With the Legislature taking a nearly two-month break before resuming earlier this month, new deadlines mean there are now only two weeks left for committees to consider general bills passed by the other house.
The last deadline was March 16, which was the final day for motions to reconsider to be removed on general bills in the originating chamber. The new deadline for general (non-money related) bills passed by one chamber to work through the committee process in the other is June 9. Any bill that doesn’t receive a floor vote then is dead. Floor action on general bills from the other chamber are due by June 17.
Speaking of money bills such as appropriations, the deadline for passage of appropriations and revenue bills is June 4, with the next deadline in the appropriations track on June 23, when floor action is required on bills from the other house.
Among the general bills that survived the March 16 deadline included some regulatory and licensing reform, a bill that would stop the practice of abortions carried out because of a child’s race, sex, disability, or genetic makeup, and another that would help protect free speech on the campuses of the state’s universities and community colleges.
The Legislature allocated $300 million of the $1.25 billion in federal funds received to help mitigate the COVID-19 virus. The money will go to a small business relief grant fund that will be administered by the Mississippi Development Authority. Here are some of the impactful general bills and their status before the June 9 deadline. House Bill 1422 would create a pilot program to reduce state regulations at four agencies: Mississippi Departments of Health, Transportation, Agriculture and Commerce, and Information Technology Services. It passed on a largely party-line vote and is now in the hands of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee. Senate Bill 2790 and HB 1104 would give the Occupational Licensing Review Commission the ability to do a review of an existing regulation to determine whether it increases economic opportunities for citizens by promoting competition and uses the least restrictive regulation to protect consumers.
Right now, the OLRC, which is comprised of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, is limited to review of only new regulations. Both bills will be considered by their respective Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency committees. SB 2351 is a bill that requires the state-chartered Mississippi High School Activities Association — which governs public school athletics and activities in the state — to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act. Sen. Angela Hill (R-Picayune), along with Sens. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) and Melanie Sojourner (R-Natchez) attached an amendment that would prohibit public school districts from having to join and pay membership dues to the MHSAA or any other sanctioning body that allowed biological males to compete against biological females in sports.
The bill was referred to the House Education Committee. HB 1295, also known as The Life Equality Act, would prohibit abortion for the reasons of race, sex or genetic abnormality except in the case of a medical emergency. Physicians would also have to report the reason for an abortion. It passed the House and is now in the hands of the Senate Judiciary B Committee. HB 1200, known as the Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act, would permit all forms of peaceful assembly, protests, speeches, guest speakers, distribution of literature, carrying signs, and circulating petitions on campuses of the state’s universities and community colleges. It passed in the House despite large-scale resistance from the state’s universities on a largely party-line vote and has been double-referred to the Senate Constitution and University and Colleges committees. HB 1398 is a civil asset forfeiture bill that would end a practice where law enforcement or prosecutors could request a property owner to waive their rights to their property, often in exchange for charges to be dropped.
The new language in the bill will also change the burden of proof for forfeiture to clear and convincing evidence. HB 1510 would require the state to recognize an occupational license from another state for military families who move to Mississippi. It passed the House unanimously. HB 4 would increase the number of package store permits one could own under present law from one to three. It is now in the hands of the Senate Judiciary B Committee after a very narrow passage in the House. SB 2552 would remove the prohibition on the amount of beer that can be sold directly to consumers at craft breweries. Right now, brewers are limited to selling either 10 percent of the beer produced there or 1,500 barrels, whichever is the lesser amount and this bill would eliminate this provision.
The Senate approved the bill and it has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. SB 2725 and HB 1208, both known as the Hemp Cultivation Act, would allow the cultivation, processing, transportation and handling of hemp under strict guidelines. The Senate version passed with a 35-16 margin and is now in the hands of the House Agriculture Committee, which passed its version by an overwhelming 104-10 margin. The House version of the bill has been double referred to the Senate Agriculture and Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources committees.
The Senate approved House Concurrent Resolution 39, which its defenders say would create a much needed tightly regulated medical marijuana program. The vote means it will appear on the ballot alongside Initiative 65, which would create a more free market-oriented medical marijuana program. HCR 39 detractors say putting an alternative on the ballot is designed to kill the original initiative, which was approved by more than 230,000 voters. HB 1212 would increase the license requirements for real estate brokers from 12 months to 36 months. A similar bill was adopted by the legislature in 2018, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Phil Bryant.
As Bryant said, this is an overburdensome barrier to market entry that does not use the least restrictive means necessary, as state law requires. The bill passed the House on March 11 and is now in the hands of the Senate Business and Financial Institutions Committee. HB 158, the Sexual Assault Response for College Students Act, passed the House with only four nay votes. Like the other iterations of the bill, it has some due process problems for the accused in campus sexual assault cases that need to be addressed and would codify into state law some of the federal regulations from a superseded Obama administration “Dear Colleague” guidance letter.
The Trump administration has issued different guidance on this issue that preserves the rights of the accused. The bill passed the House 115-4 on March 11 and was double-referred to the Senate Universities and Colleges and Judiciary B committees. SB 2847 would extend the deadline to 2024 for the Mississippi Development Authority to approve projects under the Tourism Project Incentive Program, which allows a portion of the sales tax collected at a tourism attraction to be rebated to the developer to cover construction costs. It passed unanimously in the Senate and is now in the hands of the House Ways and Means Committee.