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Lawmakers adjourn as 2019 session ends

Mississippi capitol

The 2019 legislative session is in the books. 

While the original ‘sine die’ date was set for April 7th, lawmakers are headed home early after they wrapped up their business today – the 81st day of the session.

After the Senate adjourned, Lt Governor Tate Reeves stated that this was the shortest session on record.

As legislators made their way back to the Capitol in January, many wondered if the upcoming November elections would lead to a calm session, but several key pieces of legislation did pass. Below, you’ll find a quick summary of those bills. 

HB 366 – ‘Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act’ – Rep. Phillip Gunn 

The first major bill passed by lawmakers during the session was the bill allowing the state’s 25 rural electric cooperatives to offer broadband internet service in their territories, in addition to their current services. 

Related: Governor signs rural broadband bill into law

Under the new law, each individual co-op would be able to decide if they’ll offer broadband, and customers will not be forced to pay for internet services. 

SB 2901 – ‘Landowner Protection Act’ – Senator Josh Harkins

This bill seeks 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. 

Related: Lawmakers pass ‘Landowner Protection Act’

Some lawmakers worried that the law would create a sense of “immunity” for business owners when it comes to liability, but the bill ultimately passed and was signed by Governor Bryant. 

SB 2116 – ‘Heartbeat Bill’ – Senator Angela Hill 

While it has already been challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the new law prohibits an abortion in Mississippi as soon as a fetus has a detectable heartbeat. 

Related: Organization sues state to block ‘heartbeat bill’

Opponents of the bill say that a woman may not even know she is pregnant at that time, which is typically around 6 weeks into a pregnancy. 

HB 571 – Human Trafficking Bill – Rep. Phillip Gunn 

This bill changed state law to ensure that minor victims of human trafficking cannot be charged with prostitution, regardless of the circumstances.

Related: New law will aid in recovery of human trafficking victims

Also included in the bill is language requiring law enforcement to receive specialized training on human trafficking and the development of services for youth survivors of trafficking.

SB 2770 – Teacher Pay Raise – Senator Gray Tollison 

After lengthy debates in both chambers regarding the final amount, the bill to give teachers a $1,500 raise in the coming year passed. 

Related: Lawmakers pass $1,500 teacher pay raise

The raise amount started at $1,000 and a House amendment raised it to $4,000, but during budget negotiations, the raise was knocked back down to $1,500. 

HB 1352 – ‘Criminal Justice Reform Act’ – Rep. Jason White

The bill seeks to expand drug courts in Mississippi and allows for more people with nonviolent offenses to apply for a one-time expungement to improve their chances of finding a job upon re-entering the community.

Related: Senate passes ‘Criminal Justice Reform Act’

Mississippi’s push for reform mirrors the efforts in D.C. after the bipartisan ‘First Step Act’ was signed into law by President Trump in December.

SB 3049 – ESA Funding Increase 

While bills concerning the funding for the state’s Education Scholarship Account Program died earlier in the session, a $2 million funding increase was placed into the appropriations bill for the Department of Finance and Administration at the last moment. 

Related: Special needs scholarship money makes way into budget

Created in 2015, the ESA program provides up to $6,500 for parents seeking to find a new school for their child upon receiving a special needs diagnosis from their school district. The additional funds bring the program’s funding up to $5 million as many students & families remain waitlisted. 

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