School funding and ballot initiatives are among issues surviving in Mississippi Legislature

Mississippi House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Loyd Roberson II, R-Starkville, speaks about a bill under the committee's consideration as both chambers of the Mississippi State Legislature face a deadline for their respective committees to report on general bills originating in their own chamber, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at the state Capitol in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)


JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Proposals to rewrite Mississippi’s school funding formula and to revive a ballot initiative process are among the bills that survived the first major deadline of the legislative session. Bills to expand Medicaid are still alive. So is a bill that would require Mississippi University for Women to become part of Mississippi State University by 2025. One of the bills that died would have required most of Parchman prison to close over four years. Legislators also killed a bill that would have closed three of the state’s eight universities. Tuesday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to act on bills filed in their own chamber.

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators are considering proposals to rewrite the funding formula for public schools. Senate Bill 2332 would revise the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that has been fully funded only twice since it became law in 1997. House Bill 1453 would set a new formula that would send more money to poorer districts.

Tuesday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to consider general bills and constitutional amendments that originated in their own chamber. Bills that survived will move to the full House and Senate for more debate. Budget and revenue bills have later deadlines.

Here is the status of some general bills:


BALLOT INITIATIVE — House Concurrent Resolution 11, Senate Bill 2770 and Senate Concurrent Resolution 527 would revive an initiative process, allowing people to petition to put many issues on the statewide ballot. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2021 the ballot initiative process was invalid. The House and Senate both have proposals that would prohibit changes to abortion laws through a statewide election. Republicans have said abortion restrictions should be off-limits because of the Legislature’s role in laying the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court to upend abortion rights nationwide.

MEDICAID EXPANSION — House Bill 1725 would expand Medicaid benefits to hundreds of thousands more residents in one of the poorest states in the U.S. The House passed the bill on a bipartisan vote of 98-20, following years of opposition from Republicans, including Gov. Tate Reeves, who is still against the policy. That bill heads to the Senate, which has its own proposal, Senate Bill 2735, that will serve as a foundation for further negotiations. If lawmakers in both chambers vote to expand Medicaid, it would be a landmark shift. Mississippi is one of 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the health overhaul that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.

MISSISSIPPI UNIVERSITY FOR WOMEN — Senate Bill 2715 would require Mississippi University for Women to become part of Mississippi State University on July 1, 2025. The campus in Columbus would remain open but would be known as “The W at Mississippi State University.”

ELECTION DEEPFAKES — House Bill 1689 would make it a crime to disseminate any deepfake picture, video recording, electronic image or digital representation of speech or conduct within 90 days of an election. Senate Bill 2577 has a similar ban on the use of artificial intelligence to create fake material that is disseminated within 90 days of an election.

JACKSON WATER — Senate Bill 2628 would create a state-appointed regional board to govern the water system in the capital city of Jackson. The federal government put an independent administrator in charge of the system in 2022 after infrastructure problems left many residents and businesses without running water for weeks. Under the bill, the governing board would take over after the administrator leaves. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba opposes the bill, saying it’s an example of the majority-white and Republican-led Legislature trying to seize control from a majority-Black city.

DEFINING SEX — House Bill 1607, the “Mississippi Women’s Bill of Rights,” specifies that a “person’s biological sex, either male or female, as observed or clinically verified at birth” is different from “gender identity or other terms intended to convey a person’s subjective sense of self.” The bill says that “biological differences between the sexes are enduring and, in some circumstances, may warrant the creation of separate social, educational, athletic or other spaces in order to ensure safety or allow members of each sex to succeed and thrive.”

BATHROOMS — Senate Bill 2753 would prohibit people from entering restrooms for the “opposite sex.” The bill would block transgender people, including those who have transitioned, from using restrooms that match their gender identity. The legislation requires public buildings to have single-sex restrooms and changing areas, or unisex spaces designated for one person. A person caught entering the wrong restroom or changing room could be sued.


PRISONS — Senate Bill 2353 would have closed most parts of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman over four years, sending most inmates to a private prison several miles away. The Justice Department said in 2022 that Parchman had violated inmates’ constitutional rights by failing to protect them from violence, meet their mental health needs or take adequate steps for suicide prevention, and by relying too much on prolonged solitary confinement. The department’s two-year investigation began after after an outburst of violence in late 2019 and early 2020 that left some inmates dead and others injured.

UNIVERSITY CLOSURES — Senate Bill 2726 would have directed the state board that governs higher education to close three of the state’s eight public universities. Republican Sen. John Polk, the bill’s sponsor, said the state is spending too much for some universities that have declining enrollment. The bill drew widespread opposition from legislators, college administrators and alumni, who said the state needs more educated workers. Legislative leaders said they wanted to create a task force to look into the issue, and another bill that would do that is still alive.

DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION — House Bill 127 and Senate Bill 2402 would have banned diversity, equity and inclusion programs, known as DEI, on college campuses. Rep. Becky Currie and Sen. Angela Hill, both Republicans, introduced the bills amid a nationwide push among GOP lawmakers to crack down on diversity initiatives. State Auditor Shad White, a Republican, had been pushing lawmakers to extricate DEI from public universities after he published a report showing the institutions were spending millions on the programs instead of student scholarships.

ABORTION ADVERTISING — House Bill 31 would have prohibited advertising about abortion services that are outlawed in Mississippi but available in other states.

CONFEDERATE SYMBOL — Senate Bill 2217 would have required the removal of a painting in an upper level of the state Capitol rotunda that depicts two men hoisting a Confederate battle flag.


BC-MS-XGR–Mississippi Legislature-Issues

Mar 5, 2024 7:56 PM – 991 words


Eds: UPDATES: With AP Photos.


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