301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

3.9.23 – Spot on Mississippi

One controversial Jackson bill died, another survived. See which bills made it through the latest major deadline in the Mississippi Legislature.

Another legislative deadline came and went Wednesday, with all bills having to move past the floor of the chamber they did not originate in, and a number of the most watched bills remain alive.

Some big pieces of legislation died though, including one of the most important ones related to the city of Jackson.

See what made it past Wednesday’s deadline, and what did not.

Jackson Water Regionalization

Senate Bill 2889 failed to pass the House in any version before the deadline.

It would have created the Mississippi Capital Region Utility Authority, taking ownership of Jackson’s troubled water and sewer systems away from the city and putting it in the hands of a nine-member regional board. A majority of seats on that board would be appointed by state officials, with three coming from the governor and two from the lieutenant governor. The other four would have come from the mayor of Jackson.

A number of changes were made to the bill before it died. Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, wrote the bill. After conversations with Jackson officials, including Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, Parker changed the bill to stipulate that the mayors of Byram and Ridgeland would have a say on two of the state official’s appointments, not on the Jackson mayor’s. The bill was also changed to ensure that the regional authority operated as a nonprofit. That version of the bill passed the Senate 34-15.

In a House committee, Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, further amended the bill to allow Jackson to maintain ownership of its water system, despite losing operational control to the regional authority. That version passed the House Public Utilities Committee, but committee chair Rep. Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia, passed on an opportunity to bring it to the floor before the deadline.

The bill’s death is a victory for members of the Jackson delegation and Lumumba, who has long opposed any form of regionalization.

Jackson Courts

Perhaps the most hotly debated bill of the session, House Bill 1020 remains alive in two forms.

The version, which passed the House, written by Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, would create a new permanent unelected court system within the Capitol Complex Improvement District. It would also expand the CCID to include some of the wealthiest parts of Jackson, which have far higher white populations than the rest of the roughly 83% Black city. Officials in that new court would be appointed by state officials, like the chief justice of the supreme court and attorney general, giving local voters little to no say in who runs a court they may one day appear in. Supporters of the bill, like Lamar, say it is intended to fight crime and reduce a backlog in the county court system. Critics, like Lumumba, say it is racist. That version passed the House 76-38.

The Senate passed a version of the bill that was almost entirely different, written by Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula. That version would see state officials appoint new temporary judges within the existing Hinds County court. It would also provide funding for the county public defender to hire more staff. After changes were made on the Senate floor, it would not do the same for the district attorney, instead allowing funds to go toward the state crime lab. That version passed the Senate 34-15.

Wiggins said Tuesday that the two versions of the bill are likely to go to a conference committee, where they can be debated and a compromise could be reached. If none is, both versions will die at that point.

Public Education Funding

Senate plan to change the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, and then fully fund that new formula for the first time in more than 15 years, advanced through the Senate on Tuesday, after first being proposed in a hearing Monday evening.

The Senate plan was an amended version of the general MAEP funding bill already passed by the House, House Bill 1369, meaning the plan remains alive despite only having passed the Senate. It is unclear if the amended version will reach the House floor before session ends. House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, R-West, told SuperTalk Radio host Paul Gallo that he does not believe the chamber will take it up this far into session. If that proves to be the case, it leaves two possibilities. One is that an agreement is reached in a conference committee. The other is that the plan dies, leaving the MAEP formula unchanged and likely underfunded.

Regardless of what happens in the legislature, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has indicated he would be unlikely to support the plan, urging people to be “very very cautious” about it.

Postpartum Medicaid

In a major victory for Senate leadership, including Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Medicaid committee chair Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, a bill to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months not only reached the House floor for the first time Tuesday, it passed.

The Senate had passed a plan to extend coverage multiple times in recent years, only for it to fail to reach a committee vote in the House. This year, that changed. Senate Bill 2212, which had already passed the Senate 41-11, made it through the House Medicaid Committee last week and passed 92-27 on the House floor. Outgoing Speaker of the House Philip Gunn voted against it. Reeves, in a change of course, indicated he would sign an extension bill early last week.

If Reeves signs it, Mississippi will no longer be the only state in the nation to neither extend postpartum coverage or fully expand Medicaid. Wyoming passed postpartum extension into law last week.

Ballot Initiatives

A plan to restore Mississippi voters’ ability to directly pass legislation remains alive, but it would take a very different approach than the previous law, which was struck down by the state supreme court in 2021.

The versions of Senate Bill 2638 and the accompanying Senate Concurrent Resolution 533 that overwhelmingly passed the Senate last month would dramatically increase the number of signatures needed to get an initiative on the ballot. Under the previous law, the number needed was about 110,000. The bill would increase that to almost a quarter of a million. Supporters of the bill say this would lessen the impacts of money from groups based outside Mississippi, while opponents say it would make it harder for voters to have a direct say in their governance.

The House passed a version of the bill too, and unlike last year its version kept the higher vote threshold. It did make other changes, though, including listing topics that cannot be addressed by ballot initiative. That list includes abortion and government spending. It does not mention marijuana, the topic that led to the previous initiative law being struck down

The bill is expected to head to a conference committee.

Electric Car Sales

A bill that would effectively prevent electric car companies from opening new showrooms in Mississippi passed both chambers before deadline and now heads to Reeves’ desk.

Supporters of the bill say it will require companies like Tesla and Rivian, who do not currently operate through franchisees, to play by the same rules as legacy car manufacturers. Opponents of the bill say it is protectionism and have openly called on Reeves to veto it.