By LUKE RAMSETH Daily Journal Capitol Correspondent Apr 21, 2021
JACKSON • Gov. Tate Reeves has signed a flurry of bills into law in recent weeks, but one major proposal to reform Mississippi’s strict prison parole regulations hangs in the balance ahead of a Thursday deadline.
The Republican last year vetoed a similar piece of legislation meant to reform the parole laws and address the state’s overcrowded prisons. Reeves has not hinted whether the Legislature’s version this year addressed his concerns with last year’s proposal, which he claimed went too far and would risk public safety by letting out people with violent records.
Reeves did recently sign into law another criminal justice reform bill that ensures pregnant women are treated with respect inside the prison system. And he also gave the OK to a pair of bills addressing the state’s teacher shortage, and one allowing alcohol delivery to the home.
Here’s what Reeves has already approved, or allowed to become law without his signature, as well as several bills that he had yet to consider as of Wednesday:
Signed into law
Alcohol home delivery: House Bill 1135 allows Mississippians to have beer, wine and hard liquor delivered at home. The new law, which takes effect July 1, does not allow for deliveries of wine or other alcoholic products from out of state — the liquor must come from a licensed package store no more than 30 miles away.
Teacher license reciprocity: Senate Bill 2267 grants licensed teachers from outside Mississippi a standard five-year license in the state within 21 days of applying. The legislation, which takes effect July 1, is meant to remove roadblocks for teachers moving to the Magnolia State, which has long faced a severe teacher shortage.
Teacher college loan repayment: HB 1179 creates a repayment program — named after Jack Reed Sr. and former Gov. William Winter — that will cover a set amount of a teacher’s college loan over the first three years of their career. The bill is meant to give teachers a boost early in their careers, when salaries otherwise stay flat.
Tampering with urine: SB 2569 will criminalize selling or providing human or synthetic urine for the purpose of faking a drug screening.
Dignity for incarcerated women: HB 196 ensures better treatment for imprisoned pregnant women. It mandates they be provided feminine hygiene products, says they cannot be shackled or cuffed, and ensures the mother time with the baby after delivery. It also stipulates the mother must be placed in a prison as close as possible to where the infant stays to make visits easier.
Harper’s Grace Law: HB 119, named after a girl with a rare form of epilepsy, reauthorizes the University of Mississippi Medical Center to continue to research cannabidiol, or CBD, and related compounds until 2024. But this session the bill became well-known for something else: language that would have created a medical marijuana program if the voter-approved Initiative 65 is thrown out in court. That medical marijuana language was not included in the final legislation that Reeves signed, however.
Law without Reeves’ signature
Mississippi Medicaid program: Reeves declined to approve SB 2799, which reauthorizes and tweaks several parts of the state’s Medicaid insurance program, instead allowing it to become law without his signature. Lawmakers ultimately removed a provision that would have helped mothers after birth, extending coverage from two months to a year to improve health outcomes. They did include provisions that allow additional audits of the state’s controversial managed care companies, which administer state Medicaid benefits to those who qualify.
Awaiting Reeves’ approval as of Wednesday
Parole reform: SB 2795 loosens Mississippi’s parole requirements — among the strictest in the nation — and could make about 2,000 inmates eligible for early release. The legislation, which would be retroactive to 1995, would mean some nonviolent offenders could get out earlier. It would also make those convicted of armed robbery eligible after 60% of their sentence. Thursday is Reeves’ deadline to sign or veto the legislation; last year he vetoed a similar bill at the last minute.
High-speed internet access: SB 2798 would allow internet companies to lease out “dark fiber” lines operated by Entergy and Mississippi Power. These connections would allow high-speed internet to reach some rural parts of the state that don’t have it, or where options are limited. Thursday is Reeves’ deadline to sign or veto the legislation.
Transportation law changes: SB 2825 makes several transportation law tweaks, including moving law enforcement presently under the state Department of Transportation, to the Department of Public Safety, as well as increasing the amount of weight that trucks with harvest permits can haul on highways. Thursday is Reeves’ deadline to sign or veto the bill.
Budget bills, bond bill: Reeves has yet to sign a trio of major agency budget bills — the Department of Finance and Administration, the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and the Mississippi Development Authority. He has also not signed off on the state’s annual bond bill, which authorizes borrowing for a slew of lawmakers’ wish-list projects around the state. Reeves has until Thursday if he wants to sign or veto them. Last year he ultimately vetoed the bulk of the state education budget as well as several line items in federal coronavirus aid spending.
LUKE RAMSETH is a Jackson-based reporter covering the 2021 session of the Mississippi Legislature for the Daily Journal. Email him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at @lramseth.