JACKSON, MS – Constituent Report
Week 7 – February 15th – February 19th
The pace picked up this week as committees meet to discuss bills that will eventually come before the full senate. As I mentioned before, there have been hundreds of bills filed and sent to their respective committees for consideration.
While many bills are assigned to committees only a relative few are considered by the Chairman, voted on in committee, and if passed, move to the full body. We also passed commendatory resolutions that honored people who made significant contributions to our state or who have excelled in their fields of endeavor.
Week 8 – February 22nd – February 26th
This was a very busy week. We passed a major deadline on Tuesday the 23rd which was the last day for senate bills to be passed out of senate committees. So on Wednesday we began debating those bills on the floor.
I made my first trip to the well and presented Senate Bill 2058 which will require the state Department of Revenue to fingerprint and run background checks through the FBI criminal database on employees who have access to federal income tax records in compliance with federal requirements.
This bill was necessary as The Department of Revenue receives federal tax information from the Internal Revenue Service that is utilized to access non-reported Mississippi income, to detect fraud and to receive federal refunds to offset state income tax debts. We receive in excess of $40 million annually as a result of the departments’ use of this information.
The Internal Revenue Service implemented a new procedure that requires all state employees with access to federal tax information to be fingerprinted and the fingerprints to be submitted to the FBI for background investigations. A few other noteworthy bills that passed were:
- Senate Bill 2169 that placed the synthetic street drug “spice” alongside heroin and opium as a Schedule 1 narcotic – Mississippi’s most dangerous illicit drugs designation. The designation means harsher penalties for possession and sale of the substance and more intense law enforcement efforts will be made to find sources of the drug and eradicate them.
- Senate Bill 2515 that would exempt certain hunting records of the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks from the Public Records Act, so gun owners are not revealed.
- Senate Bill 2156 would strengthen child human trafficking laws.
- Senate Bill 2313 would allow owners of firearms sound suppressors or silencers to comply only with federal laws.
Week 9 – February 29th – March 4th
This was once again a busy week as we had a Thursday deadline to debate and pass bills that originated in the senate. I presented and was able to get passed three bills that I sponsored.
The one I am most excited about is Senate Bill 2607 which will establish Mississippi’s Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. This law will allow certain individuals with disabilities to establish “ABLE accounts” that resemble 529 college savings plans. Generally, under the federal law persons who are eligible to be beneficiaries of an ABLE account are persons who are entitled to benefits on the basis of disability or blindness under the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or under the Social Security disability, retirement and survivor program.
An eligible individual’s disability must have occurred before the age of 26. Money in the account may be utilized to pay for qualified disability expenses such as expenses for the benefit of the beneficiary and related to his or her disability, including education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, health, prevention and wellness, financial management and administrative services, legal fees, expenses for oversight and monitoring, funeral and burial expenses and any other expenses which are approved by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury by regulation.
Earnings on ABLE accounts and distributions from the accounts for qualified disability expenses do not count as taxable income to the eligible beneficiary for federal income tax purposes. Another bill we passed, Senate Bill 2146 sponsored by Senator David Parker, and one on which I am a co-sponsor could help cities across the state better finance infrastructure improvements.
The bill will increase the amount of sales tax revenue the state returns to cities over a three year period. It would be a bonus to cities repairing aged water and sewer lines and streets. Cities now receive 18.5% and would receive 20% at the end of the three year phase-in. Some other bills of interest were:
- Senate Bill 2064 would create the Distance Learning Collaborative Act that would establish a grant program under the state Department of Education to make online learning courses possible in districts where needed.
- Senate Bill 2541 declares online fantasy football and other sports as none gambling activities.
- Senate Bill 2808 would reduce the unemployment tax rate on Mississippi employers saving them up to $20 million in tax cuts.
- Senate Bill 2384 would establish the Mississippi Division of Medicaid and Human Services, consolidating jobs and saving revenue.
- Senate Bill 2238 would disallow Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for family planning.
- Senate Bill 2495 would consolidate the administrations of nine school districts that combine districts of Montgomery County, which has 273 students; Carroll County, which has 1,035 students; and Winona, which has 1,123 students.
- Senate Bill 2497 would consolidate Houston School District, which has 1,781 students, and Okolona Separate School District, which has 690 students, into the Chickasaw County School District, which has 512 students.
- Senate Bill 2500 would dissolve Lumberton Public School District, which has 585 students, and merge it with neighboring Poplarville and Lamar County districts, which have 1,927 and 9,996 students, respectively.