The Mississippi Legislature gaveled out Sine Dire last week ending the 2021 regular session. Below is an overview of some key pieces of legislation that were passed by members during their 90 days.
After almost losing the possibility to pass a Medicaid tech bill, when both versions died in the opposite chambers, the Medicaid technical amendment language survived in SCR 535 and was adopted in the 2021 Legislative session.
Medicaid was appropriated a $6 billion budget, which is largely financed by the federal government. The state will put in approximately $900,000,000.
However, changes were made to SB 2799. For instance, the proposed 12 months of postpartum coverage for pregnant women, offered by the Senate this year, was removed. The House had attempted to put language in that would move the Division from the office of the Governor under a commission of seven people, but that language was taken out.
Other changes were made including the full funding of the Delta Health Alliance, an additional $1 million for Elderly and Disabled home community waivers, and $800,000 for Assisted Living Home community waivers.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
This is the second year in a row that lawmakers put a push on criminal justice reform with several pieces of legislation. The center point of the fight seemed to be SB 2795, the Mississippi Earned Parole Eligibility Act. This bill allowed for non-violent offenders, violent offenders who have served 50% or 20 years of their sentence, and non-violent and non-habitual drug offenders to be eligible for parole.
This bill did not include sex offenders, traffickers, murderers, habitual offenders or capital offenders. SB 2123, which was similar to this language, was vetoed by Governor Tate Reeves in 2020. Sen. Brice Wiggins, a co-author on the bill, said that the issues were worked out with his office to ensure a good piece of legislation would become law if passed in 2021.
“I’ve put everything I have into passing this legislation. I hope to see bipartisan support on the legislation,” said Senator Juan Barnett when he presented the bill on Tuesday. He said if passed the bill could immediately help up to 300 inmates, and within the next 2-3 years over 2,000 inmates could be impacted.
The bill passed in the Senate and later moved to pass in the House.
TEACHER PAY RAISE
Mississippi teachers received a $1,000 raise this year. It was one of the first action items on the Senate’s agenda after returning in January. This raise spanned from teachers to assistant teachers who would receive an additional $1,000.
The bill almost did not survive due to what many called a “political move” adding it into an income tax phase out package in the House but the Senate chose to advance HB 852 and provide the raise that had been promised. The bill was signed by the Governor before Sine Die.
“Advancing the teacher pay raise bill to the Governor’s desk was the right thing to do. Our teachers deserve a salary increase, particularly after their efforts on behalf of kids during the pandemic. Thanks to the Senate, Chairman DeBar, for their leadership on this issue,” said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann.
STATE EMPLOYEE RAISE
State employees also received a pay raise of up to 5% per employee and 1% for university and college staff. This would be a 3% overall raise in the state budget.
The raises were spread through all of the appropriations bills made for each department. Sen. Briggs Hopson, Chairman of Appropriations, said the raises for state employees will amount to about $13.9 million of the state’s annual budget and $12.5 million for IHL employees.
Not all individuals will receive a raise. The allocation of additional pay will be determined by department heads.
The Senate made several attempts to propose a separate medical marijuana program for the state of Mississippi in the event that the state Supreme Court rules against the validity of Initiative 65. The Medical Marijuana bill almost did not make it out of the Senate, with a narrow three-fifths vote. It failed on the first vote and was passed narrowly several hours later at 19 to 3.
When SB 2765 made its way to the House, it was not well taken and a vote was not even brought up on the floor. Instead, House Ways and Means Chairman Trey Lamar tabled the bill on a deadline day, effectively killing it.
The Senate did not give up. Later that day they attempted to amend Harper Grace’s law HB 119, with the exact language from the medical marijuana bill that was killed. However, in the conference process that language was taken out, and Harper Grace’s bill moved on as expected.
That leaves Initiative 65 as the only medical marijuana program in the state of Mississippi.
Senator Angela Hill was successful in passing legislation to prevent biological males from participating in women’s sports in K-12 schools as well as state universities and colleges. The Fairness Act, SB 2536, came in response to a federal move by Congressional Democrats and the Biden Administration to pass the Equality Act.
Conservative lawmakers said that legislation would take a further step in giving the federal government the ability to impose civil and criminal punishments on citizens who do not share their ideology regarding gender selection.
The bill was passed in both chambers with great support and eventually signed by Governor Tate Reeves.
COMPUTER SCIENCE K-12
Students in Mississippi’s K-12 schools will have the opportunity to take computer science classes after the passage of HB 633. The bill required that all schools in Mississippi offer the curriculum and provided $2 million for teacher training, with $1 million of that given by C Spire to encourage the initiative.
“We’ve made great progress in educating and informing the public on the importance of getting more rigorous computer science education in all of our schools so that students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to compete for the best jobs in the new 21st century digital economy,” said Governor Tate Reeves.
OUTDOOR STEWARDSHIP TRUST FUND
The Mississippi House attempted to establish a fund that would divert sales tax on sporting goods purchases to conservation efforts in Mississippi. The fund, HB 1231, would have consisted of no more than $20 million and be appropriated through grants applied for by both private and public land owners.
When the bill made it to the Senate, the diversion of the sales tax was removed and instead would allow for the Legislature to appropriate up to $20 million for the grants. The House did not approve of that change and eventually the bill died in conference.
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann showed reservations on the sales tax diversion, saying it would take $15 million away from the state budget with no recommendation on how to replace it.
The bill received a lot of attention from the public with wildlife groups like Wildlife Mississippi, Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, Delta Council / Delta Wildlife, Coastal Conservation Association, the Foundation for MDWFP, and Primos Hunting. Those groups rallied that this would be on par with what other states are doing to conserve wildlife resources.
Another bill that began with momentum was Speaker of the House Philip Gunn’s income tax bill. HB 1439, the Mississippi Tax Freedom Act, would have phased out the remaining income tax on Mississippi residents over the next 10 years. It would remove the income tax on pay up to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 per couple.
The bill also decreased the grocery tax from 7% to 4%.
In order to supplement the revenue that would be lost from the change, the Speaker proposed a sales tax increase on applicable items by 2.5%.
The bill was not well received in the Senate and they instead suggested a study committee to verify that the estimated numbers were accurate and to ensure that the state budget could handle the change. The bill died, but the resolution for a study committee did move forward.
However, Speaker Gunn said this will be his top priority moving into 2022.