Rural broadband among early bills in legislature

By Steve Wilson
January 15, 2019

One of the biggest bills facing the Mississippi legislature — rural broadband — is already headed to the floor for a vote.

The so-called Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act would allow the state’s 26 non-profit electric power associations, also known as cooperatives, to provide broadband to their primarily rural customer base.

The House Public Utilities Committee voted Monday afternoon to send the bill to the House floor.

The bill, authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), would require EPAs to conduct economic feasibility studies before providing broadband services, maintain the reliability of their electric service, maintain the same pole attachment fees for an EPA-owned broadband affiliate as for private entities wishing to use the EPA’s infrastructure and submit a publicly-available compliance audit annually.

Another similar bill is in the Senate. Senate Bill 2078 is sponsored by state Sen. Chuck Younger (R-Columbus) and differs in that would simply authorize EPAs to provide broadband service to their electric customers without requirements for pole attachment fees, feasibility studies or an annual compliance audit.

This bill is in the hands of the Senate Energy Committee.

House Bill 7Sponsored by state Rep. John Hines Sr. (D-Greenville) would prohibit appointed or elected public officers from taking part in partisan political activity.

HB 19– This bill, sponsored by state Rep. David Baria (D-Bay St. Louis), would require bond counsel to be selected through competitive requests for proposal process. When a local government entity wants to issue bonds to fund a project, they need counsel to oversee bond proceedings and write key financing documents. The bill has been double-referred to two committees, which means it’ll likely die a quiet death before it can make to the House floor for a vote.

HB 31– This bill would eliminate the requirement for a supervising physician for nurse practitioners with 3,600 or more hours in clinical practice. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Jay Hughes (D-Oxford) and is in the hands of the Public Health and Human Services Committee.

HB 60– Sponsored by state Rep. Earl Banks (D-Jackson), this bill would authorize $2 million in bond funds for the Jackson Zoo for capital improvements. With the help of city of the Jackson, the zoo had to repay the state for bond money from 2015 and 2016 when its administration spent most of the money on daily operations in violation of the memorandums of understanding it had with the state’s Department of Finance and Administration.

HB 67– State Rep. Ashley Henley (R-Southaven) sponsored this bill that would eliminate the state sales tax on food and increase the diversion of sales tax revenue to municipalities from 18.5 to 20 percent. It’s in the hands of the Ways and Means Committee.

HB 71– This bill would extend the repealer on tax incentives provided by taxpayers to filmmakers and is sponsored by state Rep. William Tracy Arnold (R-Booneville). If the bill is not signed into law, the state’s questionable film incentives will expire on July 1.

Under present law, filmmakers can receive a 25 percent cash rebate on their local spend in the state and a 30 percent cash rebate on payroll paid to resident cast and crew whose wages are subject to state income tax. There’s also a 5 percent additional payroll rebate for wages paid to any member of the cast or crew who is an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The bill has been referred to two committees: Tourism and Ways and Means.

HB 85– Cell site simulator devices such as the Stingray would require a warrant if this bill authored by state Rep. Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven) is signed into law. The bill would provide an exception for the warrant requirement if it’s necessary for law enforcement officials to use the cell site simulator device to prevent loss of life or injury.

The devices are used by law enforcement to spoof cell phone towers and track any device within range into connecting with the stingray. This allows law enforcement personnel to not only locate and track the person in possession of a specific phone, but also gather their communications content as well.

A similar billl ast year also authored by Hopkins died in committee. This year’s bill has been referred to the House Judiciary B Committee.

HB 118– At present, Mississippi law prevents home-schooled students from participating in extracurricular activities, such as athletics, in their respective school districts. This bill, sponsored by state Rep. Arnold, would allow those students to participate in extracurricular activities and will be considered by the Education Committee.

HB 173This bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bill Shirley (R-Quitman), would limit the salaries of the State Superintendent of Public Education, the Commissioner of Higher Education and the Executive Director of the Mississippi Community College Board to a pay scale of 150 percent of the governor’s salary. State Superintendent Carey Wright is the nation’s highest paid state leader of K-12 education, making $307,000 per year. Mississippi IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce earns slightly less than $360,000 annually. Gov. Phil Bryant is paid an annual salary of $122,160 per year.

SB 2020– Sponsored by state Sen. Videt Carmichael (R-Meridian), this bill would expand the Public Service Commission from three elected members to four elected (by U.S. House districts) and one appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. Under the bill, the now-separate Public Utilities Staff would become part of the PSC again. A similar bill died last session. The bill is now in the hands of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee.

The next deadline is Monday, which is the final day for the introduction of general bills. The deadline for committee action is February 5.


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