Although the 2023 Mississippi legislative session was predicted by some to be uneventful given it’s an election year, lawmakers decided to go against the grain and pass a plethora of bills prior to Saturday’s sine die.
Below is a recap of key legislation that either made it through this year or didn’t. Most bills passed will go into effect on July 1.
Largest Budget in State History
Mississippi lawmakers passed a state budget of $7.6 billion — the largest in state history. Over $600 million of those funds will go toward road and infrastructure funding. Roughly $120 million will be spent on education and nearly $104 million will go to struggling state hospitals.
As the reality of closure continues to set in for some hospitals across the state, the Republican-led legislature decided to go against full-on Medicaid expansion and instead pass a handful of bills they believe will serve as both short-term and long-term solutions to the state’s hospital crisis.
Senate Bill 2372 will provide $103.7 million in lifeline money to struggling hospitals through the Mississippi Hospital Sustainability Grant Program. Senate Bill 2323 opens the door for community hospitals to collaborate and consolidate with non-profit entities. Senate Bill 2372 creates a loan repayment program, awarding nurses $6,000 each year for three years ($18,000 total) if they agree to work in a Mississippi hospital during that timespan. Senate Bill 2371 creates grants for both community college nursing programs and residency and fellowship programs at the state’s hospitals.
Postpartum Medicaid Extension
Another health-related bill lawmakers passed was the extension of postpartum Medicaid benefits from 60 days to 12 months. Mississippi and Wyoming, which passed similar legislation earlier this year, will become the final states to extend postpartum benefits for mothers.
Lawmakers passed a bill permitting educators to carry firearms in the classroom on the same day a school shooting in Nashville, Tenn. left six dead. Senate Bill 2079 creates the Mississippi School Protection Act, which will authorize districts to opt into a program that grants volunteering staff members the opportunity to become certified to possess a gun on campus. The program will be administered by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and require participants to have an enhanced or concealed carry permit prior to applying.
Jackson Court System & CCID Jurisdiction
Lawmakers passed two bills that will create an appointed court with the intent to clear the backlog of criminal cases, enlarge the boundaries of the Capital Complex Improvement District, and expand Capitol Police’s jurisdiction in Jackson. House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2343 will work to provide four appointed judges, three full-time assistant public defenders, two assistant district attorneys, and two appointed prosecuting attorneys while giving Capitol Police full jurisdiction over an expanded CCID. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety will also be tasked with providing body cameras for all Capitol Police officers.
Prohibition of EV Direct Sale Dealerships
House Bill 401 prohibits the direct sale of automobiles through brick-and-mortar locations. Proponents of the legislation argue that the bill is intended to reinforce half-century-old franchise laws, while opponents see the legislation as an attempt to protect franchise dealership locations from the electric vehicle (EV) industry’s use of direct sales. The state’s only direct sale dealership, Tesla in Brandon, will be grandfathered in.
Transgender Healthcare Access
House Bill 1125 will ban gender-affirming care for minors. The bill, which is destined to be subject of future lawsuits, prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from receiving hormone treatments or therapy.
Fentanyl Test Strips
Fentanyl test strips will no longer be considered paraphernalia in Mississippi with the passing of House Bill 772, which states that “‘paraphernalia’ does not include any materials used or intended for use in testing for the presence of fentanyl or a fentanyl analog in a substance.” Officials have expressed that the legislation should make it easier for residents to purchase fentanyl test strips in an effort to decrease the rising number of fentanyl overdoses across the state.
Book Ban for Minors
Senate Bill 2346 will enact two parts included in the bill’s wording to protect children from being able to see sexually illicit material in public libraries and schools. The first part requires websites that have at least one-third of their content containing pornography to use an age-verification system. The second portion of the bill requires school districts and public libraries to go into contract with an internet service provider that uses safeguards to prevent minors from accessing sexually illicit material.
Tax Misspender Registry
Those found guilty of misspending taxpayer dollars will now be placed on a public registry. Senate Bill 2420 directs the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to create and maintain the public registry. Those found guilty of misspending taxpayer or ratepayer money at the state level down to the municipal level will be put on the registry and not allowed to hold certain government positions.
Jackson Tax Regulations
House Bill 1168 will require the city of Jackson to provide detailed monthly reports of how it spends its additional one percent tax dollars. Failure by the city to comply with audits and reporting requirements within 30 days of receiving written notice of noncompliance will result in the Department of Revenue withholding payments to the municipality.
In addition, HB 698 prohibits Jackson from charging residents for water based on the property value of their home, also known as equity billing. Instead, citizens will be charged based on the amount of water used.
Banning TikTok on Government Devices
Senate Bill 2140, or the “National Security on State Devices and Networks Act,” prohibits state employees from downloading or using the TikTok application on a state-issued device or state-operated network. State agencies and public officers will not be allowed to operate an account or publish content on the app. Employees of State Institutions of Higher Learning will be exempt from the legislation when “incurring international usage charges for the business-related use of their personal wireless communication devices during business-related international travel.”
Online Sports Betting
House Bill 606 could eventually open the door to online sports betting in Mississippi through the creation of an 11-member study committee. Duties of the Mobile-Online Sports Betting Task Force will be to conduct a thorough study on mobile sports wagering and to recommend the proper oversight and regulation of online gambling. The task force will be required to prepare and submit a final report that contains a detailed statement of findings, conclusions, and recommendations regarding mobile sports betting by October 15, 2023. Findings could further incentivize the legislature to legalize online betting in 2024.
Officers across Mississippi will soon be able to use their official uniform, firearm, and vehicle while working for private security services during off-duty hours with approval from their superiors. Senate Bill 2239 states that chief executives will oversee granting permission to use the items to municipal law enforcement officers, while county sheriffs will sign off for deputy sheriffs. As for highway patrol officers, the director of any state law enforcement division will be required to approve before the possessions can be used after hours. Overall, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety must also approve the use of a uniform, official weapon, or vehicle.
Volunteer Firefighter Benefits
House Bill 521, through the “The Mississippi Length of Service Award Program,” will allow volunteer firefighters to receive up to $500 each year if a minimum number of service points is met. On top of the yearly payments, the program will also award a lump sum of $10,000 after 20 years of service. The lump sum will include the interest accrued over the two decades of service, with the bill requiring a cap of three percent interest for growth in gains. The program’s funding will be derived from an additional percentage diversion from the Fire Insurance Premium Tax, granting a long-term incentive for volunteer recruitment without relying on new funds to be allocated by the state.
Ballot Harvesting Ban
Ballot harvesting across the Magnolia State will be banned with the enactment of Senate Bill 2358, which aims to prevent political operatives in Mississippi from collecting and handling mass amounts of absentee ballots. The legislation also named exceptions for election officials that are authorized to collect the ballots while engaged in official duties.
Mississippi becomes the second state in the nation to approve legislation that outlines the sale of pet insurance. Senate Bill 2228 will allow pet owners to purchase insurance for their animals on a monthly basis, with the cost expected to vary on the species, breed, gender, age, location, and level of coverage. Mississippi’s insurance commissioner will be expected to issue rules and regulations establishing policy disclosures, policy conditions, sales practices for selling wellness programs, and penalties for violations.
Pecan farmers in Mississippi will be able to crack down on pecan thefts after Governor Tate Reeves’ approval of Senate Bill 2523. The bill will “revise the criminal and civil penalties for violating the provisions of the pecan harvesting law,” which spans from September 1 to January 31. Those found guilty of stealing pecans will be charged with a misdemeanor and will be fined less than $100 or be imprisoned for at least 30 days, or both.
Mississippi will now have an official state fruit after lawmakers and the governor approved House Bill 1027 in mid-March. The blueberry, which is native to the southeastern portion of the U.S., is a massive fruit crop across Mississippi as over 2,000 acres are used for growing blueberries alone. The tomato and watermelon were also considered.
Mississippi has its first-ever official state gemstone. Senate Bill 2138 describes the state’s opal as a “precious gemstone which shows brilliant flashes of fire, ranging from green to red.” The Mississippi Opal is the only gem naturally produced within the state’s geographical boundaries. The gemstone was first discovered in 2004 during geological mapping of the Catahoula Formation in Claiborne County.
Ballot Initiative Process
The only piece of legislation that would revive the state’s ballot initiative process died on the calendar due to disagreements between the chambers about how many signatures would be required to place an issue on the ballot. Prior to the resolution’s death, Senate Concurrent Resolution 533 proposed that only the legislature can make amendments to the Mississippi constitution, as well as restricted residents from placing issues regarding abortion or PERs on the ballot. The resolution died after the House made an amendment requiring voters to only collect 106,000 signatures, modifying the Senate’s original requirement of 240,000.
Though the legislature extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year while also providing over $100 million in lifeline money to struggling hospitals in the state, lawmakers declined to pass full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which would have provided $1 billion to state hospitals. Mississippi currently has nearly 30 hospitals at risk of full closure and is one of 12 states to refuse Medicaid expansion.
Liquor Store Sunday Hours
House Bill 384 would have given wet counties the choice to authorize liquor stores to be open between the hours of 1 and 6 p.m. on Sundays. As of now, ABC-permitted liquor stores in Mississippi can sell liquor between 10 a.m. and midnight, Monday through Saturday, and are required to be closed on Sundays and Christmas Day.
Sale of White-Tailed Deer
Two pieces of legislation that would prohibit the purchasing and selling of whitetail deer in Mississippi died this session. House Bill 1026 and Senate Bill 2536 were introduced to outlaw buying and selling whitetail deer but did not make it out of their respective chambers. Proponents of the bills argue that a handful of wealthy elites were looking to change the laws so they can breed, sell, and transport deer between high-fenced enclosures in Mississippi.
One item lawmakers could not come to terms with during the 2023 session was fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), or House Bill 1369. Those in the Senate argued that total funding for MAEP, which is a formula set by state law to determine the funding each public school district should receive to meet academic standards, is necessary for a state that ranks No. 43 in public school education. The state, instead, allocated $120 million into funding for classroom supplies, supplements for educators, and fuel for school buses.