Armed teachers, other bills still alive in Mississippi

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Mississippi legislators have narrowed down the list of issues they will consider with two months remaining in their three-month session. Tuesday was the session’s first major deadline, with House and Senate committees passing or killing general bills filed in their own chamber. There are later deadlines for considering tax and budget bills.

Bills that survived in committees will move to the full House or Senate for more debate. Here’s the status of some bills:


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BALLOT INITIATIVES — Senate Bill 2638 would revive a process for people to circulate petitions to put issues on the statewide ballot. Mississippi had an initiative process for decades, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that the process was invalid because it required an equal number of signatures from five congressional districts and the state had dropped to four districts after the 2000 Census.

JACKSON WATER — Senate Bill 2889, by Republican Sen. David Parker of Olive Branch, proposes an eventual transfer of water services provided by Jackson, a Democratic-led city, to a new regional entity’s “ownership, management and control.” Parker said Jackson’s water woes reflect poorly on Mississippi and could hinder economic development. Ted Henifin, the federally appointed interim manager of Jackson’s water system, told The Associated Press that he believes the bill could be motivated by state officials’ desire to access federal money earmarked for Jackson’s water. Senate Bill 2338, by Republican Sen. Joel Carter of Gulfport, would require utilities to charge customers based on the amount of water they use — banning a new rate structure proposed by Henifin to charge for water based on property values.

CAPITOL COMPLEX COURT — House Bill 1020, by Republican Rep. Trey Lamar from Senatobia, would create a separate court system run by unelected judges in an area of Jackson where many state-owned buildings are located. The district’s boundaries would also be expanded to include a larger portion of the city. Rather than being selected by city residents or elected officials, the judges would be appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice, and prosecutors would be appointed by the attorney general. The bill would grant the courts jurisdiction over cases in which the state government is a party. The bill has drawn fierce opposition from local advocates and city officials, with Jackson’s Democratic mayor comparing it to apartheid.

POSTPARTUM MEDICAID COVERAGE — Senate Bill 2212, which has bipartisan support, would allow the extension of Medicaid coverage from 60 days to one year after a woman has given birth. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but died in the House after Speaker Philip Gunn opposed it.

TRANSGENDER YOUTHS — House Bill 1125 would restrict health care access for transgender young people by ban gender-confirming care. The bill has passed the House and a Senate committee.

ARMING TEACHERS — House Bill 532 and Senate Bill 2079 would allow some school employees to carry concealed firearms. Employees would be able to use guns to respond to an active shooter or a “situation that would cause death or bodily harm” on the school campus. The bills would require the employees to possess a firearms license and complete instructional courses on handling guns.


VACCINATION EXEMPTION — Senate Bill 2767, by Republican Angela Hill of Picayune, would have created a new religious exemption from any vaccine requirements for schoolchildren. Mississippi does not require the COVID-19 vaccine. This bill would have applied to the five vaccines the state currently mandates: measles, diphtheria, chicken pox, polio and Hepatitis B. All 50 states require specified vaccines for students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Hill said Mississippi should join 44 other states and Washington D.C. in allowing a religious exemption.

RESTORATION OF VOTING RIGHTS — House Bill 342, by Democratic Rep. Jeffery Harness of Fayette, would have automatically restored voting rights to any person who has completed a sentence for conviction on a disenfranchising crime. The current process for restoration of voting rights is for a person to seek permission of legislators and the governor, and only a few people have received this permission in recent years.

PREGNANT WORKERS — Senate Bill 2114, by Democratic Sen. Angela Turner Ford of West Point, would have required employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth, such as more frequent breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position or non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.