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3.1.23 – Clarion Ledger – Wicker Perlis

Following Tuesday’s legislative deadline for bills to move, some of the most-watched bills of the session managed to survive, while others were left on the cutting-room floor.

By the end of the day, all bills needed to be approved by committees in the other chamber, coming after earlier deadlines for them to be approved by committees and the floor in the chambers in which they originated.

A number of bills, including postpartum Medicaid extension and attempts to restore the ballot initiative, were moved through committee on the last possible day, as they faced the grim prospect of dying as they had in past sessions.

Other bills, though, including those to eliminate the state’s income tax, seem to be dead, at least for now.

Postpartum Medicaid Extension

After passing the Senate multiple times in recent years only to fail to advance in the House, a bill to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months finally got a vote in the House Medicaid Committee, and they chose to move it forward to the full House.

Senate leaders including Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann have been pushing for an extension, but House leaders including Speaker Philip Gunn had refused to endorse it unless they were assured it would not lead to an expansion of Medicaid eligibility. After Gov. Tate Reeves flipped his position on extension over the weekend, citing a need to support mothers and children in a post-Roe v. Wade world, the state Division of Medicaid sent a letter to Gunn endorsing extension and providing assurances that it was not the same as expansion.

Even though it passed its committee before deadline, Gunn has been noncommittal about it reaching a vote in the full House.

“We’ve not decided to do that yet. We’ve decided to move the bill out of the committee and keep it alive. The deadline is today by the way, the deadline to move bills out of the committee,” Gunn said in an interview with SuperTalk Mississippi on Tuesday. “It means it goes to the calendar of the House floor and it sits on the calendar until it’s taken up.”

Medicaid policy has the potential to loom heavy in this year’s elections. Reeves’ opponent, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, has endorsed full expansion of Medicaid. Meanwhile, in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, Hosemann’s opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, was one of 11 senators to vote against extension.

Ballot Initiatives

Also still alive is the restoration of Mississippi’s ballot initiative process, another topic that the two chambers have argued over before.

After the process was ruled invalid by the state supreme court in 2021, both chambers put forward bills to restore it last year. However, they could not agree on a number of issues, including the number of signatures needed for an initiative to reach the ballot. A majority of the Senate endorsed a sharp increase in signatures needed, with chamber leaders saying it should be harder for issues to reach the ballot in order to avoid the influence of groups based outside Mississippi. The House, on the other hand, supported a threshold similar to what was needed under the previous process.

This year, only the Senate advanced a bill, again with a higher threshold. It would require signatures from at least 12% of the state’s electors, about 240,000 people. The previous process required less than half that many.

The House Constitution Committee called an unscheduled meeting Tuesday to keep the ballot initiative process alive, making some significant changes along the way.

While the version the House committee advanced maintained the high threshold, it added limits on what topics could be addressed through ballot initiatives. Mostly notably, the House version would not allow for ballot initiatives about abortion. Some advocates for abortion access have floated the idea of challenging the state’s strict bans through ballot initiatives, after attempts in court largely failed.

The bill is likely to undergo further changes, as it now heads to the House floor and then to a likely conference committee with members of both chambers.

Jackson Court System

One of the most contentious bills of the session remains alive. House Bill 1020, as it passed the House, would create a separate, permanent and unelected court system within an expanded Capitol Complex Improvement District.

However, the version of HB 1020 that passed its Senate committee bears little resemblance to the House version. Instead of creating a new permanent court system, it would continue the current practice of the state providing some appointed judges within the Hinds County courts through 2026, at which point it would give the county one extra elected judge.

With two very different versions of the bill, HB 1020 is likely to go to a conference committee where members of the two chambers will negotiate differences and attempt to reach a compromise position.

Hospital Crisis

As legislators prepared for session, the crisis facing Mississippi’s rural hospitals was one of the key issues that leaders sought to address. At the time, State Health Officer Daniel Edney warned that 38 rural Mississippi hospitals were at risk of closing, more than half of the total. An updated report later decreased the number to 28, with 19 at “immediate risk of closing.”

Senate Bill 2323 would change the state’s anti-trust laws to allow all hospitals — whether public or private, for-profit or non-profit — to more easily collaborate or consolidate. The bill is part of a long-term goal of readdressing the medical landscape in the state. It not only remains alive, it passed overwhelmingly both chambers. That said, amendments were made in the House, so it will require either additional Senate approval or a conference committee agreement.

Senate Bill 2372 would bring more immediate aid to the state’s healthcare system, providing grants to hospitals in exchange for their participation in collecting and sharing data with the state. It passed the Senate early in February and advanced through the House appropriations committee Tuesday.

Income Tax Elimination

Despite the support of Mississippi’s governor, speaker of the House and the House ways and means chair, all Republicans, a bill to eliminate the state income tax appears to be dead in the Republican supermajority legislature.

The income tax elimination actually died last week, after the deadline passed for financial bills to advance, but it remained a key topic of discussion through the week.

In an appearance on SuperTalk Mississippi earlier this week, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said the bill failed to gain enough support after members were asked to commit to voting for it before they were given the opportunity to read it. She also said that questions went unanswered about how the state would pay for a potentially growing Capitol Complex Improvement District, among other priorities, with no income tax.

During a bill signing event Tuesday, Reeves said he still wholeheartedly supports eliminating the income tax, and that he may consider calling a special session focused on it after this session ends