The 2020 Mississippi Legislative Session has been a wild, wild ride. If you weren’t able to keep up with the session that seemingly would never end, you’re in luck. Below, you can find a bill-by-bill wrap-up of the most notable pieces of legislation passed by both chambers and put into law.
House Bill 1087 – Prohibition
HB 1087 officially strips Mississippi of its “wettest dry state” title. The passage of this bill puts an end to prohibition in the Magnolia State. Since 1966, individual counties have been given the choice to allow the sale and possession of alcohol. As of 2020, there are 29 ‘dry’ counties in Mississippi. This bill will go into effect on January 1, 2021.
House Bill 1088 – Wine Delivery
Staying on the conversation of alcohol, HB 1088 will finally allow wine-lovers to get their favorite wine shipped in from other states. Any individual over the age of 21 can purchase wine from an out-of-state winery and have it delivered to their local package store. The bill allows a person to buy up to 10 cases a year with the store’s approval.
House Bill 1295 – Abortion
HB 1295, or the “Life Equality Act of 2020,” bans abortion in the state of Mississippi based on the race, sex, or genetic anomalies of a fetus—exempting an emergency situation. Mississippi already has some of the strictest abortion laws in a nation where abortion is federally legal in accordance to Roe v. Wade (1973). During the 2019 session, former Governor Phil Bryant signed a bill that banned abortions once doctors could detect a fetal heartbeat trace using an ultrasound. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
House Bill 1476 – Compassionate Parole
HB 1476, or the “Compassionate Parole Eligibility Act of 2020,” allows an inmate to be eligible for parole if he or she has a terminal illness or a life expectancy of a year or less. Inmates that have been convicted of capital murder or sentenced to death are not eligible for this parole program.
House Bill 1523 – Poll Workers
As nobody truly knows what the world is going to look like come November, flexibility in the polling process is a necessity. HB 1523 not only removes the limitation on how many election commissioners can be appointed; it allows the election commissioners and Board of Supervisors to decide how many poll workers each location needs.
House Bill 1559 – Human Trafficking
HB 1559 will provide additional services for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to Sen. Sally Doty, HB 1559 is a “necessary” sequel to HB 571 which was signed into law during the 2019 session. HB 571 made it illegal to charge a person under the age of 18 with prostitution. The programs incorporated by HB 1559, plus their funding, will be administered by the attorney general’s office.
House Bill 1788 – Broadband Expansion
Partnered with SB 3044 and SB 3046, HB 1788 helps provide broadband expansion and K-12 distance learning initiatives across the state of Mississippi. The bill, which establishes the “Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Grant Program,” dedicates $50 million of the $1.25 billion Mississippi received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to the Mississippi Department of Education for grants to K-12 schools in areas lacking internet access.
House Bill 1796 – State Flag
Easily the most publicized bill of the 2020 session, HB 1796 solidifies the removal and replacement of the controversial state flag. No longer will there be a Confederate battle emblem prominently displayed on the Mississippi state flag as lawmakers voted 128-37 to bring down the banner that has flown since 1894. Now, it is up to a nine-appointee commission to propose multiple flag options to the people of Mississippi to vote on in November. For a design to be considered, it must pass two stipulations: (1) it cannot have a Confederate battle emblem, and (2) it must include the words “In God We Trust” on it.
Senate Bill 2009 – Carly’s Law
SB 2009, or “Carly’s Law,” prohibits convicted sex offenders from contacting their victim(s) unless specific direction is received from a victim or the family of a victim.
Senate Bill 2511 – Teacher Licensure
SB 2511 allows a person to apply for a teaching license if they have an ACT score of 21 or an SAT score of 1480. The applicant is required to have had a minimum GPA of 3.0 on prior coursework, plus they must be able to pass the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators exam.
Senate Bill 2596 – Legal Age to Buy Tobacco
SB 2596 increases the legal age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21. Under the new bill, anyone who sells or provides tobacco or vaping products to minors will face a fine of $250. Second and third offenses could see penalties of up to $1,000. If a minor is caught possessing a vaping product, the person under 21 would face a $100 fine and 15 hours of community service. A second offense would see a $300 fine and up to 25 hours of community service, while a third offense would result in a $500 fine and up to 40 hours of community service.
Senate Bill 2658 – Pet Abuse
SB 2658 makes it a felony to abuse a domesticated cat or dog. For a first offense, abusers will be fined up to $5,000 and serve no more than three years within the Mississippi Department of Corrections. A second offense will lead to a fine of $10,000 plus 10 years behind bars.
Senate Bill 2725
SB 2725 authorizes the cultivation, processing, and transportation of hemp containing no more than 0.3 percent THC. All growers and processors of hemp will have to obtain a license from the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. If a hemp grower violates the state plan by growing hemp that contains a THC concentration exceeding 0.3 percent, they will be prosecuted by the attorney general’s office.
Senate Bill 2772 – Small Business Relief
The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a major toll on Mississippi’s economy as 99.3 percent of the state’s businesses are considered small businesses. SB 2772 took $300 million of the $1.25 billion in CARES Act money and pledged it to the state’s small businesses. Currently, these funds are being divided out as grants through two different disbursement programs. The Mississippi Development Agency (MDA) is in charge of dishing out $240 million through an application process, and the other $60 million was immediately sent out by the legislature to impacted businesses—$2,000 a pop.
Senate Bill 3044 – Devices for K-12
SB 3044 appropriates $150 million of the CARES Act funding to not only enhancing distance learning but making sure students have the necessary equipment to access the internet (laptops, iPads, etc.). $300,000 of the $150 million will used by MDE to update their data collection system. $129,700,000 will go to public school districts based on average daily membership, while the final $20 million will be in the hands of MDE. The department will distribute the money to districts in need.
Senate Bill 3046 – Connectivity
SB 3046, or the “COVID-19 Connectivity Act,” creates a grant program that will expand service across Mississippi. The program works with the state’s 26 member-owned electric co-ops. For every dollar the co-ops spend on service expansion, the government will match—up to $65 million. Combined, SB 3046, SB 3044, and HB 1788 pledge $265 million to distance learning and broadband expansion.
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