Summary from the week ending 2/23 | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Summary from the week ending 2/23




The House of Representatives rolled three anti-abortion bills that had been passed by the Senate into one bill and easily passed it during the eighth week of the 2007 legislative session.

Under SB 2391 as passed by the House Public Health and Human Services Committee and the full House of Representatives, only a court could waive the parental consent rule by declaring there is "clear and convincing evidence" that a minor is mature enough to make the decision to go ahead with the procedure, or that the procedure would be in the best interests of the minor.

The bill also says that no abortion could be performed in Mississippi except where necessary to preserve the mother's health or if the pregnancy was caused by rape. The bill further says that the physician must offer to provide the patient an opportunity to view a fetal ultrasound image and to hear a fetal heart tone if it is audible. It was pointed out that the federal Roe v. Wade law still rules the nation's abortion landscape. Mississippi has one licensed abortion clinic, located in Jackson.

The collection of state revenues through our tax and bonding system and the appropriation of the dollars they produce also were a major focus of the week.

We were working against a Feb. 21 deadline for floor action on appropriation and revenue bills that originated in the House of Representatives. The Senate, meanwhile, was also working on "money bills," including a measure to raise the tax on cigarettes and to lower the taxes on groceries. But the Senate took no action on that proposal and key leader said none is expected.

The House had passed HB 247, our version of the tobacco tax increase/grocery tax reduction, last week by a majority that exceeded the requirements for a gubernatorial veto override, should that be necessary. During this eighth week, a report produced by the Stennis Institute, a think-tank at Mississippi State University, showed that a grocery tax cut would not harm municipalities' revenues, as some opponents of the proposal have claimed for several years.

The Stennis report said there is no truth to those claims. In fact, the Stennis researchers found that "These new sales tax revenues will result in increased diversions to municipalities." Furthermore, it stated that "every state in the U.S. that has raised cigarette taxes has recognized significant revenue increases and these revenue increases have been sustained over time in the face of repetitive increases in tobacco

taxation by the majority of states. Of the 26 states that increased their cigarette taxes during the period

2000 to 2003, no state lost revenues as a result of decreased consumption due to excise tax increases

and revenue increases ranged from 12 to 260 percent. Even states that experienced significant decline

in consumption still recognized increased revenues."

No matter what action the Senate might or might not take on its own tobacco-grocery tax bill, HB 247 must be dealt with by the Senate by March 13, the deadline for that chamber to act on House tax bills.

Many of the tax-related bills we handled on the House floor this week were updated versions of current laws or extensions of tax exemptions already on the books. We also passed several bond bills that create financing for economic development and repair and renovation projects.

HB 1743 would issue general obligation bonds to finance a statewide wireless communications system for emergency first-responders and law enforcement personnel, as well as to build a football stadium at Jackson State University and to tear down Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium; build a state civil rights museum; enhance an armed forces museum; and fund several other projects. OVER

One proposed new law that came from our discussions was HB 1612, which would give consumers a "tax holiday" on the last weekend in July. The bill would exempt clothing items costing less than $100 from sales taxation on that weekend. This is an idea that has been before the Legislature in the past but never approved. Backers said a dozen states have a similar law. The bill should be "revenue neutral" because shoppers might spend their tax savings on other items taxed at the full 7 percent.

We also passed HB 1024 to extend the duration of sales tax exemptions for businesses unable to utilize the exemptions on equipment and other purchases as a result of a natural disaster—like Katrina. We also passed HB 1025 extending job tax credits for producers of alternative energy who may not have been able to receive the credit as the result of a similar natural disaster.

Another economic development measure that passed Ways and Means and the full House was HB 295 to help cities and counties purchase and improve property for industrial parks. This will also is known as the "Rep. Leonard Morris Industrial Development Projects Act" in honor of the late House member who worked so hard on that type of legislation. HB 1724 will offer "seed money" to startup science and technology companies.

The House also passed a $25 million bond program in HB 270 to replace deficient rural bridges across the state. The bill was amended to allow counties in some areas to install covered bridges, which would save money and enhance historical significance. The House also passed HB 1572, a $10 million bond program to help save the struggling dairy industry that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Another tax bill, HB 1714, would exempt from paying sales taxes nonprofit organizations that operate long-term care facilities solely for adults with mental retardation if the organization is also exempt from federal income taxation.

Another Ways and Means bill we passed is HB 1747 allowing holders of wine retailer permits to stage "wine tasting" events at their store. Some fairly tight restrictions were placed on such events.

Several of the bills we passed this week are "strike-all amendments," in which the House places language it has already passed into a Senate bill on the same subject. For instance, this week we passed SB 2369, a bill related to new physical education and health education requirements for our public schools. The House had earlier approved HB 732 on the same issue and the final version of what would actually become law will be worked out in House-Senate conferencing before the session ends.

Other measures we approved on the House floor this week included:

> HB 879 to provide income tax credits for the purchase of hybrid electric vehicles and homes that meet the U.S. Green Building Council's standards, an environmentally-sensitive criteria. The bill also requires state agencies to buy vehicles that meet federal fuel economy standards.

> A strike-all in SB 2777 to appropriate $20 million annually for the proposed Mississippi Tobacco Control Commission, which would succeed the now-defunct Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, a smoking cessation and education program.

> A strike-all in SB 3050 with the language of HB 1500 to strengthen the state's "wind pool" insurance program to help reduce the cost of premiums on the hurricane-ravaged Coast region.

Our Judiciary ‘B' Committee had a demonstration this week of the use of a stun gun by several state troopers. SB 2772 would require a permit for members of the public to possess the device.

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