This week at the Senate, the deadline passed for floor action on general bills. One major piece of legislation was the passage of House Bill 1521 which would change voting laws to accommodate those who fear COVID-19 exposure from waiting in long lines.
The bill would allow those with concerns about the virus to vote absentee in person and would allow mail in ballots for those under a medically ordered quarantine. These changes would only be effective under a state of emergency declared by the governor. Other highlights include allowing mailed in notarized absentee ballots to be kept in the circuit clerk’s office until they are counted and requiring circuit clerks to remain open until 5 p.m. on Saturdays preceding the election.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 3044 which is better known as “The Equity in Distance Learning Act.” This bill would appropriate $150 million of the state’s $1.25 billion federal COVID-19 funds to public schools for technology enabling online education and learning. The one-time appropriation would require “all schools to plan and implement distance learning programs, and plan to facilitate safe classroom and remote instruction,” according to the bill.
Another function of the Senate is to confirm nominations of the Governor. Last week we consented to Senate Nomination 36, appointing former senator and Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sean Tindell as Commissioner of Public Safety. The Senate approved Senate Nomination 33 agreeing to the governor’s choice of Nathan Burl Cain as Commissioner of the state Department of Corrections. The Senate further approved Senate Nomination 31, making former Secretary of the Senate Liz Welch Executive Director of the Department of Finance and Administration. Lastly, the Senate approved Nomination 34 of Joseph Truitt (Jody) Wagner of Hickory, to the Mississippi Board of Animal Health as the General Farmer for a four-year term beginning July 1, 2020.
Other bills passed by the Senate included:
• House Bill 667 would allow the Mississippi School of the Deaf and Blind to operate more like public schools by having the ability to hire and fire regular teachers.
• House Bill 1295, the “Life Equity Act” would ban abortions because of race or sex of the fetus or because of a pre-determined disability discovered while the unborn child is still in the womb.
• House Bill 1577 would allow school districts the choice of offering hunter safety courses for students grade 7-12.
• House Bill 415 would allow counties, governing boards and boards of supervisors to pay county employees every two weeks.
• House Bill 1253 would allow the State Fire Academy to become an authorized medical first responder training facility. First year attendance would be limited to 120 persons because it would compete with community colleges that also offer the same program.
• House Bill 654 would allow certain cities and towns with populations of 1,000 or more to hold elections for approving light wine and beer sales.
• House Bill 1095 would require the suspension of hunting licenses for any person who through negligence or a criminal act injured or killed a person while hunting.
• House Bill 658 would revise standards for expungement of criminal records for non-violent offenders. It could help those who qualify to gain employment.
• House Bill 1566 would create the “Future of Mississippi Agriculture Act of 2020,” to greatly expand the authority of the commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
• House Bill 1520 would allow medical directors of hospice facilities to prescribe controlled substances for pain to terminally ill patients without requiring in person visits.
• House Bill 1243 would create the crimes of impeding and trespassing against critical infrastructure including oil or gas distributors or production facilities and electrical production or transfer grids.
• House Bill 1748 would amend existing law to exclude from a person’s or business’s gross Mississippi income any funds, loans or grants of federal COVID-19 money that was received.
In conclusion, this week is expected to close out the work of the Senate in the regular session. There are several items still unresolved on the calendar including the final distribution of CARES Act funding.
Several constituents have inquired about the status of the state flag. While there have been discussions around the Capitol, there are currently no live proposals before the Senate. Following the most recent poll, some 82 percent of the people polled believe that a vote to either maintain the current flag or to change the flag belongs on the ballot. This appears to be the consensus opinion of the Senate members as well.
As always, I appreciate you letting me serve you. I will forever fight for the good of District 31.