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Week Two: Medicaid Expansion, Minority Legislator Lockout, Voter Registration Bills and Virginia Tur

New legislative bills are continuing to tumble out of the pipes at the Mississippi legislature this week, and some of them will undoubtedly have a rough road on their way to passage, despite their benevolence.

Representative Jarvis Dortch (D). Photo courtesy of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Rep. Jarvis Dortch (D-Raymond) said he is submitting a bill this month to extend maternal Medicaid coverage for new mothers up to 12 months after childbirth. His bill, if passed, could improve Mississippi’s rotten standing as the state with the highest infant mortality rate. Dortch’s proposal, which was not available for perusal at the time of his Twitter announcement, claims to also ensure “access to substance abuse and mental health services for pregnant and post-partum women.”

Polly stans.

The legislator also plans to submit language that creates a “nurse/family partnership” home visitation program that will offer pregnancy support services to low-income mothers and their children, and he seeks to expand Medicaid and finally give Mississippi hospitals and residents access to federal money offered by the Affordable Care Act. Republican legislators overwhelmingly voted to reject Obama-era Medicaid expansion, despite the state medical association coming out in support of expansion in August 2016, and in defiance to rural hospitals going bankrupt without it.

Blocking Teachers From Office

Representative Philip Gunn (R). Photo courtesy of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Other legislators, meanwhile, are pushing less progressive policies. Republican House Speaker Phillip Gunn is making a move to cut retired state employees, teachers and educators from legislative office. Up until the opening of the session, retired public employees were hopeful they could still draw their state pensions while serving in the Mississippi Legislature thanks to a rule adopted by the Public Employees Retirement System Board. Gunn, however, wants to quash the PERS decision, in the name of stopping former employees’ “double-dipping” into state coffers.

If Gunn is successful, public employees and former teachers will have less incentive to run for office because they will lose access to their retirement benefits, according to former Rep. Jay Hughes (D-Lafayette), a college professor. More immediately, it could push four pivotal Republican legislators Gunn dislikes to abandon their seats. <side eye>

“This has nothing to do with whether they’re retirees or not, or Republicans or not,” Hughes told The Lighthouse. “It has to do with the fact that these four (legislators) are retired educators, and they do not fit his agenda of privatizing public education with school vouchers.”

Voter Registration Bill Hits Senate

Some Mississippi legislators on both sides of the political aisle are looking to open the voter registration process to online users this week, although the success of their work will be difficult to predict this early in the process.

Senator David Blount (D). Photo courtesy of the Mississippi State Senate.

Both Sens. David Blount (D-Jackson) and Kevin Blackwell (R-Southaven) submitted competing bills to open the voter registration process after years of onerous vote restrictions passed by former Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Blackwell’s 14-page bill authorizes the Miss. Secretary of State’s office to create an online registration site that allows eligible voters (by that we mean people with a state photo ID of some kind and no conviction record for writing a bad check) to register to vote from the comfort of a computer.

If the information submitted doesn’t add up with the county record, the application can be rejected, of course. But Blount’s longer bill installs certain fail-safes to protect applicants, such as a demand to alert the applicant of a form rejection “within 14 days of receiving the application” and also to send the applicant a notification for a successful registration. Blount’s bill also extends the registration deadline up to 30 days before the actual election while taking holidays and weekends into account.

Blount apparently wants you to vote more than your mom wants you to eat your veggies because he also included language to help registrants overcome the complications of address changes that sometimes deep-six a voter application. If an online application is subject to rejection because the “present home address” portion of the applicant’s form is different from the address listed in the Statewide Elections Management System, Blount’s bill wants the new information to count as “a written request to update the voter’s registration” information. If the change of address is the same thing on file with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, the county registrar or the election commissioners can update the voter’s address based upon their application info and simply issue them a new card with the new address. There’s no trapdoor into an alligator pit and no putting the applicant up against a bullet-strewn wall. Nice.

Getting Blount’s bill passed in a Republican Senate controlled by the same jerk who brought Mississippi new voting restrictions is very much up in the air, of course, but other progressive measures are having an easier time in other states this legislative session.

Virginia Goes Blue

Over in Virginia, Democrats are reaping the rewards of retaking the House and Senate and the governor’s office by passing a slew of laws meant to ease restrictions on abortion—which is SUPPOSED to be legal under Roe v. Wade.

After failing to make abortion illegal in 2011, Republicans there began the very-familiar process of slicing Roe v. Wade to pieces with a million little cuts. Party leaders there imposed new medically unnecessary requirements upon women seeking the procedure such as the need to read biased or untrue literature about abortion’s “harmful effects,” forcing them to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat or wait 24 hours before getting the abortion. They also passed laws forcing abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals which could arbitrarily deny those privileges.

Democrats, now in control, are looking to ditch those laws. They’re also submitting a host of bills that require health insurance plans to cover the costs of services, drugs, devices and procedures related to reproductive health.

Senator Jennifer Boysko (D). Photo courtesy of the Senate of Virginia.

Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko, of Fairfax, is one of the new Democrats who took the Senate in the recent election. Boysko told the Washington Post that she’s personally had it up to here with Virginia’s Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.

“We are going to say goodbye to treating abortion providers differently from other health-care providers […],” Boysko said. “The bottom line here is once a woman decides to have an abortion, it should be safe, it should be affordable, it should be free of punishment or judgment.”

Boysko and others are also pushing bills to require school districts to provide menstrual supplies and establish model policy for the treatment of transgender students. Both of these bills have already passed the Senate, as has a bill to replace the state’s racist-centric “Lee Jackson Day” with an election day holiday, so elections clearly have consequences. Go vote!


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