Which new laws affect Natchez, Adams County?

Published 12:16 am Sunday, June 30, 2013

NATCHEZ — A few new laws could potentially help the local criminal justice system put criminals behind bars, incentivize historic property restoration and create a Natchez charter school.

Attempted murder

District Attorney Ronnie Harper said a new law that creates the attempted murder charge will be valuable to his office because it creates an alternative charge that can be used.

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The minimum penalty for attempted murder is 20 years. Aggravated assault and manslaughter, both of which carry maximum penalties of 20 years, have been used in the past to address such cases.

Another new law creates a distinction between first-degree murder and second-degree murder, Harper said.

The main difference between the two is that first-degree murder is defined as pre-meditated and second-degree is not.

First-degree murder carries a life sentence from the court. Second-degree murder carries a life sentence if so decided by a jury. The minimum penalty is 20 years and the maximum 40 years.

Another new law allows up to 25 people to be selected for a grand jury, five more than the current law. A case only needs 15 to proceed, but Harper said trials have been delayed in the past because not enough jurors reported for duty.

“This is an opportunity to try to select a few more and maybe eliminate that problem,” he said.

The new laws, Harper said, will be valuable tools to the justice system.

Historic property income tax credit

Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director Mimi Miller said a new law that expands tax credits for historic properties could be beneficial to historic property owners.

The law, Miller said, authorizes the sale or transfer of the state historic property income tax credit.

Miller said the opportunity to sell state tax credits available for the restoration of qualifying historic buildings could mean more interest in local properties.

“It would mean that our (historic) property is more attractive to developers, who very often do sell tax credits,” Miller sad.

Historic tax credits have been used in the past, Miller said, for housing at Brumfield School Apartments and the former general hospital.

“It’s a good thing,” Miller said. “It could also even mean that someone that might buy (and restore) a historic house can sell or transfer the historic preservation credits to the person who buys the building. That’s another benefit.”

Charter schools

Another new law seeks to change education by allowing the formation of charter schools, which receive public money but are free from many government regulations. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says charter schools could offer innovative ways to improve education in a state that perpetually ranks low in math and reading scores.

Natchez-Adams County School Board President Wayne Barnett said he also has concerns with charter schools operating for profit, instead of for the betterment of all students.

“The report card is not out on charter schools yet,” he said. “If you read the research, some charter schools do better than public schools, and some charter schools do worse than public schools.

The state also is establishing grants to help schools hire security officers, and it is requiring each school district to adopt a policy about allowing a “limited public forum” at assemblies and other events to let students express their religious beliefs.

Other laws

Other new laws that go into effect Monday affect issues including:

• The school funding formula: Under a new statewide standard for counting who is present or absent, a child who misses more than 37 percent of any school day must be considered absent for the entire day.

• School prayer: Mississippi school districts must adopt a policy to allow a “limited public forum” at school events such as football games or morning announcements, to let students express religious beliefs. The policy must include a disclaimer that such student speech “does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district.”

• School security: The state Department of Education will create a grant program to help schools hire security officers. The maximum state grant would be $10,000 per officer hired, and the local school or district would be required to spend at least that amount. The new law was written in response to the December 2012 fatal shootings at a school in Newtown, Conn.

• Drunken drivers: When someone is convicted for a first-offense DUI, the person’s driver’s license could be suspended for 90 days, or a judge could order a 30-day license suspension and require the person to use an ignition interlock device for six months. The device prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has alcohol on his or her breath.

• Child support: The state Department of Human Services is authorized to hire private vendors to collect unpaid child support, which lawmakers say totals more than $1 billion.

• Occupational licenses: State boards can issue a temporary or permanent license to someone transferred to Mississippi because of a spouse’s military job, if the person already has a professional license from another state. This could affect teachers, cosmetologists, accountants, engineers, real estate brokers, physicians, nurses and other medical professionals. People with temporary licenses can start working while applying for permanent ones. The new law also says people who learn job skills in the military can count that experience as they work toward licensure, certification or registration in their fields in civilian life.

• Abortion: A physician must be present when a woman takes abortion-inducing drugs and the woman who takes the medication must have a follow-up physical examination two weeks later.