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Impactful bills take effect in Mississippi

Mississippi capitol
News Mississippi Staff Report

Lawmakers left the Capitol in late March, and today, the bills that they passed during the 2019 legislative session will go into effect. Hundreds of bills were passed and signed into law, and below is a list of the most impactful pieces of legislation.

  • ‘Mississippi School Safety Act of 2019’ 

The Mississippi School Safety Act of 2019 requires school districts to develop and conduct an active shooter drill within the first 60 days of each new school semester for students and staff. It also requires all school district employees to attend Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training annually. The law also requires districts:

    • To provide that the school safety grant program administered by the State Department of Education shall include a pilot program to implement a developmentally appropriate social and emotional curriculum for students in grades K-5
    • To require school employees to complete a training or professional development course in mental health every two years
    • To require the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security to develop a curriculum, train and certify threat assessment officers
    • To require certified threat assessment officers to conduct annual inspections and threat assessment of each public school in the state, develop an improvement plan for each school inspected and provide reports of such findings to local law enforcement agencies and the local school board within four (4) weeks of completion
    • To expand student access to local mental health resources under the Regional Behavioral Management Program with the development of state standardized Memorandum of Understanding (mou) between community mental health centers and facilities and school districts to include referral protocols and to train school personnel to conduct initial behavioral health screenings of students who experience stress or are at risk of harm
    • To authorize additional state funding of School Resource Officers by the State Department of Education under the Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools (mcops) program
    • To authorize the State Department of Education to raise statewide awareness regarding the “See Something Say Something Act” and provide immunity from liability for good faith reporting of suspicious activity or behavior
    • To direct the Department of Public Safety to establish the Mississippi Analysis and Information Center (MSAIC Fusion Center) in the Office of Homeland Security and to employ regional analysts dedicated to statewide social media intelligence platform threats and the dissemination of school safety information
  • Criminal Justice Reform Act Change in SNAP Benefits:

Related: New law seeks to protect consumers from scam calls

Persons with a felony drug conviction are no longer banned for receiving SNAP benefits, if otherwise eligible. Convicted drug felons who are currently a part of a SNAP household, will be automatically added to the SNAP benefit. Those households, without other changes, will receive an increase in benefits for the month of July and thereafter. No action is needed on the part of the SNAP households who currently consist of a convicted drug felon. Anyone convicted of a drug felony who is not currently included in a SNAP household can now apply and receive benefits if eligible.

Businesses Can Register on No-Call List

If your business is plagued by robocalls, now you can sign up on the no-call list. Any phone in Mississippi can register on the no-call list, and that includes your business. Presley says it will take about 60 days from the date of registration to be effective because of notice requirements and there are procedures in place for businesses with multiple lines.

Charities Must Register With PSC if Using Telemarketers to Solicit Donations
Charities who use telemarketers must now register with the state Public Service Commission. Any charity who uses paid telemarketers will be in violation if they try to solicit money or make cold calls to donors. Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley says charities who don’t follow the law could be fined $10,000 per violation if not registered.

  • ‘Landowner Protection Act’ 

Related: Lawmakers pass ‘Landowner Protection Act’

The new law was written with the intent to protect property/business owners from lawsuits if a crime is committed on their property or if a person is hurt on their property and decides to sue. In both chambers of the legislature, lawmakers debated the bill on numerous occasions with some questioning if the bill would give business owners a sense of “immunity” when it comes to liability, and others stated that it would lead to a diminished sense of security. 

Responding to those claims, Rep. Mark Baker stated that the bill is aimed at clarifying language in the law so that business owners know the “atmosphere of violence for which they will be liable.”

  • ‘Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act’

Related: Governor signs rural broadband bill into law

One of the first bills passed during the legislative session, the bill allows rural electric cooperatives to offer broadband internet service in their territories, in addition to their current services. The passage of the bill changes a decades-old law that has prohibited co-ops from offering broadband, and until now, Mississippi was the only state that did not allow co-ops to offer internet services.

The bill simply allows for co-ops to offer broadband service, and it does not mandate that they offer it in their service areas. 

  • ‘Teacher Pay Raise’

Teachers across the state will receive an annual raise of $1,500. After much debate throughout the legislative session that had the raise at one point as high as $4,000, it ultimately came down to the budget and lawmakers passed the $1,500 raise. A snafu with calculations caused some teachers to worry about whether or not the would receive their raises which were expected to cost the state just under $60 million, but according to the Mississippi Department of Education, an error in their system led to certain groups of educators being left out from their estimates. The MDE assured teachers that their districts would be allocated enough money through the current appropriation to cover the monthly cost of the teacher pay raise. Legislative leaders have said that they will approve the deficit appropriation to fully fund the pay raise when they get back to the Capitol in January.

READ MORE: MDE working to correct teacher pay raise error

  • Criminal Justice Reform 

The bill removes barriers to employment for people leaving Mississippi’s criminal justice system. It expands drug courts in Mississippi, allows for more individuals to apply for expungements, and helps more people maintain their driver’s licenses. Mississippi’s criminal justice reform efforts mirror those in D.C. after the bipartisan First Step Act was signed into law by President Trump in December 2018.

READ MORE: Criminal justice reform sent to Governor’s desk

  • Human Trafficking

Regardless of the circumstances, a minor cannot be charged with prostitution. 

  • Provides blanket immunity to minors: clarification that a child under the age of 18 cannot be charged with the crime of prostitution;
  • Develops required pathways to specialized services for youth survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation;
  • Requires specialized training to law enforcement to recognize, identify, respond to and support victims of human trafficking and child prostitution.

READ MORE: New law will aid in recovery of human trafficking victims. 

  • BLOCKED – ‘Heartbeat Bill’

Related: Federal judge blocks Mississippi’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion law

While the controversial bill was signed into law, it will not take effect today. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves recently ruled that the bill, which prohibits abortion in Mississippi as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, was unconstitutional.

The bill was signed by Governor Bryant in March, and the state was sued immediately after by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization – the state’s lone abortion clinic.

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