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Mississippi Legislature wraps up session by passing key reform bills

By   /   April 3, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

Photo illustration by Steve Wilson

WAH-WAH-WAH: The Mississippi Legislature passed some pro-economic freedom bills in this session, but missed on a few key issues.

 

The Mississippi Legislature concluded its regular session last week and passed several bills that will contribute to economic freedom and accountability in the state. There were also questionable bills that were passed and some promising ones that fell by the wayside.

Here are a few of the highs and lows of the session:

The good

  • House Bill 812, which was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, will bring civil asset reform to the Magnolia State. Law enforcement agencies will have new reporting requirements every time they forfeit property and create a new forfeiture warrant system. The bill also would mandate the construction of a state-run website detailing every forfeiture if funds are provided by the Legislature and require law enforcement agencies to use either local district attorneys or the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics to handle all legal work on forfeitures.
  • H.B. 967 was signed by the governor into law. It will mandate licensure requirements for daily fantasy sports gaming operators by the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The bill also would set requirements for daily fantasy sports gaming, including a minimum age for participation (18) and rules to prevent participation in the games by an operator’s employees. An operator license would cost $5,000 and last for three years before requiring renewal.
  • H.B. 1090, the “Restore HOPE” Act, would add verification requirements for recipients of Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and provide oversight for the tracking of the use of EBT (food stamp) and TANF cards. It’s sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting signature.
  • H.B. 1322 will allow Mississippi brewers to sell their beer on premises after it was signed into law by Bryant.
  • H.B. 1425 would give the governor and other senior state officials more authority over occupational licensing boards. Its passage makes Mississippi the first state to become compliant with the U.S. Supreme Court 2015 decision North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, in which the court ruled that state licensing boards can receive immunity only if they are actively supervised by the state. The bill awaits the governor’s signature.

RELATED: Mississippi gives governor, senior state officials more authority over occupational licensing

  • The Legislature was unable to come to an agreement on a “Christmas tree” bond bill with money for numerous projects around the state after the House and Senate couldn’t come to an agreement over infrastructure spending. It’s the first time in several years the Legislature didn’t add to the state’s debt with a bond bill.
  • H.B. 711 died but would have reauthorized the state’s motion picture and television production subsidy program, which is due to expire this year. Last year, taxpayers spent more than $10 million on the program and, according to a report last year by the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, lost 51 cents on every dollar.

The bad

  • Senate Bill 3033 will give $45 million to the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula. Huntington Ingalls spokesman Bill Glenn told Mississippi Watchdog that the shipbuilding company, which builds most of the U.S. Navy’s warships, would match the state’s contribution 2 to 1. The bill was signed by the governor. Glenn said innovative shipyard upgrades “will allow Ingalls to be more efficient and to provide an even a better value to the Navy and American taxpayers.”

Related: Mississippi taxpayers to give $45 million to Ingalls shipbuilding

  • S.B. 2632 would have banned contract lobbying by state agencies, but died on the calendar in the House.

The ugly

  • S.B. 2941 is one of the “local and private” bills passed each year that are specific to a particular municipality or county. This bill, which was signed by the governor, allows the city of Byhalia in northern Mississippi to keep receipts from a hotel tax that expired last July. The tax is now reauthorized until 2021. Even though the law authorizing the tax expired, the city kept collecting it anyway. Byhalia’s mayor, Phil Malone, didn’t answer repeated requests from comment from Mississippi Watchdog.

Unfinished business

The Legislature will have to come back in a special session to handle the budgets of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the attorney general’s office.

The MDOT budget fight between the House and the Senate was over the threatened addition of a House amendment that would redirect some of the revenue from the state’s voluntary sales tax deal with online giant Amazon to infrastructure. The bill had already gone to conference and the House voted to send it back to conference. The Senate wouldn’t go along with the plan and the bill died on the calendar.

In the second conference report on the attorney general office’s budget, a requirement was added that would have required Attorney General Jim Hood to deposit any legal settlements into the state’s treasury within 15 days. That bill also died on the calendar, this time in the Senate.

Bills signed into law by Bryant will go into effect on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Steve Wilson reports for Mississippi Watchdog. Contact him at [email protected] and on Twitter.

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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.