s electric services. With startup cash likely in short supply from the free market, expect the EPAs to descend on the state Capitol, hat in hand, next January asking for grants and loans to serve rural customers.


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