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Legislators support heartbeat bills

Lincoln County’s delegation voted in favor of legislation that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The House and Senate both passed separate bills this week that move Mississippi closer to having one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. An Iowa judge struck down a similar law in that state last month.

Sen. Sally Doty, Rep. Becky Currie and Rep. Vince Mangold — all Republicans — voted for the measures. Democrat Rep. Bob Evans of Monticello also voted for the measure in the House.

“I see in this country that we protect sea turtle eggs and we protect other endangered species of animals with a greater degree of scrutiny and zealousness than we protect a child in the womb,” Republican Sen. Angela Hill, a sponsor of the bill, said as she fought back tears during a debate.

“I believe that life begins at conception so this was a no-brainer for me,” Currie said Thursday.  “Our hopes are with the Supreme Court changing, and with Ruth Bader Ginsburg probably retiring while President Trump is in office, the makeup of the Supreme Court looks hopeful for this bill.”

Critics have argued that defending the legislation, if it becomes law, would be an expensive endeavor for the state. Mississippi enacted a law last year to ban abortion after 15 weeks. The only abortion clinic in the state filed a lawsuit and a federal judge declared the law unconstitutional. The state has asked a federal appeals court to overturn the ruling.

“We looked at the cost of previous bills we have passed and so far we have spent about $50,000 on legal fees for other abortion bills,” Currie said. “You have to remember that we have hundreds of lawyers on salary at the Attorney General’s office so letting them earn their salary doesn’t bother me.”

Other reports put that cost much higher.

“Last year on the 15 week bill we had top-notch legal firms from around the country ask us to let them defend this for free. They, unlike a staff attorney, have expertise in moving things through the Supreme Court and this is what they live for. So the cost is not an issue, it is about saving lives,” she said.

“Other than election-year political pandering, why did you bring this bill to the House of Representatives? Because you know it is going to be overturned by the courts,” Democratic Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville asked the House Public Health Committee chairman, Republican Rep. Sam Mims of McComb.

Mims said that he and some other House members “feel strongly that life begins at conception.”

Other votes:

• Doty voted in favor of Senate Bill 2770, which would give teachers a $1,000 pay raise over two years. The Senate vote was unanimous. The bill moves to the House, which has been considering a proposal for an identical raise.

• Doty also voted in favor of SB 2847, which would ban children under 18 from using tanning beds. Sponsors of the bill, which is going to the House for more debate, said they might consider watering down the outright ban to allow some older teens to use tanning beds.

Doty said she was supporting the bill, but wants to allow older teens the chance to use tanning beds, saying her own daughter had gone behind her back to use a tanning bed in a home.

“So when you’re in your junior or senior year in high school, you can get that little hit for your prom dress,” Doty said.

• Currie and Mangold both voted for House Bill 1289, which states the names of Mississippi police officers involved in shootings could be shielded from public release for up to six months. The measure is a response to the city of Jackson’s announced policy to release officers’ names within three days of a shooting. It now goes to the Senate.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.