Even as the rest of Mississippi is frozen, Mississippi’s farmers and ranchers continue to work and take care of their livestock, and the Mississippi Legislature continues the 2021 Regular Session. The Mississippi House of Representatives reconvened yesterday, amidst a winter storm, via Zoom, while the Mississippi Senate met in person. The Legislative session is now over one third of the way through with the last two weeks focused on the committee deadline and floor deadline of general bills and the next two weeks focused on appropriations bills as the 2022 budget takes shape.
There have been two major deadlines since the last state affairs’ update, the committee deadline and floor deadline. The Legislature is now working on a much more limited number of bills, from 2267 down to 695.
The House adjourned early in the afternoon last Thursday, February 11, closing out their calendar just after lunch. The Senate did not get out as early as they worked right up until midnight and then continued working into the early morning hours of Friday, February 12.
Much of the Senate’s debate Thursday and Friday revolved around a medical marijuana bill. Initiative 65, which was approved overwhelmingly by Mississippi voters on November 3, 2020, allows for medical marijuana in Mississippi. However, there is a court challenge pending that questions the constitutionality of the initiative. Notwithstanding the challenge, work has begun on legislation to govern medical marijuana. The Mississippi Department of Health has approved some regulatory steps. This past week on deadline day, SB 2764, which creates an alternative medical marijuana program in case the Mississippi Supreme Court strikes down Initiative 65, failed. It was then reconsidered and passed on Friday morning. Some of the differences between Initiative 65 and SB 2764 is a sales tax revenue dedicated to scholarships in the legislation versus revenue dedicated to governing the program itself in the constitution. Initiative 65 places all regulatory authority with the Mississippi Department of Health, while SB 2764 sets the regulatory burden with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture.
Other legislation that Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is tracking includes:
- HB 505 Broadband Accessibility Act authored by Rep. Scott Bounds and SB 2798 authored by Sen. Joel Carter are both geared at allowing investor owned utilities in Mississippi (Entergy and Mississippi Power) to sell fiber internet to customers along its existing infrastructure. The income would go towards reducing power costs of the consumer.
- HB 556 authored by Rep. Bill Pigott will allow for longer leases of 16th section land used for agricultural purposes.
- HB 1364 authored by Rep. Trey Lamar
- Allows for a referendum on a gas and diesel tax increase to fund specific highway projects, Emergency Road and Bridge Repair Fund (ERBRF), county and municipality roads and bridges.
- Then allows for the gas tax to increase with inflation
- SB 2072 authored by Sen. Mike Seymour increases the penalties for pecan theft
- SB 2559 authored by Sen. Joel Carter would allow the Public Service Commission to contract with the federal government to work on broadband mapping in Mississippi
- SB 2825 the Mississippi Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2021 authored by Sen. Jenifer Branning
- Moves Enforcement from MDOT to the Department of Public Safety
- Increases weights for harvest permitted vehicles
- Increases fines for excessively overweight harvest permit vehicles
- Moves $80 million in lottery revenue from MDOT to the ERBRF
These next couple of weeks will be focused on revenue bills as the February 24 deadline approaches. These next weeks will begin to shape the 2022 budget for the state of Mississippi. Farm Bureau will be monitoring budgets for Miss. State, Alcorn State, Department of Ag, Soil & Water, the Forestry Commission, MDEQ, and the Board of Animal Health.
After the next deadline, the Senate will start working on bills sent over from the House, and the House the Senate’s bills.