Lawmakers pushing wide range of bills

Published 9:00 pm Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bills aiming to curb illegal immigration,improve state mental health treatment and increase aid to smallbusinesses are among the legislation introduced by local lawmakersahead of a Monday filing deadline.

    Of the bills authored by area legislators, those of District 92Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, are the most sweeping.

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    Currie’s HB 488 is copied on Alabama’s anti-illegal immigrationlaw, which was itself similar to an Arizona law.

    Currie’s bill requires law enforcement to check the immigrationstatus of persons stopped or detained for other reasons if areasonable suspicion exists someone is not lawfully in the country.The legislation instructs law enforcement not to consider race ornational origin when complying with this requirement, except asallowed by the U.S. and Mississippi constitutions.

    “It’s not about racial bias,” said Currie, responding to criticismthe bill has faced in Alabama that it discriminates againstHispanics.

    However, Currie said she does see the issue in stark terms.

    “Illegal is illegal,” she said. “Come here legally.”

    The bill also requires public schools to determine the residencystatus of students.

    In describing the need for such legislation, Currie said a stateauditor’s report estimates illegal immigrants cost the state $120million last year, and that illegal immigrants compete with legalresidents for jobs.

    “You have illegal immigrants taking jobs away from Mississippians,”Currie said. “That’s bothersome to me.”

    Currie attributes a recent drop in Alabama’s unemployment rate from9.8 to 8.1 percent to its immigration legislation.

    Currie introduced the Arizona law in the House in the 2011 session.Legislation modeled on Arizona’s bill passed the Senate in the 2011session, and an altered version eventually passed the House. Thebill eventually died because the differences between the twolegislative chambers were not worked out before a deadline.

    Currie also has her sights set on the state’s mental health caresystem.

    “I have written a bill to dissolve the board of mental health andfire the director and put on a nationwide search for someone to fixthis,” Currie said.

    Currie cited a report released in December of 2011 by the U.S.Department of Justice that strongly criticized Mississippi’s statemental health care. The Department of Justice determined the stateto be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Currie said if the state does not act quickly to right its mentalhealth care, stiff fines could be imposed. As of Saturday, the billhad not been posted online, so further details remainunavailable.

    Across the aisle, District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, andDistrict 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello have filed a number ofbills addressing a diverse set of issues.

    A bill authored by Moak would allow small businesses of no morethan 50 employees to receive tax credits for increasing employmentby 10 percent. The possible credits range from 2.5 to 10 percent oftotal payroll depending on where the business is located.

    “We give an awful lot of tax incentives to large business, but weought to give something to small businesses,” Moak said.

    In total, Moak has introduced 33 bills so far. His bills wouldvariously, allow home beer brewing for home use, increase theamount of alcohol beer may contain by weight from 5 to 8 percentand allow damages to be collected for violations of Mississippi’sWhistleblower Law.

    Evans has filed more than 40 bills. One would enact “Caylee’s Law,”named after Caylee Anthony, who disappeared and was later founddead in 2008. The law would make it a crime for parents not toreport within 24 hours the disappearance or suspicious death of achild under 12.

    Another bill by Evans would create a Mississippi minimum wage of $8per hour. Evans would also like to increase excise taxes on alcoholand cigarettes.

    Evans could not be reached for comment.

    Brookhaven’s freshman District 39 Sen. Sally Doty does not plan tointroduce any bills this session.

    “This is a session where I am learning,” Doty said.

    Doty also sees her primary duty elsewhere.

    “To be honest, I think we have plenty of laws on the books,” Dotysaid. “I think my job is to help get a budget passed.”