Laws That Need to Change

Establish No-Excuse Early Voting
Mississippi's voting laws make the citizenship harder work than it needs. State law currently allows early, in-person voting only for those voters who will be out of their voting district on Election Day. People who cannot take off work to vote on Election Day must risk a $5,000 fine and lie to vote early. Thirty-two states already allow no-excuse early voting; Mississippi has no excuse not to become the 33rd.

Boost Beer Limits
Mississippi's draconian liquor laws prohibit the sale of any beer with an alcohol-by-weight greater than 5 percent. No other state has a cap that low, which deprives Mississippians of many of the finest beers in the world. Lifting the cap, as North Carolina and Ohio have already done, would open up consumer choice, spur entrepreneurship by local brewers and boost restaurant business.

Don't Shut Parents Out of School Discipline
Under current Mississippi law, school officials are not required to contact a student's parents before interviewing him about an infraction that could result in expulsion, arrest or transfer to an alternative school. This loophole allows school administrators to extract confessions from children without their parents' knowledge. A simple change to state law requiring administrators to contact a parent before interviewing a student about a serious infraction would preserve parents' rights while not interfering with school discipline.

Trust Doctors on Special Education
A change in state law during last year's legislative session gave schools greater leeway in deciding whether to evaluate a student for special education after a doctor has diagnosed him or her with a learning or physical disability. The evaluation process can take up to six months, time during which a student can fall further behind his peers. Requiring an evaluation after a disability diagnosis would ensure that students aren't left behind just because school officials don't want to conduct the paperwork-intensive process.

Money for Home-Care Nursing
Rep. Steve Holland, chairman of the House Public Health and Human Services Committee, said he would aim for some policy changes that would buttress Gov. Haley Barbour's proposals. Barbour advised the state to divert Medicaid money to more affordable home-based nursing services instead of nursing homes as a means to cut state costs. Holland said he had met opposition to similar ventures in the past, as far back as 2007.

Charter School Laws
On July 1, 2009, Mississippi's charter-school law expired. The former law limited the number of charter schools in the state to six; its absence now means that the state cannot issue any new charters. Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, intends to introduce legislation putting charter schools under the guidance of the Mississippi Department of Education. Mayo wants state law to restrict opening charter schools in districts with a vigorous school system: "They should only be able to open one where there are failing schools," Mayo says.

Sex Education
Reps. Reecy Dickson, D-Macon, and Alyce Clark, D-Jackson, are joining Mayo in pushing for comprehensive sex education, citing a critical absence of real knowledge among young people of the facts and realities of reproduction—and a subsequent rise in teen pregnancy. The new bill would require that every school district adopt a sex education policy.

State law does not mandate districts to adopt sex education. Jackson Public Schools, for example, does not show any concerted interest in the state's abstinence-only sex education. Abstinence-only education has plenty of critics and its proponents can't provide clear evidence that abstinence-only programs works. The representatives want a program that begins in elementary schools.

Fighting Domestic Abuse

The following are just a few laws that need to change to help end domestic abuse in our state.
• Set minimum penalties for misdemeanor domestic violence assault: Today, a perpetrator can get up to six months in jail or $500 fine, or they could walk away without any penalties.

• Mirror federal firearms laws: Such laws would prohibit a DV perpetrator or someone who has been subject to a domestic-violence protective order from buying a gun or ammunition.

• Create a separate offense for strangulation, which is seen as one of the red flags of potential lethality in DV cases.

• An attempted-murder charge: The descriptions for aggravated assault and simple assault both use the term "bodily injury" and "with means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm." Aggravated assault adds the word "serious" to the first phrase, along with "extreme indifference to the value of human life." The charge is frequently left to the discretion of the police, who most frequently use the simple assault charge.

• No-fault divorce laws: Getting a divorce in Mississippi is difficult and expensive, which means that women who are victims of domestic violence have a hard time getting away from abusive husbands.


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