The 2023 Mississippi legislative session, though expected to be uneventful before an election season, was quite eventful as an abundance of bills were passed and signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves.
Below is a list of laws that will officially go into effect beginning July 1.
Postpartum Medicaid Extension
State lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2212, which extends 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 in to 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.
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.
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 TikTok’s social media platform 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 platform. 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 be allowed 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.
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.
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