• 52°

Three weeks left for House, Senate votes

With just three weeks left in the Legislative session, both the House and the Senate are negotiating final language on bills covering a variety of issues.

Several bills passed between the Chambers last week. Some could still be killed, while others may make it to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk for a signature.

Among those issues still alive are:

State flag

The House voted 57-56 for an amendment to withhold proposed tax exemptions to public universities that refuse to fly the state flag. The original legislation provides tax exemption on university land leased to private entities for student housing. SB 2509 would provide exemptions for Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi — the University of Mississippi already has the exemption — but could be expanded to include other schools.

No other state flags include a Confederate symbol. The flag has remained unchanged since 1894.

The bill must go to conference when it returns to the Senate.

Infrastructure

The House voted 109-7 for a bill to borrow $50 million in bonds to pay for roads and bridges, with half the money going to cities, half to counties. The bill earmarks tens of millions of dollars from taxes that companies voluntarily collect for internet sales. Half of that money goes to MDOT, with counties and cities each receiving 25 percent.

The House added the proposal to SB 2939, which returns to the Senate.

The Federal Highway Administration completed an audit recently of 114 local bridges across, closing 57 for safety concerns. That makes 215 bridges closed across the state, causing about 65,000 detours daily.

Seatbelts

The House amended a Senate bill to require all passengers in a motor vehicle to wear seatbelts. The original bill specified passengers in the back seat, under age 18. As a primary law, law enforcement officers can stop a vehicle because an occupant is not wearing a seatbelt. The fine is $75, with no conviction appearing on a driving record.

The law is nicknamed “Harlie’s Law”, in honor of Harlie Ann Brooke Oswalt, 15, of Potts Camp, who was killed in a traffic accident Nov. 2016.

She and her 17-year-old cousin from Texas were thrown from the back seat of a pickup when it wrecked, killing both. Those wearing seatbelts survived.

School consolidation

The House voted 62-43 to return a bill to the Senate that would merge the three Chickasaw County school districts — Houston, Okolona and Chickasaw – into the Chickasaw Consolidated School District. The original bill omitted Okolona because a portion of the district extends into neighboring Monroe County.

The three districts are small systems with declining enrollment, and Okolona is a failing district. The merger would take effect July 1, 2020, with the district lines drawn by the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors.

School choice

After only two hours of debate, the Senate advanced HB 1046 to let students with dyslexia receive state funding of $5,000 per student to attend private or parochial schools that offer specialized services. The bill adds grades 7 through 12 to a program that already includes grades 1-6.

The Senate has made some changes, and the two chambers must agree on a final version before the bill advances.

Divorce on the ground

of abuse

The Senate added provisions to HB 1356 to amend the ground of divorce of “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” to be reworded without “habitual.”

The House added to SB 2680 “abusive physical contact” as a ground, as well as threats, stalking and financial abuse.

Both bills now allow testimony from one credible witness, which can be the abuse victim.

The two chambers must now agree on a single bill in order for anything to advance to Bryant’s desk.