October 20, 2020

Recycle bin ahead for many Mississippi bills

Mississippi lawmakers could debate substantial issues this year, such as increasing pay for teachers and state employees, trying to bolster school safety, and trying to reduce the recidivism rate in state prisons.

Some bills, though, deal with issues that are much less urgent. Many of the ideas are recycled from previous years.

House Bill 565 and Senate Bill 2089 would designate “Meet My Mississippi” as the state poem. Written in 2013 by Patricia Neely-Dorsey of Tupelo, the poem namechecks famous sons and daughters of the state, including Howlin’ Wolf and Eudora Welty. It also mentions tamales, catfish, front porches, and the Vicksburg Battlefield.

Three bills focus on the state song. House Bill 589 proposes replacing the current song, “Go, Mississippi,” with one called “Mississippi Beautiful” written by Jackson-area jazz singer Pam Confer. House Bill 202 and Senate Bill 2144 would keep “Go, Mississippi” and add a second state song called “My Home Mississippi,” written by former state Sen. Delma Furniss of Rena Lara.

Legislators have previously tried to change the song and to set a state poem.
Unless strong public demand arises, efforts this year are also likely to fizzle.

House Bill 172 , by Republican Rep. William Shirley of Quitman, would set a $1,500 fine for any school that fails to have students recite the Pledge of Allegiance within the first hour of class each day. Even some lawmakers who love the Stars and Stripes have been reluctant to create a potential new financial problem for schools.

If teachers are not already doing so, House Bill 200 would require them to give daily and weekly homework assignments, including spelling and vocabulary lessons.

The homework bill was filed by Democratic Rep. Omeria Scott of Laurel, who has filed it before, without success. Another one she pulled from the recycling bin of previously rejected proposals is House Bill 16 , which would require schools in low-rated districts to teach home economics.

Politicians like to boast about reducing the number of state employees. House Bill 40 , by Democratic Rep. Abe Hudson of Shelby, would go the other direction by allowing each of the 122 state representatives to hire two personal staff members. The bill doesn’t estimate the cost, but the tab for the guaranteed rejection of the proposal is $0.

House Bill 243, by Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville, would allow legislators to award $25,000 grants for public projects in their districts. Other states have had problems with similar slush funds.
Two bills propose reducing the size of the Legislature — another issue that has been roundly ignored in the past.

The Mississippi House has 122 members and the Senate has 52. Senate Bill 2123 , by Republican Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula, would cut the House to 70 members and the Senate to 30, starting this year; never mind that candidates are already qualifying to run, and that redistricting is always a time-consuming battle. Five Republican senators are sponsoring Senate Bill 2010 , which would put the House at 99 members and the Senate at 42 beginning with the 2023 elections.

Creating a smaller Legislature might be popular talking point back home, but proposals are unlikely to find friends among lawmakers who could see their own political futures being threatened.

A proposal that’s unlikely to gain traction, but for different reasons, is House Resolution 4 by Democratic Rep. Earle Banks of Jackson: “A resolution urging President Trump to agree that the press is not a threat to America, but one of the nation’s greatest protectors of freedom.” Reality check: Grumbling about the media has long been a popular and bipartisan sport among Mississippi politicians.

Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994.