New Mississippi Laws in Effect

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A host of new laws, and modifications to existing laws signed by Gov. Haley Barbour in the 2010 Legislative session go into effect today.

A new pilot program that could herald the expansion of charter schools in the state, The New Start School Program and Conversion Charter School Act of 2010, created by Senate Bill 2293, will establish a new process for converting failing public schools into charter schools, providing a majority of local parents agree to push for the conversion.

Prior to singing the bill, the governor admitted that he would have preferred the charter school law to be different. The law requires the new charter schools to accept students who attended the public school from which it was converted. Many Republicans sought a law that would allow the new charter school to use an application process for accepting students, but Democrats in the House tweaked the law, arguing that if the charter school formula is to succeed, it must effectively operate in the same environment as the original public school.

Allergy Meds Require Prescription

One of the most paraded changes is a new state law championed by sheriffs associations and the attorney general, which require a doctor's prescription to buy cold and sinus medicines that contain the compound pseudoephedrine.

The compound is a component in the production of illegal and highly addictive drug crystal meth, which Department of Public Safety officials says is a growing problem in the state that could easily be curtailed by new restrictions. In February when Barbour signed House Bill 512--a constitutional amendment authored by Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton--the state became the second state in the nation to push pseudoephedrine-based drugs into prescription status. The first state was Oregon.

Three Feet for Cyclists

Cyclist get a few more rights this month with the creation of the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act. Senate Bill 3014 requires that motorists have at least three feet of distance when passing cyclists and it makes it unlawful to "harass, taunt or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle." If convicted of the violation, the motorist pays $100 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $2,500 and seven day's imprisonment in the county jail for any subsequent offense. Bicyclists, meanwhile, must ride as close as practical to the right-hand curb of the street and indicate every turn with appropriate hand signals.

Opening Open Records

Efficiency for state open records requests improved with the governor's approval of House Bill 113 in April. The new law requires public bodies to honor all public records requests within seven working days from the date of receiving the request. If the public body cannot provide the information within that time, it must provide a written explanation to the person making the request assuring that the request will be answered and explaining why it's taking so long. The law sets a final deadline for responses at 14 working days from the receipt of the information request. The law still allows plenty of wiggle room to redact information, however.

Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who submitted a similar bill revising public records law--which never made it to the governor's desk--said the state still had plenty of room for improvement regarding freedom of information.

"We've got a ways to go in terms of making our meetings and records more accessible to the public, but this is a good first step," Baria told the Jackson Free Press today.

Tax Commission Splits

Legislation signed by the governor during the 2009 legislative session split the Mississippi State Tax Commission into two agencies: the Mississippi Department of Revenue and the Mississippi Board of Tax Appeals. The purpose of the split, according to the 2009 legislation, is to give protesting tax payers a board to voice their complaint with no direct connection to the agency charging the taxes. Barbour appointed CPA Janet H. Mann as the first chairwoman of the new three-member Board of Tax Appeals, while the two associate commissioners of the former Department of Revenue, James Wilkinson and Marcus Martin, will complete their terms as associate board members on the board of Tax Appeals.

The Department of Revenue still administers and collects taxes, issue titles, oversees the equalization of property values, and administers the tax laws, according to the department's new website.
"The department's organization and duties of the various offices, bureaus, and divisions of the former Department of Revenue are not changed. The administrative functions of the three-member Department of Revenue regarding alcoholic beverage control and ad valorem matters are managed by the Department of Revenue," the department states in a July 1 press release.

Governor Barbour appointed J. Ed Morgan as the Commissioner of Revenue, who has been serving as chairman of the Department of Revenue and Commissioner of Revenue since January 1, 2009. Both Mann and Morgan will serve six-year terms.

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