Week defined by legislation that died
The fifth week of the 2017 Legislative Session was defined more by what legislation died than what was passed. Many of us were pleased to see that both bills available as “vehicles” for the education funding formula (MAEP) rewrite did not make it past Thursday’s deadline. There has been a concerted call, especially from our Democratic Caucus, to take a long, deliberate look at any plan to change the way our public schools are funded. There is simply not enough time to adequately study, discuss or understand any action of this magnitude within one 90-day legislative session.
In floor action, one unusually close vote was on a measure designed to strip the Department of Mental Health of its current governance by a professional board and hand it over to the governor. Senate Bill 2567 passed by a vote of 25-24. There are those who are alarmed that the current system of privatizing mental health services providers through contracts has created dangerous situations for one of our most vulnerable populations. There is no reason to believe that practice would be curtailed just because the governor would be in charge of the agency. As of adjournment on Friday, the bill was held on a Motion to Reconsider and almost certainly faces another roll call vote before it could be released to the House of Representatives. The deadline for that action was Monday, February 13.
Both Senate Bill 2689 and Senate Bill 2687 made some adjustments to laws pertaining to campaigns and elections. SB2689 seeks to reform the campaign finance laws by prescribing how monies raised for campaigns can be spent and must be reported. One of the changes being that candidates who leave service or lose a campaign would no longer be able to keep and use the remainder of campaign funds personally. It also provides for detailed reporting on all expenditures, including credit cards, which is an important step in maintaining open and transparent campaigns. Senate Bill 2687 is an effort to make absentee voting more simple by allowing voters to vote either on a paper ballot or on a machine at the clerk’s office. Hopefully, this will make absentee voting faster, easier and more secure.
Senate Bill 2271 also passed unanimously. This measure exempts honorably discharged veterans, who are 50 percent disabled, from having to pay a fee for a hunting or fishing license.
Senate Bill 2222 addresses the issue of private prisons and whether or not inmates housed in their facilities are more or less likely to return to incarceration. This measure requires private prisons to prove that their recidivism rates are lower than state-run facilities. As background, when private prisons were first introduced into Mississippi’s corrections system, the belief was that their recidivism programs were superior to what the MDOC was offering. SB 2222 is an effort to make sure that is actually the case.
Senate Bill 2330 would create a system that cross-checks Medicaid recipients to see what other state benefits they may have received in the past or are currently receiving. The bill required this function to be outsourced even though the state already owns a system capable of accomplishing the same thing. Those of us opposed to this measure could not understand the need for another layer of bureaucracy or to create another lucrative state contract to do a job that can already be handled ‘in house’. The measure passed 34-14.
It is an unfortunate truth that today’s technology has opened the door for devastating personal criminal activity. Senate Bill 2907 creates the crime of “sextortion,” This crime is when a person takes compromising video or pictures of an individual and then uses those images to embarrass or extort the victim. Persons found guilty of this can be fined and jailed for a period of up to one year. Additionally, the bill lays out civil remedies from a lawsuit against the perpetrator. It passed unanimously.
We were honored to rename a segment of I-220 in Hinds County for our late colleague Senator Alice Varnado Harden. Those of us who were blessed to serve with her remember her strong voice for those who had no other way of being heard. She left a lasting mark on Mississippi, and this memorial is most justified.
All Senate Floor sessions are streamed live online on the legislative website: www.legislature.ms.gov. I can be reached at the Capitol while in session at (601) 359-3221, by cell phone at (662) 224-4126, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/senatorbillstone or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The most effective tool you have at your disposal is your voice. Please let it be heard.
The Senate mailing address is P.O. Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215.