The ninth week of the 2020 legislative session proved to be the busiest thus far. Committee meetings to discuss House bills wrapped up early in the week because of Tuesday’s general bill deadline. After Tuesday, all general bills that were not passed out of committee died before reaching the House calendar. The House convened Wednesday through Friday to discuss legislation that made it out of committee. The bills that were considered dealt with a variety of topics.
House Bill 1208, or the Mississippi Hemp Cultivation Act, would legalize the cultivation, processing and transportation of the hemp plant. Industrial hemp is a distinct strain of the cannabis plant that can be refined into commercial items such as paper, textiles and clothing. Proponents of the bill said that the production of hemp would help farmers and be a boost for the state’s economy. Opponents of the bill argued that regulation and enforcement could be difficult because of its close resemblance to marijuana. The bill passed the House with a vote of 104-10.
Another greatly debated bill was House Bill 730, which would allow municipalities with a population of less than 2,500 residents to conduct special elections at one central polling place. If enacted into law, it would only apply to special elections. Both general elections and primaries would still be held at regular voting precincts. Proponents of the bill said it would help smaller communities save money in special elections. Opponents argued that the law could potentially hinder people show up at their regular voting precinct to cast their ballot instead of the temporary polling place. An amendment to the bill was added calling for a notice to be placed in front of the regular precincts informing voters of the change. The bill passed the House as amended by a vote of 94-21.
Several bills on the floor this week covered the sale of alcohol across the state. House Bill 917 would allow for the sale of light spirit products, which by definition contain no more than 4 percent of alcohol. These products would be regulated in the same way as beer and light wine. HB 917 passed by a vote of 82-28 and has been sent to the Senate. House Bill 4 would increase the maximum number of package retailer’s permits a person may own from one to three. Debate ensued when opponents argued that this change could potentially impact small business owners around the state, while proponents noted that other states have similar laws and that the change would increase healthy economic competition. The bill had a vote on the floor of 57-55, but a motion to reconsider was entered and a point of order was raised asking if the bill required a three-fifths majority instead.
House Bill 978 would increase the penalties for the crime of hazing, including failing to report hazing. This bill comes after a string of hazing-related deaths among U.S. college students in recent years. The bill passed the House by a vote of 96-18 and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.
A number of noncontroversial bills also passed through the House this week, including a bill creating the “Future of Mississippi Agriculture Act of 2020” (HB 1566), a bill allowing freestanding emergency rooms to be established near recently closed rural hospitals (HB 752), a bill requiring inspection of amusement and carnival rides (HB 999) and a bill allowing active duty highway patrolmen to teach driver’s education programs (HB 1503).
Floor debate will continue on these general bills until the March 12 deadline.
Other visitors this week included singer-songwriter and Mississippi native Paul Overstreet, opera conductor William Garfield Walker, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, realtors from across the state, students from Obama Magnet Elementary School, Canopy Children’s Solutions and the Mississippi Association of Nurse Practitioners.