It appears the 2020 session of the Mississippi legislature is moving towards the traditional conference weekend and will wrap up the normal business of the people by the middle of next week. During conference weekend, the two sides of the Capitol iron out the final details of the budget and work out differences between House and Senate version of general bills. The legislature will not officially “sine die,” as Mississippi’s leaders continue to work on COVID-19 related legislation, including spending federal CARES Act funding.

The “Livestock Liability” bill was sent to conference by the House early this week. HB 576, authored by Rep. Price Wallace, conforms Mississippi’s livestock tort law to the remainder of Mississippi tort law. Presently, the owner of livestock must prove they were not negligent in livestock escaping into the highway if there is an accident involving the livestock. Further, this is not consistent with the law on county roads. The Livestock Liability bill  solves both of these issues. A bill in conference has members of the House and Senate work on a final version of the bill then approved by both sides of the Capitol before it can head to the Governor.

Hemp will now become a commodity in Mississippi if the Governor signs the Hemp Cultivation Act. The Senate concurred with the House’s amendments on June 18th. The House changed the bill which will practically make it easier to file for a permit to grow hemp through USDA.

The “Future of Mississippi Agriculture” bill is awaiting the Governor’s signature. This was Commissioner Gipson and the Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s omnibus bill. This bill increases the number of Ag Theft investigators in the state, a farm bureau supported policy, and assists with nuisance wildlife in the state for producers. In an attempt to help the fairgrounds through COVID-19 issues, it places the Fair Commission under the authority of the Department of Agriculture for two years.

One of Farm Bureau’s priority bills, the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act (UPHPA), was sent to the Governor early this week. This legislation came from policy put in our policy book during the 2019 policy development process. After the 2018 Farm Bill, states passing the UPHPA, owners of heir property may receive an FSA farm number even without sole ownership. This legislation also helps protect property rights and family land.

The budget is also nearing completion, and Farm Bureau is continuing to advocate for Mississippi State, Alcorn State, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, the Mississippi Forestry Commission, and other state entities supporting Mississippi’s farmers, ranchers, and rural Mississippians.

There have been two critical COVID related bills moving through the legislature Farm Bureau is supporting. One is a business liability bill that would protect businesses, restaurants, and manufacturers from lawsuits related to COVID-19 contraction unless these entities acted with malice or with willful and intentional conduct. The other is a rural broadband bill which would give $100 million in grants to internet service providers to provide connectivity to underserved areas of Mississippi. MFBF president, Mike McCormick wrote a letter to leadership at the State Capitol on this issue. You can find it here.

The Mississippi Development Agency is continuing to accept grant applications for the Back to Business grant program. To determine your eligibility, rules, and find an application go to backtobusinessms.org.

Sen. Gary Jackson (District 15 – Choctaw, Montgomery, Oktibbeha, Webster) announced he will retire at the end of June for health reasons. Sen. Jackson has long been a champion of agriculture and rural Mississippi in the Capitol. Sen. Jackson and his wife Diane are two of the most thoughtful people under the dome in Jackson, and their presence will be missed. His resignation will prompt a special election to fill the remainder of the term.

House District 88’s special election to fulfill the remainder of the term of Rep. Ramona Blackledge (District 88 – Jasper, Jones) was won by Robin Robinson of Laurel. Rep. Robinson was a leader at Sanderson Farms for many years.