Late in the evening of Wednesday, July 1, 2020, the Mississippi Legislature adjourned for the year, except they allowed for a limited number of days before October 5th to come back and handle COVID related issues. Though it was a long and interrupted session, Farm Bureau had a successful year in the passage of several bills that will help farmers, ranchers, and Farm Bureau members have a better life and make a better living.
The “Livestock Liability” bill passed on Tuesday, June 30 with little fanfare. HB 576, authored by Rep. Price Wallace – conforms Mississippi’s livestock tort law to the remainder of Mississippi tort law. Before this law was passed, the owner of livestock had to prove they were not negligent in livestock escaping into the highway if there was an accident involving the livestock. Further, this was not consistent with the law on county roads. The Livestock Liability bill solved both of these issues. Governor Tate Reeves signed this bill into law on Wednesday, July 8.
In the last two weeks, the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, the Hemp Cultivation Act, and the Future of Mississippi Agriculture bill were all officially law after the Governor’s approval.
Though the budget looked grim early on, the revenue numbers rebounded, which eased the cuts Mississippi State and Alcorn State would have taken. All the ag units at Mississippi’s land grants received less than a 3.5% cut.
The Legislature passed “Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act.” This Farm Bureau supported bill places $65 million in grant funds from the federal CARES Act to Electric Cooperatives willing to bring connectivity to rural Mississippi and match the funds dollar for dollar. The remaining $10 million will go to other broadband providers willing to connect rural Mississippi. This legislation is a huge win for the far reaches of our state, as it will assist with distance learning, telemedicine, precision agriculture, and the overall quality of life. The Electric Cooperatives have specifically brought forward a plan that will bring high speed internet to rural Mississippi.
Farm Bureau also supported the “Mississippi Back-to-Business Liability Assurance and Health Care Emergency Response Liability Protection Act.” This legislation will protect employers, manufacturers, and small business owners from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits. This protection will allow the state’s economy to move forward. This proceeded through the legislature towards the end of session as well.
Commissioner Herb Frierson, Mississippi’s top tax collector, announced his retirement after 40 years in state government. His vacancy will be filled by appointment of Governor Tate Reeves. Rep. Jarvis Dortch (House District 66 – Hinds) and Rep. Gary Chism (House District 37 – Clay, Lowndes, and Oktibbeha) announced their resignations from the House of Representatives. These vacancies will be filled by special elections this fall.
The legislature also appropriated the state’s portion of federal CARES Act money, totaling $1.25 Billion. Included is a chart from the Mississippi Poultry Association showing how the money was spent.
After the Legislative Session, during the weekend of July 4, several legislators and capitol staffers tested positive for COVID-19, 26 legislators and 10 staffers, including Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. We are praying for a quick recovery for all effected.