Bills to watch in the 2023 Mississippi legislative session
Published 4:42 pm Saturday, February 4, 2023
About 3,000 bills have been filed in the Mississippi Legislature to be considered during the 2023 session. The last major deadline was Jan. 31, when lawmakers had to pass general bills out of their original committees.
The deadline, though, did not apply to revenue and appropriations bills, which face a Feb. 22 deadline.
Multiple bills in the House and Senate were filed this session to revive the state’s initiative process, which allows voters to bypass the Legislature and place issues on the ballot for the electorate to decide. The state Supreme Court rendered the state’s initiative process unconstitutional in 2021 on a technicality and the legislative leadership has vowed to renew it. But that did not occur in the 2022 session.
Just one bill dealing with the ballot initiative — Senate Bill 2638, authored by Sen. McCaughn, a Republican of Newton — survived the Jan. 31 deadline. But the bill faced criticism in committee before it was kept alive. The proposal, as written, does not appear to allow voters to completely circumvent the legislative process, as is generally the goal of ballot initiatives. It simply lets voters make suggestions to legislators, who can later choose to alter the wishes of voters.
Senators, including McCaughn, vowed to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process.
READ MORE: Senators keep watered-down ballot initiative bill alive, vow to improve it
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate filed 17 total bills in 2023 dealing with expanding Medicaid as is allowed under federal law to provide health care coverage to primarily the working poor. Under the proposal, the federal government would pay the bulk of the costs.
All 17 bills died in Senate and House committees without a vote or even debate.
Senate Bill 2070, authored by Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, and House Bill 108, authored by Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, were among multiple bills filed to expand Medicaid.
Several bills were filed this year to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from the current two months to 12 months. Physicians and advocates say the policy, which would cost the state just $7 million per year, would save countless lives of mothers and children who cannot otherwise afford necessary health care.
Senate leaders passed Senate Bill 2212, authored by Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, before the Jan. 31 deadline. Meanwhile, House Bill 426, authored by Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, died without being considered in committee.
These actions mirror what happened last session. Senate leaders passed the bill overwhelmingly before Speaker of the House Philip Gunn killed it.
READ MORE: Pressure grows for lawmakers to pass postpartum Medicaid extension
Health care & hospital crisis
Senate Bill 2371, Senate Bill 2372, Senate Bill 2373 and Senate Bill 2323, authored by Senate leaders with support from Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, are aimed at helping Mississippi’s struggling hospitals and shoring up the health care workforce. The bills would spend a combined $111 million of the state’s federal pandemic relief money. This includes $80 million in grants to hospitals based on their number of beds and type of care, a nursing student loan repayment program, grants to help community colleges beef up their nursing programs. Senate Bill 2323 would eliminate legal barriers to consolidation of or collaboration among hospitals. All of these bills remain alive following the Jan. 31 deadline.
Senate Bill 2793 and House Bill 1081 would create licensure and regulation — by a new board — for midwives in Mississippi. Currently, midwifery is not regulated in Mississippi as it is in 36 other states, meaning anyone here can claim to be a midwife without formal training or certification. More than half of Mississippi counties are considered “maternity care deserts,” with no hospitals practicing obstetric care, no OB-GYNs and no certified nurse midwives. Advocates say midwives could help in these areas. But many physicians groups say child delivery should be overseen by trained physicians. Both these bills died in committee on Jan. 31.
House Bill 469, authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, would provide $12 million for Mississippi Baptist Medical Center to create a burn center or unit at the hospital in 2024.
The state’s only accredited burn center closed last year, but recently the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced it will increase its burn treatment capabilities.
Another bill, Senate Bill 2817, brings forward code sections to allow possible amendment later in the session.
Both these bills remain alive following the Jan. 31 deadline.
READ MORE: Will Baptist and UMMC battle over burn care?
Jackson water crisis
Senate Bill 2889 would create a regional utility authority that would place the long-term control of Jackson water, wastewater and sewer under a nine-member board. Five of the members would be appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor, and four would be appointed by Jackson’s mayor. This bill passed Senate committee on Jan. 24 and remains alive.
Senate Bill 2338 would require that cities charge customers for water based on consumption. Jackson is currently looking at a proposal to instead charge customers based on their property values. This passed Senate committee and was approved by the entire Senate on Jan. 26. It remains alive and now moves to the House for consideration.
Welfare agency reform
House Bill 184 and House Bill 188, authored by Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, would establish a board to oversee Department of Human Services, taking the agency out of the sole oversight of the governor’s office. House Bill 1054, filed by Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, would require legislative watchdog PEER to evaluate TANF subgrants. Senate Bill 2331, filed by Sen. Rod Hickman, D-Macon, would remove the child support cooperation requirement for TANF and SNAP beneficiaries.
All these bills died in committee on the Jan. 31 deadline.
READ MORE: Democrats, not Republicans, seek to reform Mississippi welfare agency in wake of embezzlement scandal
Senate Bill 2405, authored by Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, and House Bill 1247, authored by Rep. William Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville, are among multiple bills filed to change the state Constitution to allow people convicted of felonies to regain their voting rights at some point after finishing their sentence.
All these bills died in committee on the Jan. 31 deadline.
Elections & voting
Senate Bill 2299, authored by Jeremy England, R-Vancleave, would establish a mechanism for voters to recall state and local officials, including legislators. This bill died in committee on Jan. 31.
House Bill 370, authored by Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, would establish a mechanism for voters to recall municipal officials. This bill passed out of committee on Jan. 11 and is pending before the entire House chamber.
Senate Bill 2667, authored by Sen. Jason Barrett, R-Brookhaven, with multiple co-sponsors, would reiterate that the open meetings law covers the Mississippi Legislature. The bill is a response to a controversial 2022 ruling by the state Ethics Commission saying the Legislature is not covered by the open meetings law. The bill also increases the fine for violations of the open records law from $100 to $500.
This bill died in committee on Jan. 31.
Gender procedures ban
House Bill 1125, the “Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures Act,” is similar to measures passed or debated in other states and was authored by Rep. Gene Newman, a Republican from Pearl. The bill, passed on a partisan 78-28 vote by the full House early in the session, would ban gender affirming surgery and drugs for Mississippians 18 and under.
It passed out of Senate committee on Jan. 31 and is expected to be taken up in the full Senate chamber in coming days.
House Bill 418, authored by Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, and co-sponsored by others, would eliminate the sales tax on most grocery items.
The deadline to file tax bills is not until Feb. 22, so most likely others will be filed.
College financial aid
Legislation that would revamp two state financial aid programs, Senate Bill 2580 and House Bill 771, passed out of both chambers. The House is debating upping the new income cap for eligibility under the Mississippi Resident Tuition Assistance Grant from $90,000 per family to $150,000, a change the Senate is not currently considering.
The bill is likely headed to conference.
READ MORE: As lawmakers hear proposal to redesign financial aid, education policy experts say it’s a ‘bad idea’
House Bill 730 and Senate Bill 2585 expand eligibility for the Winter Reed Loan Repayment Program for teachers to include alternate route teachers and teachers who are no longer in their first year. Both bills survived the Jan. 31 deadline.
Senate Bill 2811 and House Bill 1365 prohibit local school districts from decreasing their salary supplements for teacher assistants when the state minimum wage is raised. These bills are alive following the Jan. 31 deadline.
Senate Bill 2079 and House Bill 532 create a “School Safety Guardian Program,” which would train teachers with concealed carry permits to respond goal of responding to active shooter situations. The program would be opt-in and teachers would be eligible for liability protections for actions taken in this role. These bills remain alive.
READ MORE: How is Mississippi responding to the threat of school shootings?
House Bill 1070, authored by Rep. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon., would create grants for schools to teach patriotic education. This bill passed House committee on Jan. 31 and remains alive.
Senate Bill 2777 raises the minimum salary of school attendance officers to match the teacher pay raise given last year. It also establishes a 2,000 student limit for each officer’s case load. This bill is alive.
READ MORE: State truancy officers face stagnant pay and ‘unmanageable caseloads’
House Bill 294, authored by Rep. Carolyn Crawford, R-Pass Christian, would prohibit public schools and universities from imposing mask mandates. This bill died in committee on Jan. 31.
House Bill 112, authored by Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, would create the Mississippi Universal Preschool Act. This bill died in committee on Jan. 31.
House Bill 595, authored by Rep. Bo Brown, D-Jackson, would authorize the Department of Education to create curriculum for African American studies and racial diversity. This bill died in committee on Jan. 31.
House Bill 1094 would authorize the state Department of Environmental Quality to fine Jackson for improper disposal of wastewater or sewage into the Pearl River, up to $1 million for each instance. This bill passed House committee on Jan. 31.
House Bill 18 would impose a $3.50 tax on cars charged at alternative-fuel stations. Senate Bill 2020 and House Bill 378 would repeal the annual tax imposed on electric (currently $150) and hybrid cars ($75). All of these bills are alive and face a Feb. 22 deadline for floor action.
House Bill 1020, authored by Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, creates a separate judicial district within the Capitol Complex Improvement District, which is an area around downtown Jackson where many of the state-owned buildings are located. The judges, who would hear civil and criminal cases, would be paid equivalent to chancery and circuit judges, but would be appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice instead of elected like other judges in state. This bill passed House committee on Jan. 25 and remains alive.
House Bill 1222, authored by Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany with other co-sponsors, would make a number of changes to state mental health policies, including requiring law enforcement agencies to offer “first aid mental health training.” It would appoint court liaisons to work with families in counties where more than 20 people are involuntarily committed each year, require chancery clerks to keep more detailed records on civil commitments, and aim to reduce delays in conducting screenings of people being civilly committed. Under the bill, community mental health centers would be required to hire an accountant and conduct regular audits. It would also change the composition of the board of mental health to include more subject matter experts and at least one sheriff and reduce board members’ term lengths. This bill passed House committee on Jan. 26 and remains alive.