New laws address guns, religion, budget, schools

Published 3:39 pm Saturday, July 9, 2016

It has been a controversial year for the Mississippi Legislature. State Republicans won a supermajority in the House and Senate in the November elections — not without challenge — and passed many bills that would have been unfeasible before.

“It was a very contentious session,” District 39 Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, said. “I think we did pass some important legislation.”

All of the following new laws took affect July 1.

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Budget woes

Doty said she feels the public has been misinformed about the budget, where revenue grew by only 1 percent instead of the projected 2-3 percent. That difference, Doty said, is what led to shortfalls in the budget, which sits at about about $6.5 billion. The governor was recently given the authority to take from the state’s rainy day fund to pay for the $75 million deficit.

“Due to conservative fiscal policies over the last few years, we have monies to take care of contingencies such as this,” Doty said.

Doty said there is no growth of revenue projected for 2017, but she remains optimistic.

“We’ve had growth each year for the past 40 years with the exception of the big recession years of 2002, 2008 and 2009,” she said.

Doty was appointed as one of five senate members to serve on the joint legislative budget committee, where she’ll have a front seat when making adjustments for the 2017 budget.

There have also been concerns from local officials about Senate Bill 2362 — the Budget Transparency and Simplification Act. The law, which sits at over 41,000 words, prevents state agencies from billing other agencies and moves special funds into the state’s general fund. That took affect July 1, and there are questions as to what constitutes a special fund and how this will effect local government services.

Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey said insurance rebates are one of two major sources of income for volunteer fire departments, and it was unclear whether or not that was included in special funds. In the 2016 fiscal year, that money amounted to $146,000.

Doty said the bill was not intended to defund essential services.

“As with new change, there have been some details to work through,” Doty said. “Our fire departments provide such valuable service to our community, and I will always fight to make sure they are funded.”

SB 2362 passed 23-14 in the Senate and 115-5 in the House. Doty, along with District 53 Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven, and District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, all voted to approve the bill.

Death penalty secrecy

SB 2237, called the Execution Secrecy Bill, makes the names of employees and family members at an execution confidential, as well as businesses providing lethal drugs.

Erik Fleming, advocacy and policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said he believed the bill represented a First Amendment violation.

“The ACLU is taking the position that we shouldn’t be doing the death penalty anyway, but if we’re going to do it, it needs to be done above board and it needs to be transparent,” Fleming said. “We don’t need a state giving them the right to make contracts in secret.”

Doty said the bill protects members of the execution team and pharmacies from harassment.

“Anti-death penalty activists have unfairly threatened, intimidated and harassed people involved in executions,” Doty said.

SB 2237 passed 32-18 in the Senate and 79-40 in the House. Doty, Currie and Mangold all voted to approve the bill.

Guns in the church

House Bill 786, called the Mississippi Church Protection Act, gives churches the authority to designate members authorized to carry firearms.

Mangold said the law was strictly for security.

“Some churches in our area already have a security team who patrol the parking lots and keep a look out for strange situations,” he said. “With all the bad things happening in the county, this was supposed to help.”

HB 786 passed 85-33 in the House and 36-14 in the Senate. Doty, Mangold and Currie all voted to approve the bill.

Hunting and Fishing

HB 1151 increased the cost of hunting and fishing licenses. The Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks also has the authority to raise the price.

HB 1151 passed 82-39 in the House and 40-9 in the Senate. Doty and Mangold approved the bill, while Currie voted against.

Mangold said he believed the bill was necessary to ensure counties were able to pay wages for game wardens.

“There were several counties that did not have a game warden,” Mangold said. “The increase was to be able to furnish the counties without a game warden.”

Currie said the bill constituted an increase in taxes, which she typically votes against.

“A lot of folks thought we needed an increase for that, but for your average hunter that just wants to go out at deer season and do a little hunting — I just hate to penalize everyone,” she said.

Jackson Airport

SB 2162 replaces the five-member board appointed by Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber with a nine-member Jackson Metropolitan Airport Authority. The bill has been unpopular in Jackson, and city officials are backing a lawsuit to block the bill.

SB 2162 passed 29-18 in the Senate and 74-46 in the House. Doty, Mangold and Currie all voted to approve the bill.


HB 519 outlawed an abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation, referred to as “dismemberment abortions” by opponents.

Currie, a registered nurse, said she was against abortions as a rule, but the Supreme Court has ruled that abortions are a constitutional right. In a June 27 Supreme Court decision, justices ruled the law in Texas and other states including Mississippi requiring abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital put an undue burden on women seeking an abortion and were thus unconstitutional. Instead, HB 519 outlaws a specific procedure that takes place after 16 weeks.

“Dismemberment is when they’ll reach up and clamp body parts and brutally tear the fetus apart in pulling it out,” Currie said. “It’s a very cruel procedure, and we just don’t want that happening in the State of Mississippi.”

Fleming said the bill was a setback to women’s reproductive rights in Mississippi.

“In this bill, a doctor could be criminally charged and an injunction can be placed on the facility where the procedure took place,” he said. “If any doctor gets charged with violating this particular law, that clinic gets shut down until they can prove they didn’t do what they’re accused of doing.”

There is only one abortion clinic in Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Doty said she believed it was unlikely the clinic would challenge the law in court.

“This abortion clinic we have in Jackson is not supposed to do abortions after 16 weeks,” she said. “My understanding is they’re not equipped to do them. I don’t think it would do them any good.”

HB 519 passed 83-33 in the House and 40-6 in the Senate. Doty, Mangold and Currie voted to approve the bill.

Planned Parenthood

SB 2233 blocks Medicaid from spending money with any health care provider that offers abortion. The bill does not mention Planned Parenthood by name, but it is given in the description for the bill, “Abortion services; prohibit Division of Medicaid from reimbursing Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA)”.

SB 2233 passed 34-17 in the Senate and 77-37 in the House. Currie said not a penny will go to Planned Parenthood.

“We feel we cannot support and agency that pays for abortions with tax payers dollars,” Currie said. “I’m sure there are good things Planned Parenthood may do with women’s health, but it’s very difficult to spend tax payers money that pays for abortions.”

From July 2013 to August 2015, Mississippi Medicaid gave only $439 to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Hattiesburg. The clinic does not provide abortions, according to records.

Planned Parenthood is backing a lawsuit to block the bill, and Fleming said the lawsuit may end up costing the state more money.

“They did a similar thing in Alabama,” he said. “Planned Parenthood sued and ended up winning $36,000 just in court costs.”

Continental Tire

HB 1 was passed during a special legislative session in February. It provides hundreds of millions of dollars in state money and incentives to Continental AG to build a tire plant in Hinds County.

HB 1 passed in the House 118-3 and 47-3 in the Senate. Doty, Mangold and Currie all voted to approve the bill. Mangold said the bill will provide well-paying jobs in Hinds County.

“There are folks in Lincoln County who drive to the Nissan plant in Canton, so it will not be unheard of for them to drive to Clinton,” Mangold said.

Religious beliefs law

House Bill 1523, officially titled the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” would prevent “discriminatory action” by the government against people who believe that marriage should exist only between a man and a woman, that sex should only happen in such a marriage and that, “male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex.”

HB 1523 passed 80-39 in the House 32-17 in the Senate, with Doty, Mangold and Currie all voting to approve the bill. But the bill was overturned July 1 in a federal court the same day it would have taken effect.

Attorney General Jim Hood said after the ruling that the general public had been duped by state leaders.

“Our state leaders attempted to mislead pastors into believing that if this bill were not passed, they would have to preside over gay wedding ceremonies,” Hood said. “No court case has ever said a pastor did not have discretion to refuse to marry any couple for any reason.”

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves opined that the bill was “the state’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place” and both the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a state religion and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection guarantees.

Gov. Phil Bryant appealed the decision, saying Reeves was incorrect.

“It is perfectly acceptable for the government to choose the conscientious scruples that it will protect and accommodate, while withholding those protections and accommodations from other deeply held beliefs,” Bryant’s appeal states. Bryant used the federal law exempting people who oppose all war from the draft as an example.


Lawmakers approved several bills concerning education in the state.

SB 2438 requires that all superintendents be appointed, beginning in 2019. Those elected in 2015 will serve their current four-year terms.

“I was a bit shocked to find out that nationwide, an overwhelming number of superintendents are appointed,” Doty said.

She voted in favor of this practice because it provides a wider pool of applicants “so our school district can get the absolute best person in that position.”

The county school boards will choose a suitable superintendent from the applicants.

She said another legislator compared the top district position to a football coach.

“I think one of the guys said it best on the floor when they said, ‘You wouldn’t say you can only have a head football coach from that county.’”

Doty also voted in favor of SB 2161 which allows some students to attend charter schools outside their home districts.

She said there are no charter schools in Southwest Mississippi, and only three or four in the state. “There’s some applications pending but none for anywhere in Lincoln or Lawrence county,” she said. “I do not see charter schools coming into this area. We have strong school districts with strong parental support. I don’t see it (happening.)

But her job as a legislator, she said, is to look after the welfare of the entire state. “I believe allowing kids the opportunity to attend a charter school nearby is important,” she said.

Alex Jacks and Donna Campbell contributed to this story.