Last week marked the final week for general bill submissions in this session of the Mississippi Legislature, and much legislation is already clearing the House and Senate. Committees in both chambers are also up against a Feb. 1 deadline to pass or dump bills in their own chamber.
Representatives of the state's eight universities addressed the House Appropriations Committee last week, complaining that Congress' decision to temporarily end "earmark" funding will have a dire impact on Mississippi's colleges and universities.
"Earmarks" are U.S. senators' or representatives' insertions into a federal budget bill allocating already budgeted funds to local targets, such as institution research, highway construction or infrastructure maintenance. Last month, the lame-duck Congress—driven by a conservative and Tea Party anti-earmark mantra—failed to pass an annual budget omnibus bill containing millions of dollars in local earmark money. Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Commissioner Hank Bounds said the lack of earmarks will cost some state campuses up to $50 million and could cost the entire IHL system about 1,000 jobs.
Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government Director Marty Wiseman told the Jackson Free Press last week that be believed that Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi "will lose $104 million in combined research money," compared to last year because of the Tea Party success in killing the omnibus bill.
Bounds asked the House Appropriations Committee to be mindful of the upcoming IHL research shortfall as they craft the state's FY 2012 budget.
The House Judiciary A Committee is now mulling a controversial anti-immigrant bill fired from the Senate floor last week.
Senate Bill 2179, authored by Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, forces local and state law officials to ask about a suspect's legal residential status during routine police stops and public interactions, and to arrest violators of federal immigration laws.
As outlined by the bill, any documented immigrant who does not carry some form of "alien registration document" faces a possible $100 fine and 30 days in jail for the misdemeanor.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Arizona for passing a nearly identical bill last year, arguing that immigration enforcement is the duty of the federal government, not the states.
Fillingane's bill will create an Immigrant Reimbursement Program within the Department of Public Safety that will reimburse local jails for detaining immigrants. The fund proposes to pay a daily maximum of $20 per inmate, regardless of his or her health condition, or the local agency's transportation costs to the nearest U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement facility.
Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin said $20 a day won't handle the costs of detaining immigrant inmates at the county jail.
"The cost of housing an inmate is about $36 a day, so that's $16 short," McMillin said, while adding that inmate health issues would also inevitably be an issue. "I would assume whatever health issues the new inmates have would be the responsibility of the state."
Legislators are again plying the waters seeking to establish felony animal cruelty laws. House Bill 373, co-authored by Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, and Rep. Linda Whittington, D-Schlater, creates a felony charge for torturing any animal, including burning or mutilation. The law creates a penalty fine of up to $5,000 on conviction and up to five years behind bars. It also creates the possibility for a judge to impose psychiatric evaluation and treatment for a person convicted of the crime.
Over on the Senate side, J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont, submitted a similar bill, SB 2780, which imposes a maximum $2,000 fine and two years incarceration upon conviction and limits the bill to domesticated dogs and cats. Wilemon's bill also opens the possibly of mandatory psychological counseling.
Animal-cruelty bills historically have not survived judiciary committees to achieve a floor vote in either chamber.
Greenville Democrat Rep. Willie Bailey fears that a House bill designating "Juneteenth Freedom Day" as a day of commemoration in the state of Mississippi will not survive the Senate. House Bill 938, like many bills before it, establishes June 19 as the "oldest traditionally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery." The date marks the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, heard the belated news that President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed them from slavery in 1863.
The bill commemorates the date, but does not designate the day as a paid legal holiday, so Bailey said he remains puzzled by the poor survival rate of similar bills in the conservative-dominated Senate. "It doesn't cost the state anything—nothing," Bailey said. "I just don't see why they can't pass it."