Legislative ReviewBy FOREST THIGPEN,
Though both the Mississippi House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, they each have a degree of disdain for the other. With the 2018 session now closed, let’s look more closely at some of the actions taken by this fractious body.
The House complains about the Senate killing House-passed bills unnecessarily, and the Senate returns the complaints. While “unnecessarily” is in the eye of the beholder, the fact is that more than half the bills passed by the House died in the Senate, and almost half the bills passed by the Senate died in the House.
In some cases, that’s because there were two identical bills, so one was unnecessary. But many died due to policy differences and/or, some would say, personality differences. One chairman, for instance, saw 10 bills he authored die in the other chamber without their merits even being discussed. That type of action tends to be taken personally.
Having bills die is not necessarily a bad thing; many needed to die. There’s one chairman who couldn’t seem to say no to his fellow members, no matter how bad the idea was. Unfortunately, his colleagues went along with him, approving bills they knew (or hoped) would be killed in the other chamber.
The list below includes only a few of the bills Bigger Pie Forum has followed this session that you might not read about elsewhere. (HB = House Bill; SB = Senate Bill; Conference = for each bill, three House members and three Senators assigned to work out differences between the two houses on that bill)
Allowing an emerging industry to survive - Reducing barriers to one of the few emerging industries in Mississippi, HB 995 allows the four distilleries in the state to sell what they make on their own premises, just as craft breweries have been allowed to do. After time in committee, this bill passed and awaits the governor’s signature.
Agency review of regulations – Attempting to reduce regulatory burdens businesses, SB 2526 requires certain boards and commissions to review their rules every three years to determine if any should be repealed or amended. The House version would have repealed all agencies’ rules every five years unless the agencies go through the formal process of readopting them. After time in conference, a bill resembling the Senate’s original version was passed and awaits Gov. Bryant’s pen.
Allowing ex-cons to get and keep a job – SB 2841 allows, among other provisions, a non-violent criminal to obtain a driver’s license after release from prison, to drive to a job. That bill passed and joins HB 387 - which has already been signed into law - in enhancing opportunities for former prisoners to become productive citizens and thus reduce the likelihood of committing further crimes and/or being sent back to prison. One provision of HB 387, for instance, allows offenders to check-in with parole or probation officers via FaceTime or Skype if they have a job, instead of leaving work for such meetings.
Fifty million dollars of taxpayers’ money for venture capital investments by insurance companies – HB 1557 provides $50 million in tax credits (a 100 percent reduction in tax payments to the state) for insurance companies’ contributions to “small business investment companies,” which are venture capital funds. This amounts to taxpayer financing of venture capital activity. This bill passed and awaits the governor’s signature.
Interference in private contracts – Regardless of the merit of any of the following ideas on their own, the legislature’s practice of interfering with private contracts is a dangerous one. It could easily cause businesses to question whether they want to do business in Mississippi. Some examples:
Voiding contracts – a version of SB 2836 requiring Medicaid to void, as of July 1 next year, managed care contracts that were signed last year and the year before passed and awaits signature. It is one provision of a much larger bill to reauthorize Medicaid programs.
Voiding a part of a contract – HB 709, which has been signed by the governor, will allow pharmacists to discuss affordable payment options for their customers, even if they signed a contract that would not allow that.
Prohibiting arbitration, mediation, litigation – For construction projects in Mississippi, HB 1306 prohibits contract provisions requiring arbitration, mediation, or litigation to be held outside the state or to be conducted under the laws of any other state. This prohibition is “mandatory and may not be waived or altered by agreement, written or oral.” An earlier version would have applied this to “all goods and services.” This bill passed after time in conference.
Prohibiting non-compete agreements – Fortunately, SB 2685 was defeated on the Senate floor 23-27. It would have prohibited non-compete clauses in physician contracts.
Good Thing These Didn’t Become Law
Barriers to starting a business – Continuing the practice of the past few years of erecting or heightening the barriers to starting a business through protectionist licensing requirements, HB 1476 would have made it more difficult to become a real estate broker. It passed both houses, but Gov. Bryant vetoed it.
Likewise, SB 2572 would have created a new requirement for construction managers to be licensed and would have increased other barriers for residential builders and remodelers. This bill passed the Senate but was soundly defeated in the House .
Bribing college grads to stay – HB 1550 attempted to address the “brain drain” by having recent college graduates pay no state income tax for three years for wages earned in Mississippi, or five years if the graduate bought property or started a business that employed at least one person other than the graduate. Our top graduates are looking for opportunities, not a tax break.
For more bills of note taken up by the 2018 legislature go to biggerpieforum.org.
Forest Thigpen is an independent policy consultant. This review was produced for Bigger Pie Forum.