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2020 #msleg wrap up; Medical marijuana,...

2020 #msleg wrap up; Medical marijuana, criminal justice reform, rural broadband and DMR without a budget

By: Sarah Ulmer - July 2, 2020

The 2020 Mississippi Legislative session took an unexpected turn when the world seemingly shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 18, session was recessed subject to call by the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the House. The members would not return until the end of May to complete their work.

Sine Die, or more like sine-don’t came just over a month later on July 1, 2020. Due to a resolution passed, the Legislature won’t official sine die until October 5, 2020.

Probably the most notorious decision made by legislature this year was the removal of the Mississippi flag.

In the final days of session, a resolution was passed to suspend the rules and allow for a general bill to be brought forward to remove the state flag and create a commission responsible for designing a flag to be voted on by the people in Novembers election.

In just two days the resolution and bill were passed, and the bill was sent to the Governor for his signature and to officially begin the removal of the current flag.

A major piece of business that was not resolved before adjournment was the budget for the Department of Marine Resources. The House and Senate seemed gridlocked on how the budget should work and chose to adjourn without setting one. It is likely the Governor will call them back within the next week in order to set it.

Small businesses get assistance during COVID-19 pandemic – PASSED

When the Mississippi Legislature returned to the capitol in early May, it was only to appropriate dollars to the business community in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in SB 2772.

The funds came from the $1.23 afforded in the CARES Act and the first $300 million went to Mississippi’s small businesses. $240 million were put in a special fund to be managed by MDA called the Back to Business Mississippi Grant Fund. These dollars are now being divided out as grants, another $60 million was placed into the Mississippi COVID-19 relief payment fund and will be sent out immediately to businesses impacted, $2,000 a piece.

Signed by the Governor.

Initiatives for medical marijuana to be on November ballot – PASSED

The people of Mississippi made moves to have Initiative 65 on the ballot in November. That initiative would allow the sale and use of medical marijuana in the state of Mississippi.

The House of Representatives offered HCR 39, an alternative to the initiative offered by the people, as many legislators did not agree with the language that was provided in the peoples initiative.

The resolution passed and now both will appear on the ballot in November.

Your favorite wine to your favorite retailer- PASSED

 Not happy with all the choices at your local liquor store? The Legislature passed HB 1088, a bill that will allow individuals over the age of 21 to purchase wine from a winery and have it shipped to their local box store. The bill would require that the store sign off on the purchase after it is made and you can only buy up to 10 cases a year.

Signed by the Governor.

Human Trafficking Bill- PASSED

This is the second piece of legislation on human trafficking submitted to members in the last two years. This year’s bill, HB 1559,  would ensure services were provided to victims through the appropriate avenues. The bill primarily addresses services for victims under the age of 18.

Initially the bill would have created a “Victims of Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation Fund” in the Treasures office and the non-profit organization Mississippians Against Human Trafficking would be authorized to establish a victim’s service program to offer counseling, shelter, medical needs and other services.

Once the bill got to conference, the non-profit was taken out and instead the programs will go through the Attorney General’s office. Current shelters that are qualified to provide assistance can go through the AG’s office to receive the services to aid these victims.

Revising statewide election processes – PASSED

This constitutional resolution, HCR 548, would change the way in which the governor and all statewide officials are elected into office. The bill would require a runoff election if the majority of the votes were not given to one candidate or the other. Currently, if this happens, the vote then turns to the House of Representatives.

With it being a constitutional amendment, the resolution will go on the ballot for the people of Mississippi to decide.

The “Life Equality Act”- PASSED

HB 1295 is a bill that would prevent the act of an abortion based on the notion of gender, race or a genetic abnormality except in an emergency situation.

The bill, whose principal author is Rep. Crawford, would not penalize the woman seeking the abortion with criminal charges, however the doctor could be subject to many. Any doctor who intentionally or knowingly violates this act will be subject to up to 10 years in prison. A physician can also be charged a $500 fine per each violation. These cases would be prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office.

Compassionate Parole Eligibility Act of 2020 – PASSED 

This bill, authored by Rep. Horan would allow for an inmate who has not been convicted of capital murder or sentenced to death, to be eligible for parole if that person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or a disease that has a life expectancy of a year or less.

HB 1476 limits those who are eligible to anyone who is completely disabled and does not have the ability to provide self-care. That person would have to be bedridden at least 50 percent of their waking hours. The Department of Corrections would be responsible for providing the Parole Board a list of eligible inmates every thirty days.

Signed by the Governor.

Limits on the amount of poll workers, removed- PASSED

Already approved by the Governor, HB 1523 will remove the limitation on how many addition election commissioners can be appointed.

This was a bill that the Secretary of State’s office as well as Election Commissioners urged lawmakers to pass in light of what will surely be an unusual election season in 2020. This bill would leave it up to the discretion of the Election Commissioners and Board of Supervisors how many poll workers are necessary at each location.

“Not only do we want to be prepared for this election, but we think this is an awesome opportunity to look forward down the road,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson.

Signed by the Governor.

Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act- PASSED

This legislation, HB 1788, would provide additional funding of $50 million to the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Grant Program to expand broadband to rural areas.

The bill comes in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing need across the state for access to broadband service. These expansions would facilitate and assist with distance learning. It also outlines that the Mississippi public school districts, independent districts, and Native American tribal schools would have access to the fund to expand broadband in underserved areas.

The bill outlines how the bidding process for the broadband service will take place through the Mississippi Development Authority and requests that the lowest and best bid be selected.

Carly’s Law- PASSED

In the state of Mississippi, it is not automatic that a convicted sex offender is prohibited from contacting the victim. Carly’s Law, authored by Sen. Blackwell, would make that a mandate.

SB 2009 would require that upon sentencing a convicted sex offender would be prohibited from contacting their victim unless otherwise instructed by the victim or the family. The goal of this bill is to protect individuals from further abuse.

Ban the Box – DEAD

An attempt to assist someone who has been convicted of a felony and served their time find a job, the Ban the Box Act will take off the box on a job application that asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony. However, the bill died in the conference process.

This bill, SB 2112, would have applied to public employers only, but those apart of its drafting said they hope private employers will join in.  It would not prevent an employer from ever asking the question, but it would allow for the applicant to make it to an in-person interview where they could explain the conviction.

This act would not have applied to jobs that require a background check and other elements of security, like a schoolteacher.

The bill did not survive the conference process and was dead on adjournment.

Mississippi Correctional Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2020 – PASSED

SB 2123 would articulate the conditions for parole eligibility if the individual is serving a sentence for a crime of violence or nonviolence. This law would not apply to those who have been convicted of a sex offense or capital murder crimes.

Those who are eligible are anyone convicted of a violent crime after June 30, 1995 and have served 50 percent of their sentence. For other offenders only 25 percent of time served is necessary to apply. 

Teacher licensure revised- PASSED  

Along with the already outlines route for being a teacher, SB 2511 allows for a new route to teacher licensure.

From and after July 1, 2020 a teacher candidate can apply for their license with an ACT score of twenty-one, or the SAT equivalent. They must also receive a qualifying passing score on the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exam. The applicant must also have a minimum GPA of 3.0 on coursework prior to admission. 

Signed by the Governor.

Felony penalty for torturous abuse of a dog or cat- PASSED

SB 2658, authored by Senator Angela Hill, is the first in several years of the dog and cat abuse bills to make it to the Governor. This bill would make it a felony first offense for any torturous abuse to a domesticated dog or cat.

These types of abuses include but are not limited to, mutilation, maiming, burning, starving, disfiguring, drowning, suffocating or impaling.

Anyone convicted of this crime would receive a fine of up to $5,000 and no more than three years in the department of corrections. On a second offense within five years. the fine goes up to $10,000 and no less than one and no more than 10 years in prison.

The bill will also prevent anyone convicted of abuse from owning a dog or cat for up to 15 years.

Mississippi Back to Business Liability Assurance Act- PASSED 

SB 3049, the Mississippi Back to Business Liability Assurance Act is a bill to ensure the protection of businesses who may have been required to stay open during the pandemic or have already begun to open.

The concern of the business community was that individuals may try to file lawsuits claiming they contracted the coronavirus while in this place of business etc. The bill clearly outlines that only businesses who have strictly followed the health guidelines put in place to ensure as safe a work environment as possible are covered.

The House also had a similar bill, and there was another Healthcare Emergency Response Liability Protection Act, which died in committee.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state.