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Legislative Round-Up: Good and Bad Go to Grave

The Mississippi Legislature revealed its best talent is killing bills, and early voting was on the chopping block.


The state’s majority white leadership has no desire to use early voting to reduce long voting lines and Election Day snafus in urban areas, even when other white legislators make the attempt. Senate Bill 2580, authored by Sen. Jeremy England (R-Vancleave), would have moved 1950’s-era Mississippi into the modern world, but House Elections Chair Noah Sanford (R-Collins) refused to bring the bill up for a vote before a critical deadline. This leaves Mississippi one of only three states without in-person early voting.


England’s bill allowed 15 days of no-excuse voting before Election Day, which would have elevated us to the level of more democracy-friendly places like Connecticut. That was too generous for Sanford, who claims circuit clerks objected to having to hire more staff to handle … we guess … the sheer rush of voters in Issaquena County? (That’s 429 votes in the last governor’s race, by the way.)

They’ll definitely need an army of new employees to deal with a crowd like this.

Sanford told reporters he wanted to conduct hearings later this year to “examine the issue further and allow circuit clerks” to voice their arguments and make recommendations. It should come as no surprise nobody at BGX had to breathe into a paper bag to handle the excitement.


House Elections Chair Noah Sanford

As it stands, Mississippi only allows in-person absentee voting before elections, and that’s nothing like no-excuse voting. The Magnolia State requires voters to prove to a third party that illness or a prior engagement will put voters out of reach of a poll booth on Election Day. All absentee ballot applications must be “signed by an official authorized to administer oath, such as a notary public, unless the voter is temporary or permanently physically disabled,” among other conditions.


England’s bill would have erased both the requirement for an excuse and the notary public.

PERS Board Bill Dead

We at BGX cannot get enough of watching state leadership kick a lion in the pants, get mauled, then go looking for another lion.


That’s the situation with the state’s ailing Public Employees’ Retirement Fund. The Public Employees’ Retirement System board hit legislators with an ugly list of fixes last year including a $365 million budget request from the legislature to shore up investments. This also included the formation of a new waste-level “Tier 5” designation without a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase and the recommendation of a 2% contribution rate increase on employers, which gets passed down to current and future employees—and with more increases likely. 


The thing is, PERS is unstable because small-government enthusiasts have indulged a privatization frenzy over the years, targeting everything from call centers to child support collections. When state leaders allow a private contractor to take child support case management from state departments, the new private employees don’t pay into PERS. The same goes for private school teachers and empty government positions that downsize-obsessed leaders keep empty or shut down.


As we've already reported, the state has lost more than 5,000 total active PERS members since 2020, dropping from about 150,000 contributors in 2020, to about 145,000 contributors in 2022. Both of those years represent a drop from 161,000 total active members in 2014. Simple math dictates this triggers a reduction in annual PERS employee payments, which now forces legislators to contend with icky PERS board recommendations. Their reaction this year was to fix the problem by replacing the board.


The state’s population, 10% of which are government employees, called legislators and gave them a word or two. Now the bill to replace the board is dead. So far, leaders have still not addressed the problem of what to do in the aftermath of voluntarily hollowing out their own retirement fund. We’ll be waiting.



Felony Suffrage 

Jim Crow just seems to work for some people. Last month, Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-Pearl River) killed an attempt to finally constrain Mississippi’s embarrassing Jim Crow-era felony disenfranchisement law and restore voting rights to some people convicted of nonviolent felonies.


The U.S. Court of Appeals is still deliberating Mississippi’s Jim Crow era Section 241, which has been stealing citizens’ voting privileges since racists first inserted it in the state’s 1890 constitution to toss Black voters. Today, the language still impacts people found guilty of 23 types of felonies. Along with murder, rape, bribery, arson and bigamy sits money crimes that typically ensnare impoverished Black populations: obtaining money or goods under false pretense, perjury, forgery and embezzlement and writing bad checks.  


Under current law, the person convicted of a crime never sees her voting rights automatically restored, even after she has served her time and paid her debt to society. The House voted to pass the bill alleviating some of the damage by automatically restoring suffrage for some nonviolent crimes. But Hill told reporters the hotly racist 1890 constitution and its Jim Crow language are fine with her.

Sen. Angela Burks Hill

Lobbyists: It’s all Yours

As a final note, legislators—both Republican and Democrat—shot down this session’s second attempt to reign in lobbyists’ effort to buy your local Senate and House representative.

Senate Bill 2916 would have required lobbyists with a material financial interest in an issue or bill to register their motivation with legislative officers. The bill’s language specifically demanded lobbyists “make a written disclosure” to the lieutenant governor, House Speaker, and committee chairs overseeing their desired legislation before floor action by the full Senate or House. That’s not going to happen in our Mississippi, however. And there’s no comparable bill floating around in either the House or the Senate looking to do the same, especially since the death of SB 2575, which would have made new accounting reports electronically available to voters. Senate Bill 2575 would also have put the secretary of state over campaign abuse investigations and increased penalties for willfully filing false finance reports, but most senators had no desire for that. 


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