Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The Mississippi Tea Party tried to target immigrants once again in a bill that would have charged $5 for out-of-country wire transfers exceeding $500, plus 1 percent of the amount of the transaction. The bill, authored by Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, died in the Senate Finance Committee last Wednesday.
The dead bill would have directed fees to the state Department of Revenue and a special "border fence fund" to assist in the construction of a fence along the border between the United States and Mexico. Mississippi does not share a border with Mexico.
Sex-Ed in Conference
School districts are one step closer to adopting an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex-education policy under a House bill the Senate passed last week. Current state law requires school districts teach abstinence-only education, unless the local school board votes to teach comprehensive sex education. Many school districts, however, do not have a policy specifying what they teach.
House Democrats, including Reps. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, and House Education Committee Vice Chairwoman Sara Thomas, D-Indianola, support comprehensive sex-education in public schools. Both argue that knowing the facts about sex prevents sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.
The Senate Education Committee passed the bill after inserting an amendment that repealed the law on June 30, 2011, one month before the law would take effect July 1, 2011.
Brown said the amendment's purpose is to force the bill into conference, where lawmakers from the House and Senate will work out their differences. Brown said he could not gauge whether senators might request changes, since the amendment makes no alteration to the language or intent of the bill.
Legal System Pay Raises on Hold
A statewide pay raise for judges and prosecutors may be on the rocks, although House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, entered a motion to reconsider the bill last Thursday.
Senate Bill 2253 raises the annual salaries of the state's Supreme Court chief justice from a current salary of $115,390 to $159,000, the two Supreme Court presiding justices from $113,190 to $154,833, and the six Supreme Court associate justices from $112,530 to $152,250 each by July 2015. The bill would have also raised the salaries of chancery and circuit court judges to $136,000 and full-time district attorneys to $125,900.
Various fee increases would have financed all the raises. The bill proposed to raise the fee for filing a civil case, for example, to $40. Speeding citations for driving 30 miles over the speed limit would increase by $30. Citations for driving 20 miles over the limit would mean an extra $20.
The money bill required a three-fifths majority vote to survive. The House voted the bill down with a near even vote, however, even after Blackmon amended the bill to reduce the pay increase to the Supreme Court chief justice to $126,292, the Supreme Court presiding justices to $123,600 and the Supreme Court associate justices to $122,460. Blackmon's amendment reduced other pay increases as well. Sixty representatives voted for the bill, while 58 voted against it.
Gov. Haley Barbour is getting a bill to sign into law soon that will put the pain of open-meetings violations on individual violators, as opposed to public bodies. Currently, governmental organizations such as the Jackson City Council or county boards of supervisors are responsible for paying fines on violations of open-meetings laws, essentially passing those fines to taxpayers. The House and Senate agreed upon Senate Bill 2289, however, which allows the Mississippi Ethics Commission to charge the fines to individuals it deems responsible for the violations.
If the Ethics Commission finds that a member or members of a public body has "willfully and knowingly violated" ethics law, the commission can impose a civil penalty of up to $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second or subsequent offense, "plus all reasonable expenses incurred by the person or persons in bringing the complaint to enforce this chapter."