With the Jan. 30 bill submission deadline gone, the House and Senate buckled down to serious floor action this week.
The House fired a long list of bills off to the Senate. Representatives initially held the windpool bill (HB 1500) for reconsideration, but the House later tabled the motion, sending the Mississippi Economic Growth and Redevelopment Act on its way. The act establishes the "Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association Reinsurance Assistance Fund" (financed by fees to insurance policyholders) off to the Senate. The Senate passed its own version of the windpool bill this week.
House Bill 731 may prove more of a hard sell to the conservative Senate. The bill, initially conceived by Rep. John Reeves, D-Jackson, seeks to offset tax losses to the capital city by providing a one-time $2 million state payment to the city for street repair and expanding the Jackson Police Department. Many House members with no connections to the city, felt Jackson didn't deserve the money. Reeves muscled the bill through nonetheless.
"I told you we'd get it passed, didn't I?" Reeves said to the Jackson Free Press.
HB 790 is another potential boon to the city if the Senate agrees. The bill brings a $50 million civil-rights museum to either the city or the Delta. The Senate will likely approve the museum bill considering Gov. Haley Barbour has already approved its construction, but there is no assurance from the Senate that its version will land the museum in Jackson.
Unrelated to the city of Jackson, HB 382 extends the life of the state parole board, though cynics argue that the extension isn't necessary since the expansion of truth in sentencing laws and mandatory prison sentences.
The House turned a wary eye on the check-cashing industry by passing HB 600, which requires new owners of check-cashing businesses to get a license from the state instead of inheriting a permit from the previous owner. Some legislators argued that the entire industry is in need of a review.
Following the trend, the House passed HB 229 and HB 240. HB 229 prohibits lending companies from charging penalties for paying off a mortgage prematurely with insurance funds—something a few residents got the chance to do after Katrina—while HB 240 abolishes the right to impose expiration dates, service and dormancy fees, on gift cards.
The Democratic House virtually piled on an anti-undocumented-worker bill, submitted by Rep. Mike Lott, R-Petal, requiring employers to verify any new hires as legal immigrants or native-born. The House beat down that bill, HB 1379, by turning it into a liberal squeeze toy laden with progressive amendments, such as one that increased the minimum wage to $7.25 by Jan. 1, 2008. Eventually, the bill was amended so extensively that even its conservative author, Lott, would not support it, and the bill perished on the House floor.
The Senate churned away at its own legislation as committee meetings wrapped up.
SB 2056 would close a state loophole allowing politicians to qualify for more than one election at a time. The bill may be inspired by the attempt by Rep. Virginia Carlton, R-Columbia, to run for both the House and Court of Appeals. Chancery Court Judges Edward E. Patten Jr. and Larry Buffington were both running for re-election while trying to win a seat on the state Court of Appeals. SB 2056 makes it impossible to run for more than one election. Another election bill the Senate passed this week is SB 2233, which increases the number of days before an election that a person must file in order to qualify.
The Senate also sent SB 2323 to the House. That bill raises teacher salaries—a proposal Gov. Haley Barbour has embraced this election year. The House passed a similar bill for teacher assistants.
The Senate also passed SB 3050, their version of the House windpool bill.
Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, along with other Senators, submitted SB 2795, which bans abortion except when the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. This bill is very similar to one that Nunnelee sent to the House last year, which eventually culminated in large demonstrations around Jackson last summer as pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion forces clashed.
Disgusted with Nunnelee's attempts to chip away at abortion rights last year, House Public Health Chairman Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, struck all the language in Nunnelee's bill and replaced it with a bill making abortion outright illegal in the state, knowing any attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade on a state level would become entangled in a federal suit.
Holland said he had little taste for that kind of fight this year. "I'm not considering any f***ing anti- or pro-abortion bills this year—with a capital 'F,'" Holland told the JFP. "Last year was the year for that."
This Tuesday, the Senate passed SB 2370, which makes the consumption or purchase of alcoholic beverages illegal on campus, while the House passed HB 905, giving victims of domestic violence easier access to protective orders meant to keep away abusers by creating a state registry for protective orders. Currently, an abuse victim must carry the protective orders on his or her person in order to convince officers to act.