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2017 Legislative Recap

2017 Legislative Recap

Highlights from the Mississippi Legislature’s Regular Session

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MCPP’s top priority for 2017 was a major welfare-to-work bill, which was signed into law (see HB 1090, the first item below). We also worked on bills to reduce the regulatory burden on entrepreneurs, a major one which passed and others which made surprising progress in their first year to be considered. In addition we continued our efforts to revise the graduation test in U.S. History to include the nation’s founding.

As always, we assisted lawmakers on numerous bills by analyzing them based on the principles in our Governing by Principle booklet. We also suggested amendments to bills that could be improved and, in one of our more important roles, encouraged the killing of bills that were inconsistent with those principles.

Below is a summary of most of the significant bills and issues addressed (or not) during the 2017 Regular Session, which began on January 3 and ended on March 29, four days before the anticipated SINE DIE of April 2. Several important bills, such as those regarding school funding and road construction, did not pass and will likely come up again in 2018. A special session has been called for June 5, 2017.

NOTE:
MCPP did not take positions or otherwise work on all these bills. This is a list of the most significant legislation considered by the 2017 legislature, or bills which we thought you would be interested in.

Bill Trivia
Bills Introduced: 2,854
(1,786 House, 1,068 Senate)
Signed by Governor: 308
(incl. 100 agency appropriations bills)
Became Law without Gov.’s Signature: 6
Vetoed: 4
Partially (Line-Item) Vetoed: 3
* 11% of introduced bills made it through the whole process and became law. That drops to less than 8% if agency appropriations bills (which are required annually) are not included.
* 78% of bills that were introduced died without being considered at all.
* 44% of House-passed bills died in the Senate; 30% of Senate-passed bills died in the House.

 

Significant Legislation Passed
and Signed into Law:

Welfare-to-Work Reforms (HB 1090): Otherwise known as the HOPE Act, HB 1090 will save an estimated $40 million per year for Mississippi taxpayers alone, and four times that much for federal taxpayers, once it is fully implemented over the next two years. It is designed to remove dead people and non-Mississippians from our welfare rolls and to restore the Clinton-era work requirements that have been waived by previous administrations. It also ends our being the only state in the country in which Medicaid and other welfare agencies don’t share eligibility information on applicants. According to an independent review of the law, HB 1090 moves “Mississippi to the forefront of states in overall benefits integrity and the move from reliance on benefit programs to employment.” MCPP-supported policy.

Regulation

Occupational Licensure Reform (HB 1425): This law is among the first in the nation to respond to a recent U.S. Supreme Court anti-trust ruling. It requires the state to use the least restrictive method of regulating certain professions so that the public
is protected, but competition is not stifled. The regulatory options that may be taken are listed from least to most restrictive, ranging from “market competition” (no license needed) to licensure, with several steps in between. A commission, made up of the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, will review regulations to ensure
compliance with the law.
MCPP-supported policy.

Acupuncture Licensing (SB 2214): This law incrementally lifts current restrictions on acupuncturists that require practice under a supervising physician.

Elimination of Inactive Boards (SB 2572 and HB 1330): These two laws eliminate nearly 20 inactive boards and commissions.

Deregulation for small breweries (HB 1322): This law allows small “craft breweries” to sell a limited amount of light wine or beer products for consumption on or off property. It also increases the amount of beer that a brewpub (a restaurant or bar that produces its own beer) may produce and allows sales for off-premises consumption.

Law Enforcement

Asset Forfeiture Transparency (HB 812): In 2016, MCPP supported efforts to increase transparency regarding how state and local law enforcement agencies seize assets from citizens. Instead, the legislature elected to create a task force to study the issue. (MJI’s Mike Hurst served on that task force.) This year, HB 812 implemented their recommendations. It requires law enforcement agencies to give back property they seize unless they obtain a warrant for seizure within 72 hours. It also requires details and documentation regarding forfeited property to be reported on a state website. MCPP-supported policy.

Hate Crime Penalties/Back the Badge (SB 2469): This law provides an enhanced “hate crime” penalty for crimes that specifically target a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician (EMT). These groups join the other protected classes of “race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin or gender.” This is the first time in state law that a class has been defined by occupation, rather than biology or deeply held belief.

Limiting Sanctuary Cities/Campuses (SB 2710): This law says state and local entities may not limit cooperation with federal authorities in reporting a person’s immigration status. The essence of a “sanctuary city” is the refusal, often at the city or county jail level, to detain illegal aliens due to immigration status. This law only very weakly prohibits this practice, if at all.

Death Penalty Clarification (HB 638): In the event Mississippi’s current method of capital punishment, lethal injection, becomes unavailable (by court ruling or the non-availability of the necessary drugs), this law provides for the alternatives of nitrogen gas (an option in 5 other states),  electrocution (8 states) or firing squad (2 states).

Prescription Drug Monitoring (HB 1032): This law requires all healthcare providers allowed to prescribe drugs to participate in the current Prescription Monitoring Program, which tracks prescriptions for controlled substances in an attempt to prevent a patient from being prescribed the same controlled substance by multiple
doctors.

Family

Abused Children, Abused Spouse, Divorce (SB 2680): SB 2680 was originally written to clarify the legal options for placing abused and neglected children with relatives rather than in the foster care system. Those provisions remained in the bill, but when the bill came out of a conference committee, a provision had been added to clarify that spousal domestic abuse is included under the “Habitual Cruel and Inhuman Treatment” ground for divorce. This occurred after other divorce bills died in the House after passing the Senate.

Transparency & Accountability

Campaign Finance Changes (SB 2689): This law disallows the use of campaign contributions for personal use, including conversion of campaign funds to personal use upon retirement, beginning January 1, 2018. (These uses are currently allowed.) The new law prohibits a wide array of expenditures, ranging from rent to funeral expenses to clothes to automobiles. It also requires credit card transactions of $200 or more to be reported individually. (It is common for payments to credit card companies to be reported, but not the individual transactions. Candidates are not required – and will not under the new law – be required to submit credit card statements or any other documentation of their expenditures. The Ethics Commission will now have limited jurisdiction to enforce the law.

Election Code Revisions (HB 467): This law makes several changes to the state’s election code. What is more interesting, perhaps, are election-related bills that died. In particular, HB 228, which passed the House but died in the Senate, would have allowed early voting to occur 14 days prior to an election. HB 373 (online voter registration for first-time voters) and HB 1054 (to study franchisement for nonviolent offenders) also passed the House but died in the Senate.

Procurement Reform (HB 1106/ HB 1109/ SB 2354): These new laws create more transparency and accountability for purchases made by state agencies. In addition to implementing an electronic, interactive bidding option, and providing clearer definitions in the law, these bills reform the procurement process by: 1) consolidating oversight of both product and service contracts under a Public Procurement Review Board; 2) requiring contracts in excess of $75,000 to be approved by the board; and 3) providing for more transparency regarding sole-source contracts.

Healthcare & Health Insurance

UMMC Healthcare Collaboratives (HB 926): This law will enable the Univ. of Miss. Medical Center (UMMC) to enter into “cooperative arrangements” with public or private health-related organizations, including community hospitals. It exempts UMMC from certain state purchasing/procurement laws under certain conditions. Advocates of the law argue that it provides needed flexibility for UMMC to attract new doctors/researchers and that it will increase access to care. Opponents argue that it gives UMMC, as a governmental entity, the ability to enter into partnerships that will either crowd-out the private sector or result in unwise investment.

Education

Teaching Children to Write in Cursive (SB 2273): The federally driven Common Core standards do not require cursive instruction, so many states simply stopped teaching it. SB 2273 requires instruction so that students know how to write in cursive by the end of fifth grade.

School Choice Expansion for Dyslexic Students (HB 1046): Mississippi currently offers a very limited school choice scholarship for children with dyslexia. (This is separate from the Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for students with special needs.)The current program, which serves 159 students in three participating schools is only available to students in 1st through 6th grade. HB 1046 expands that to 1st through 12th grade.

School Suspensions/Expulsions Review Process (HB 1413): This law clarifies due process rights for suspended or expelled students, but only for those suspended for more than 10 days (i.e., two weeks of school) or expelled for the year. It defines the standard of proof that must be used in evaluating such cases. Currently, such students have undefined appeal and due process rights, a defeat which remains for students suspended less than 10 days.

Taxes

First-Time Home Buyers Tax Break (HB 1601): This law excludes from gross income, for tax purposes, up to $2,500 per year ($5,000 for a married couple filing jointly) deposited into a first-time homebuyer savings account to be used to purchase a home in Mississippi.

Agricultural Land Tax Cut (HB 1340): Currently, agricultural land appraisal values are determined by a formula that allows for an up or down valuation of 10 percent over the previous year. This law reduces the potential variation to no more or less than 4 percent, providing for more tax predictability for land owners. The law also makes changes to the appraisal process related to ground leases connected to the state port at Gulfport.

Restaurant/Hotel/Tourism Tax Bills (SB 2941 and many others): Every year, the Mississippi legislature almost automatically extends numerous optional local taxes, primarily sales taxes on restaurants and hotels. They are often sold to the public as temporary tax increases that must be approved by local voters before going into effect. But when the legislature extends the authority to levy the tax, no local referendum is required, no matter how many times that authority is extended. The Byhalia tourism tax (SB 2941) is noteworthy because the tax, passed in 2010, expired on July 31, 2016. The town continued to collect the tax, a practice SB 2941 retroactively condones and extends to the year 2021.

Miscellaneous

Faith-Based Initiatives Council (SB 2514): The purpose of this law is to create an advisory council to the governor with the goal of empowering the faith-based and community nonprofit sectors to address systemic problems in Mississippi. The law is based on a successful Florida program in place since 2006.

Capitol Complex (HB 1226): This measure authorizes the Miss. Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to develop and administer infrastructure improvement projects within a “Capitol Complex Improvement District” within the city of Jackson. The projects are to be funded by diverting up to 6 percent of state sales tax revenue collected in Jackson. This is in addition to the 1 percent sales tax (on top of the state 7 percent rate) that was approved in 2014 to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Bonds for “Economic Development” Projects and Programs (SB 3033): This law authorizes the state to issue bonds to borrow $20 million to assist local economic development and infrastructure projects, and $45 Million for Huntington-Ingalls Shipbuilding, if Ingalls first invests at least twice that much in the improvements to the shipyard it leases from the state.

Local Taxpayer Subsidies for Nonprofits (HB 1747, HB 761 and many others): Every year, the legislature authorizes certain cities and counties to donate taxpayer funds to numerous nonprofits. Among this year’s winners are Vicksburg Family Development Service and unnamed Rankin County “nonprofit organizations that provide recreational and/or sports opportunities, for the purpose of constructing or maintaining recreational and sports facilities.”

 Became Law Without Governor’s Signature

Suffrage Restoration Bills (HBs 612, 742, 1475, 1750 and SBs 2107, 2951):
If the governor does not sign or veto a piece of legislation, it automatically becomes law without his signature after a certain number of days. Gov. Bryant refused to sign or veto any of the six bills the legislature passed to restore voting rights to specific individuals. They became law on April 20.

Partially Vetoed Bills

Line-item vetoes (HB 1502/SB 2956/SB 3015): The governor is allowed to veto portions of appropriations bills he signs. This is known as a line-item veto. Gov. Bryant vetoed an earmark in the Department of Education appropriations bill, HB 1502. He also vetoed a section of SB 2956 because it had the effect of changing a general law, which appropriations bills are not supposed to do. In SB 3015, he vetoed an item that would have provided $50,000 for a project for which a no-cost option is available.

Significant Legislation that
Did Not Become Law:

Modernizing the School Funding Formula (HB 878/SB 2607): While a handful of bills related to school funding were introduced, lawmakers never saw a final bill that overhauled the state’s current education funding formula, known as MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program), which has been in place since 1997. The legislature hired a consulting firm, EdBuild, to recommend changes to the formula. The initial recommendations would not have generated enough support in the legislature, so they remain on the drawing board. If a satisfactory solution is devised, lawmakers could consider a funding formula bill in a special session.

More Funding for Roads (HB 480/SB 2939/HB 1732): One of the hot button issues over the past few years has been whether to allocate more money for road and bridge repair, rebuilding, and maintenance. This year, the House approved a bill (HB 480) to fund such work by requiring out-of-state companies with no presence in the state to collect a “use tax” (similar to a sales tax) on internet sales. The U.S. Supreme Court has said it is unconstitutional for states to require such companies to collect such taxes without specific approval by the U.S. Congress. HB 480 died in the Senate, but the House later approved an amendment to an unrelated bill (SB 2939) that would have allocated money collected from an internet tax if companies collect and remit the tax  voluntarily (as Amazon is already doing), or if the Supreme Court reverses its ruling, or if Congress approves such an action. The House amendment would have diverted the expected windfall from the Amazon internet sales tax agreement to a special fund for road repair. Finally, HB 1732, sponsored by Speaker Philip Gunn, would have borrowed up to $50 million for county/local bridge repair.

Lawmakers did not reach an agreement on the annual appropriations bill for the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and will return to the Capitol on June 5, supposedly to pass that and an appropriation for the Attorney General’s office. This must be done by July 1, which is the beginning of the state’s fiscal year. If there is agreement on other road and bridge funding, that could be added to the special session by the governor. (The governor dictates what the legislature considers in a special session.)

Lottery (HB 804): House committee completely gutted an unrelated bill and inserted provisions that would have implemented a state lottery. It was never taken up on the House floor, but if it had been, it would have been struck down under House rules intended to prohibit the method used by the committee to change the purpose of a bill. Speaker Philip Gunn has called for a study of the lottery, saying any money spent buying a lottery ticket is money not spent at private, job-providing businesses.

Multipurpose Bond Bill (HB 1734/SB2281): Every year, many bills are introduced to borrow money for a variety of projects by issuing state bonds, but only one or two “bond bills” are approved, usually combining some of the projects that were in the individual bills, along with building construction/repair requests regularly made by state colleges and universities. This year, both houses passed their own versions, which is common. But ultimately, no agreement was reached between the houses, in part because of the question of whether to borrow money for road and bridge maintenance. As a result, no additional debt will be added this year for such projects for taxpayers to repay in future years. However, see SB 3033 regarding bonds for “economic development” projects.

Expanding DOR Debt Collection Activities (HB 687): Mississippi law currently allows state universities to collaborate with the Department of Revenue in withholding tax refunds to pay off educational loans issued by the state. This bill would have expanded DOR’s debt collection activities to include community/junior colleges. What killed the bill was an amendment to allow hospitals to have the same ability to use DOR as their debt collectors. The measure ultimately died in conference.

State Agency Lobbying Reform (SB 2632/SB 2843): Both of these measures would have banned agency lobbying while leaving agency employees free to share technical and factual information with lawmakers. SB 2632 passed the Senate and a House committee, but was never taken up on the House floor.

Teaching the Constitution (HB 433): For Mississippi high school students, the U.S. History “subject area test,” which they must take before graduating, starts in the 1870s, with the result that prior historical periods (for instance, the Founding and the Civil War) are neglected. This measure would have required the State Board of Education to implement a test identical to the civics test given to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens. Fifteen states currently have a similar requirement. The civics test’s 100 questions cover some current facts, such as the name of the president, but most of it is a good smattering of questions that cover the whole span of U.S. History. This bill died on the House calendar but the sponsor received assurances from the state Department of Education that a review will be done in their already-scheduled review of history curriculum.

 

Vetoed Bills

Even Righter on Crime (HB 1033): Promoted by a coalition of local and national conservative organizations (including MCPP) known as “Right on Crime,” as well as unusual allies on the center and left, this bill built upon reforms enacted three years ago aimed at using a cost-effective, safe and humane approach to right-sizing Mississippi’s criminal justice system. This year, HB 1033 was designed, among other things, to make it easier for ex-convicts to obtain and retain a job, thus enabling them to take care of their families and making them much less likely to return to criminal behavior. For example, the bill would have allowed those on probation or parole, if they have a job, to use FaceTime or Skype (or similar) to check in with parole or probation officers, making it unnecessary to leave, and possibly lose, their jobs. The governor vetoed the bill due to a last-minute addition that would have permitted habitual nonviolent offenders to be eligible for parole after serving only 25 percent of their sentence, as currently allowed for non-habitual nonviolent offenders.

Emergency Service Telephone Fees (SB 2861): This bill was vetoed by the governor because of a technical error that made it inoperable.

Payment of Damages to a Private Citizen (SB 2349): This bill would have allowed Forrest County to donate more than $100,000 to various private entities, as do other bills for other localities. But this one was vetoed because it also included a $45,000 payment to an individual for damages that were litigated decades ago, which were ultimately dismissed by a court in 1982.

Municipal Qualified Resort Areas (HB 1447): Among other things, this bill would have enabled entire municipalities to become qualified resort areas, which in turn, would allow these areas to sell alcoholic beverages. The governor vetoed the bill because it indirectly overturns the current Local Option Alcoholic Beverage law, which allows individual communities to regulate such sales.