Committee meetings to discuss House bills wrapped up on Tuesday, and the House convened as a whole Wednesday through Friday to discuss the legislation that made it to the calendar.
One of the most contested bills this week was House Bill 480, an out-of-state sellers use tax bill which would collect sales tax on purchases made over the internet. Representative Trey Lamar, who introduced the bill, said there is already a law requiring this tax that is not being enforced and this bill aims to fix that. Supporters of the bill say this would provide the state with the funding needed to repair Mississippi's poor infrastructure. Opponents of the bill do not support collecting more taxes from the people of the state. Although the bill passed originally by a vote of 79-38, it is now being held on a motion to reconsider. I voted yes for this bill because I am confident, if used prudently, it could provide more money for municipalities. However, I am hopeful and optimistic the purpose for which we are attempting to put into law will be achieved.
Another highly contested bill was House Bill 974. This measure would exempt certain state agencies from the rules, regulations and procedures of the State Personnel Board. Supporters of the bill note that several agencies have asked for this exemption because it would afford them more flexibility and allow agencies to run their departments more efficiently. Opponents of the bill say that this gives too much power to the agency directors and the governor, who appoints many of those directors. The bill originally passed by a vote of 62-57, but is now being held on a motion to reconsider. I voted nay on this issue. I think this bill centralizes our government in a manner that is not healthy for Mississippi.
Legislators also introduced a bill that would make improvements to the area surrounding the State Capitol. House Bill 1226 would create a Capitol Complex Improvement District, which would appropriate funds to the designated area in order to make repairs and improvements. Supporters say this will help enhance the Capitol and fix some problems that exist, especially in the roads surrounding the building. Some opponents say they see issues with the execution of this bill and cite the area encompassed by the proposed district as being too large. This was not the primary reason I voted against the bill. I don't believe a state should ever exert that type of control over a area unless the city explicitly gives the approval. The bill originally passed by a vote of 99-22, but is currently being held on a motion to reconsider.
The point of order made on House Bill 515 last week was resolved. The bill, which increases penalties for those attempting to sell controlled substances near drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities, was passed and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. I sit on the Drug Policy Committee. This bill was heavily debated in both the House committee and the House floor. I am interested to see how the Senate will handle this piece of legislation.
Voters could have the chance to take part in a pre-election if House Bill 228 is signed into law. The bill proposes establishing a 14 day period before Election Day for pre-election day voting. This would put tighter restrictions on absentee ballots received through the mail, as voters would have two weeks to visit the polls before Election Day. The bill passed by a vote of 113-8 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. I am happy Mississippi is joining many other states in early voting. This presents less of a barrier for some individuals to exercise their right to vote.
House Bill 1328 would establish a salary scale for officers of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. Members of this division are the only State of Mississippi law enforcement personnel required to have a college degree. The bill passed by a vote of 116-5 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. This makes sense to me. If a person has spent time being educated they should be compensated for their time, effort, and commitment to growth and development.
Craft breweries will be allowed to sell beer and light wine produced at their breweries for consumption on or off the premises upon the passage of House Bill 1322. Proponents of the bill say this will bring Mississippi up to speed with surrounding states that have passed similar legislation. The bill passed by a vote of 93-23 and will be sent to the Senate for consideration. I think breweries are good for Mississippi Tourism. I am hopeful that it will help to increase the ability of these small businesses to market their brand.
A number of noncontroversial bills also passed through the House this week, including a bill designating March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day in Mississippi and a bill establishing the Mississippi Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which would provide flexible spending accounts for individuals with disabilities.
Visitors to the Capitol are welcome to come watch the proceedings from the gallery. Capitol visitors this week included members of the Mississippi Society of Anesthesiologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Mississippi Pharmacists Association, the Mississippi Health Care Association and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
In the coming weeks, the House will continue to meet as a whole to vote on bills that will be passed to the Senate for consideration. Hence, I will be spending time reading so that I can educate myself on bills that will impact policy in the state of Mississippi. I encourage each of you to remain involved in the political process because it is your collective voices that make a difference. Mississippi will shine if we all do our part.