Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Immigration and You
The Senate followed up on the whack-a-Pedro rhetoric of conservative talk radio this month by passing a bill refusing state contract work to businesses that do not screen employees for their immigration status. Judiciary A Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, admitted Senate Bill 2037 would only affect a small percentage of state businesses that have contracts with the government, but added the bill was only the beginning of more far-reaching immigration reform planned by the Senate.
"We felt it would be more effective to address the state's immigration issues bill by bill instead of putting them all together in one omnibus bill," Fillingane said.
Supposedly, some businesses throughout the state are hiring immigrants, and remain competitive by paying wages that only an undocumented worker would accept.
The bill joins a slew of other crackdown bills like SB 2596, which requires the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and community college boards to demand students' citizenship verification; SB 2524, requiring out-of-state tuition for "illegal" immigrants; and SB 2564, which requires state agencies to verify citizenship status before awarding public benefits.
Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance President Bill Chandler said his organization will battle this and many other "xenophobic" bills coming this year.
Education (Round 1)
The House set itself up for a tough battle with the Senate over education last week by passing House Bill 513 with a large majority. The bill allocates $60 million more than the amount a joint committee recommended last year, and includes a 3 percent teacher pay raise, funding for teacher mentoring programs, funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and more money for dyslexia screening—a personal favorite of Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. It also includes more cash for classroom supplies and early childhood development, among other things.
The bill does not meet all of the goals of Mississippi Education Superintendent Hank Bounds, as laid out in his $129 million Quality Education Act, but it will still likely face opposition in the Senate. Brown admitted to fellow House members that they'll all be seeing the bill again as the Senate and House bicker over the specifics of the bill.
Cutting into the Game
One Senate bill is another nail in what appears to be a securely closed coffin on off-reservation Native American gaming. SB 2199 limits the gaming industry to the seven Mississippi counties that already have it. Principal author Sen. Lee Yancey told The Clarion-Ledger that the bill isn't aimed at anyone in particular, though the bill has the word "Choctaw" all over it.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaws Indians have been working to build a $375 million casino at the intersection of I-10 and Mississippi 57. Casinos already in the area complain that the Native American-owned casino, which isn't subject to some taxes, would have a financial advantage over the competition, and lobbied local residents to fight the new construction.
Jackson County residents voted 60-to-40 against the new casino in a non-binding referendum last year, and the U.S. Department of Interior nixed the project by rejecting the Choctaws' application. The Bureau of Indian Affairs told the tribe the proposed site was too far from the Choctaw reservation in Philadelphia, Miss., and would encourage tribal members to leave the reservation and live closer to the work site. The proposed site is 175 miles from the reservation.
Gov. Haley Barbour has also vocally opposed expansion of tribal casinos in the state.
Voter ID … Again
Sen. Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, submitted a bill requiring voters to present some form of photo ID before voting. The bill will allow a would-be voter to use most any form of identification, including employee ID, student ID card or a state-issued drivers license—as long at the card contains a photograph.
Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann campaigned hard on voter ID last year and is working with legislators in crafting voter ID legislation. Republicans say a picture at the polls will avoid fraud, while Democrats say the vast majority of the fraud is through absentee ballots, which will derive no impact from an ID law.
U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper ruled in 2006 that the state would have to re-register all voters and require voters to classify themselves as Republican, Democrat or Independent.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and the Mississippi NAACP filed a lawsuit to fight the order, arguing that the U.S. Constitution has no requirement for voter photo ID. Pepper has already amended his original position to encompass non-photo ID, and has delayed the statewide vote re-registration until Aug. 31, but the NAACP is still working to kill Pepper's order. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hold a hearing on the issue this March.
"The requirement for photo ID is unnecessary bad public policy, considering that there has not been any voter fraud that photo ID would have prevented in the state of Mississippi," said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP.