Committees met frequently during the eighth week of the legislative session, as next Tuesday’s deadline to have House Bills out of their corresponding committees quickly approaches.
After Tuesday, March 3, no additional general bills will be added to the House calendar for consideration. Members will also meet in session for longer periods of time to discuss the bills that have made it out of their respective committees.
Although most work is still happening in these committee meetings, several bills reached the House floor and were discussed. The most heavily discussed bill this week was Senate Bill 2257. The bill will authorize the State Auditor’s office to examine tax returns of individuals who receive federal benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. Proponents of the bill say that the State Auditor requested the bill to comply with a federal mandate. Opponents argued that tax returns are not necessary for this type of audit and that the bill would unfairly target poor Mississippians. After much debate, SB 2257 passed 76-45 and has been returned to the Senate.
Another bill that was the source of much debate was House Bill 1259. The bill would have allowed proprietary schools to submit certain debts owed to them to the Department of Revenue for collection through a set-off against the debtors’ Mississippi income tax refund. HB 1259 failed by a vote of 56-61.
Several bills did pass through the House relatively uncontested. House Bill 1253 is a bill that designates the State Fire Academy as an authorized medical first responder training program. The bill passed unanimously by a vote of 121-0 and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
House Bill 1559 is a bill that expands upon Speaker Philip Gunn’s commitment to fighting human trafficking. The bill creates a special fund in the State Treasury called the “Victims of Human Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation Fund.” This special fund will go towards assisting specialized human trafficking and sexual exploitation shelters. Currently, there is only one shelter of this type in the state. The bill passed with a vote of 90-20.
On Thursday afternoon, House Bill 1371 of which I co-authored made its way onto the floor. The bill would make various changes to the Division of Driver Services in the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Some of these changes would include modernizing driver’s license kiosks around the state and updating the license renewal website to make the process more streamlined and transparent. The bill passed after a bipartisan vote of 117-3 and has been sent to the Senate.
Dr. Robert Ballard, a retired Navy officer whose career includes discovering the shipwreck of the RMS Titanic in 1985, visited the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Dr. Ballard announced the partnership of his organization Ocean Exploration Trust and the University of Southern Mississippi to map the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico. He was joined at the Capitol by USM President Rodney Bennett.
Many groups from across the state also visited the Capitol this week. These included
Mississippi Valley State University, the women of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., the Human Rights Campaign, the American Heart Association, the Mississippi Recycling Coalition and Leadership DeSoto.