New state laws take effect July 1

Published 5:10 am Friday, July 1, 2022

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All new laws set during the Mississippi state legislative session will go into effect July 1. Actions pursuant to these laws include diverting funds from public hospitals and schools, establishing new authorities for medical cannabis and death penalty methods, and banning Critical Race Theory without defining Critical Race Theory. 

ARPA and budget

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The 2022 legislative session budget was increase 9% from the previous session to $7.32 billion, subsidized federally with 1.5 billion dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), also called the COVID-19 stimulus package. 

Most of the ARPA funds were reserved for state-efforts to match municipal and county funds for infrastructural water and sewage repair projects. 

The $50 million, intended to subsidize the state-run University of Mississippi Medical Center, was vetoed by Gov. Tate Reeves, who cited the potential economic impact on private insurance competitors in Mississippi such as Blue Cross and Blue shield.

$295 million in federal funding was not spent and is reserved for the next session.

Critical Race Theory ban

A Republican partisan bill SB2113, titled a “Prohibition of Critical Race Theory,” threatens public funding for educational institutions under the rule that “no distinction of students shall be made on account of race …  other than required for collection or reporting of demographic information.”

Critical Race Theory is not defined in the text of the bill, only referenced in the title. By the proponents of Critical Race Theory, it is defined as an academic framework which examines the historical and contemporary impact of racism on public institutions such as our legal system, housing policy and infrastructure, among others. 

One focus of scholars of Critical Race Theory is the how the political use of demographic reports affects the distribution of public resources and funding. SB2113 thus authorizes the collection and use of demographic reports but not an academically framed interpretation of those reports by the people who are numerated within them.

Reeves, in a speech after the passage of the bill, said Critical Race Theory was a form of “indoctrination.” The bill will go into effect July 1, may force some teachers to amend their classes for fear of losing funding.

Education Funding

Inflation and two consecutive years of teacher’s pay raises means an $83.2 million increase to the Mississippi Adequate Education budget is still $304 million short of what they need, said Senate Education Chair Dennis Debar, R-Leakesville.

An approximately 12% raise in the minimum teachers salary under House Bill 530 might redirect funds from MAEP services such as transportation, vocational programs and special education. 

The teacher salary raise, a state contribution, is contingent on each district maintaining teachers workshops and implementing a state-improved plan for improving students’ reading abilities. There is also an allocation for teachers to receive bonus funds if their students improve notably on reading tests, but that is contingent on MAEP funding being available. 

Death Penalty

The last legislative action regarding the death penalty was in 2017, when House Bill 638 established requirements for the method of lethal injection, such as a minimization of “a substantial risk of severe pain,” and a sequential ranking of other methods, in their order of preference. 

That ranking, which ordered nitrogen hypoxia, firing squad and electrocution, in that order, and the standards for lethal injection will be removed under 2022 House bill 1479.

Authority over execution methods will be reserved for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, outside of the judicial or legislative state systems. 

COVID-19 vaccination mandate ban

House Bill 1509 prohibits any entity designated as public from requiring a COVID-19 vaccination. An exemption is provided for any Healthcare facility which must require vaccination to receive Medicare or Medicaid funds, or if it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Income tax cut

House Bill 531 will effect Mississippi’s largest tax cut in state history. The bill, titled “Mississippi Tax Freedom Act of 2022,” will gradually reduce taxes on income over $5,000 to 4% by 2026. Starting July 1, the tax rate will drop from 5% to 4.7%. Then in 2025, it will drop again to 4.4% and again in 2026 to 4%. 

While the bill passed with bipartisan support, some, including Gov. Tate Reeves, were not satisfied. Reeves wanted to eliminate the state’s income tax entirely, what Texas and Florida legislatures have already done

Instead, House Bill 531 states that the legislature intends to revisit the tax cut before 2026 to decide whether the taxation rates will be decreased further. 

Medical Cannabis

The Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act, SB 2095 places the cannabis cultivation, processing, transportation, disposal, testing, research and distribution for solely medical purposes under the authority of the Mississippi Department of Health. 

Distribution is limited to cardholding patients with debilitating conditions who are under the advisement of a medical doctor. There is no legislative protection for registry cardholders to use their prescribed cannabis at work.

There is a prescription limit for cannabis, and the THC concentration in the cannabis is limited at 30%. THC is the psychoactive component, and the average concentration varies widely across time, geography and form, anywhere from 4% to 90%.

Licensing of dispensaries will fall under the authority of the Mississippi Department of Revenue. 

New Mississippi song

The legislature has, through House Bill 435, retired “Go Mississippi” as the state song and replaced it with “One Mississippi.” 

“Go Mississippi” has been the state song since 1962. It melodically resembles the 1959 campaign song for former Gov. Ross Barnett’s, a racial segregationist

Its replacement, “One Mississippi,” was written by Mississippi native Steve Azar in 2017 to celebrate the state’s bicentennial.