by Emanuel D. Williams
Last week was the fifth week of the 2023 Mississippi Legislative Session. Tuesday was the general bill deadline. Thus, the house engaged in more lengthy debate. The most debated bill this week was House Bill 1168. The bill would change the allocations of the one percent sales tax in Jackson so that funding goes directly to repairing the water system. Currently, this revenue goes to water, sewer, roads and bridges. The tax produces approximately $15 million annually. Proponents of the bill said that the water system is in desperate need of repair and this increase in funding would provide a solution. The opposition argued that $600 million is already coming from the federal government’s infrastructure plan, and the roads and bridges in Jackson will suffer from the lack of funding. After more than an hour of debate and two failed amendments, HB 1168 passed 76-41 before being held on a motion to reconsider. This bill is seen as one of the many anti-Jackson bills by the delegation of elected officials that represent the city. Further debate will continue on the Capitol Utility District and Capitol Complex Improvement District next week.
House Bill 1365 would give assistant teachers pay raises from last year, as well as a new salary minimum of $20,000. House Bill 1369 would regulate the funding formula of MAEP from being based on average student attendance to student enrollment. House Bill 1373, or the Released-Time Moral Instruction Act of 2023, would allow school boards to provide authorization for students who wish to participate in religious activities during the school day to be excused with parental consent. These activities would not take place on school campuses, but parents would be allowed to take a child to a religious activity one hour a week without consequences.
House Bill 989 would remove Child Protection Services from the Department of Human Services and make it a separate agency. CPS was established by the legislature in 2016 and was made a subagency of MDHS. The bill passed by a vote of 102-9 and has been sent to the Senate.
House Bill 1167 would create a update for the residential builder and remodeler license examination requirements. Currently, builders have to pass a test to obtain a license. This would provide an alternative path by removing the exam requirement if the applicant has been working for more than five years and has three letters of recommendation. Some very good business people are not the best test takers. This would help them succeed. The bill passed with a unanimous vote of 110-0.House Bill 1392will require the Department of Human Services to establish and maintain the Mississippi Vulnerable Persons Abuse Registry. The bill passed as amended by a vote of 113-0.The Retailer Tax Fairness Act, or House Bill 735, would give store owners a tax break by not collecting state and local taxes on the 2.5% interchange fee owed to banks and credit card companies when a customer uses a credit card. The bill passed by a vote of 109-2, and it has been sent to the Senate. Debate will increase heavily on general bills until the deadline which is February 9. The next phase of the session is the discussion of appropriations and revenue bills, specifically those that originate in the Senate.