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Mississippi Legislature considers bills on lottery and civil asset forfeiture

By   /   January 20, 2017  /   No Comments

Photo by Steve Wilson

AGENDA: The Mississippi Legislature will consider bills on starting a state lottery, civil asset forfeiture reform, rewriting the state’s K-12 education funding formula and other issues.

 

The Mississippi Legislature, after Monday’s deadline for the submission of general bills and constitutional amendments, has 2,066 bills, constitutional amendments and resolutions to consider.

Here are some of the more important ones to watch as the session continues towards its scheduled end on April 2:

State lottery

Mississippi voters authorized the creation of a lottery in 1992, but 25 years later, every bill in the Legislature that attempted to create one failed. Gov. Phil Bryant told Mississippians in his State of the State address Tuesday that he is open to the creation of one in Mississippi and the movement finally might be gaining momentum.

“Arkansas — the state closest to us in population and demographics — received $80 million from its lottery last fiscal year,” Bryant said. “That kind of data demands attention. When we see traffic crowded on the Mississippi River bridge taking revenue to our neighboring state, it may be time to face a new reality.

“We can no longer contain the people’s desire for a lottery, we can only force them to travel.”

There are six bills, that if passed, would create a lottery in Mississippi. Two bills, including H.B. 136, would create a HOPE scholarship fund to provide tuition for all high school graduates who meet certain requirements at state-owned universities and community colleges. S.B. 2294 would put lottery revenue into infrastructure projects. S.B. 2473 would fund K-12 education and infrastructure. Finally, S.B. 2504 would fund K-12 education, infrastructure and higher education capital improvements with lottery revenue.

Civil asset forfeiture

After a year of hearings, the Civil Asset Forfeiture Task Force finally released its recommendations to the governor for reforming the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which were given an “F” in the Institute for Justice’s latest report. The bill, H.B. 812, submitted by Civil Asset Forfeiture Task Force chairman and state Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, would require law enforcement agencies to record every forfeiture and its disposition and report it to the state’s Bureau of Narcotics, which would maintain the data on a searchable website.

The bill also would start a new civil forfeiture warrant system and mandate that local district attorneys or the bureau prosecute all forfeitures, which would eliminate outside counsel from being hired by law enforcement agencies.

RELATED: Civil Asset Forfeiture Task force working out final details on reform

Blue lives matter

There are now four bills — H.B. 640, H.B. 647, H.B. 747 and H.B. 754 — that would designate a crime against law enforcement officers as a hate crime, and both Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said they support the effort. Louisiana passed a similar law.

Education funding formula

Nonprofit group EdBuild recently revealed its recommendations for rewriting the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the K-12 education funding formula that has been fully funded only twice since its passage in 1997. A placeholder bill with the relevant code sections will allow debate to continue on what promises to be the Legislature’s most contentious issue this session.

RELATED: EdBuild unveils recommendations for new K-12 funding formula

Beer and wine sales

A bill in the Senate, S.B. 2613, would allow Mississippi craft breweries to sell beer and wine on their premises. At present, breweries are unable to sell their products on site, which represents a major chunk of revenue that Magnolia State brewers are missing.

Georgia and Mississippi are the only states that don’t allow brewers to sell their products on site. A similar effort failed in last year’s session.

RELATED: Mississippi brewers want to sell their beer on site

The next deadline for the Mississippi Legislature is Jan. 31, when general bills are due from committees in the originating chamber. The final day for floor action on general bills in the originating chamber is Feb. 9.

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Steve Wilson is the Mississippi reporter for Watchdog.org. Beginning his career as a sports writer, he has worked for the Mobile Press-Register (Ala.), the LaGrange Daily News (Ga.), Highlands Today (Fla.),McComb Enterprise-Journal (Miss.), the Biloxi Sun Herald(Miss.) and the Vicksburg Post (Miss.) Steve's work has appeared on Fox News, the Huffington Post and the Daily Signal. His bachelor's degree is in journalism with a minor in political science from the University of Alabama. Steve is also a member of the Mississippi Press Association and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He served four-plus years in the United States Coast Guard after his high school graduation and is a native of Mobile, Ala.