Amid big issues, legislators face many small ones

Published 6:40 pm Monday, February 24, 2020

Mississippi legislators are on track to deal with a few big, complex issues this year, but they will also consider plenty of small ones.

Among the toughest topics awaiting work are efforts to improve prisons that are crowded, violent and understaffed. As part of that, legislators could debate whether prisoners could become eligible sooner for parole consideration.

Legislators could expand preschool programs in some communities, although they are not pushing for a statewide effort. They are considering another pay raise for teachers after approving one during the election year of 2019.

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Among the smaller issues are things like regulating low-speed vehicles and deciding which legislators get credit for reducing the cost of a car tag.

House Bill 282 and Senate Bill 2287 would authorize cities to regulate golf carts and other low-speed vehicles on public streets. The carts are popular in sprawling subdivisions, but they can be a hazard for drivers of regular vehicles who don’t expect to see the carts puttering along.

Senate Bill 2717 would allow people 60 or older to operate electric bicycles in wildlife management areas.

Buying or renewing a license plate in Mississippi can be expensive, and complaining about the cost is a bonding experience for people waiting in line at a tax collector’s office. For a generation now, car tag renewal notices have shown that people were getting a bit of a discount because of actions taken by legislators in 1994.

Under Senate Bill 2365, the paperwork would still say that legislative action reduced the price of a car tag, but without specifying that the action happened during particular legislative session. Current legislators could get political credit for saving people a bit of money — if people bother to read the fine print. (There is no effort to specify that legislators make other decisions that cost people more money for various services.)

Don’t like springing forward and falling back with the clocks? House Bill 230 says Mississippi would observe Daylight Saving Time year-round if the federal government authorizes it.

As they do every year, Mississippi legislators are working to name highways and bridges after notable citizens.

House Bill 499, for example, would name U.S. Highway 45 in Alcorn County and Prentiss County as “Speaker William J. ‘Billy’ McCoy Memorial Highway,” for the longtime Mississippi House member and two-term speaker who left office in 2012 and died in 2019.

Senate Bill 2314 would change the name of Natchez State Park to “Bob M. Dearing Natchez State Park” after a longtime state senator who is still living but did not seek reelection for this term.

Some bills that have been filed and killed in years past are cropping up again. One would require drivers to turn on headlights anytime they need to use windshield wipers. Another would ban drivers from using a hand-held mobile device while in the left lane — the lane that is supposed to be for passing but is sometimes used for lollygagging.

It’s unclear whether legislators will do anything this session to ease the problems of long lines at driver’s license stations. Some stations also close with little advance notice if they are short staffed, forcing people to return another day or go to another city to get a license.

The Mississippi Department of Public Safety has tried a few things to ease the lines, including allowing scheduling of some appointments. The new secretary of state, Michael Watson, campaigned on having his office take over the driver’s license process. That effort appears dead for this session, with Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn saying he wants to keep driver services at Public Safety but push for greater efficiency.

Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter at EWagsterPettus.