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Discarded bills a treasure trove of interesting ideas

By Charlie Mitchell

I know, I know, I know. When people hear about the Mississippi Legislature at all it’s school funding, yes or no on a lottery, morphing campaign donations into individual retirement accounts, whether the state will annex the City of Jackson for the Purpose of Pothole Repair.

Big stuff. Important stuff.

But there were 2,528 distinct pieces of legislation proposed in the House and the Senate this year, not counting assorted resolutions and commendations. There are nuggets in this treasure trove that should not pass without mention.

Equal rights for motorcycles.

Yes, motorcycles.

You know when a rider pulls up to a traffic light operated by pavement-embedded sensors, the motorcycle isn’t always heavy enough to trip the switch.

Unfair!

But alas, the proposal of Rep. Deborah Butler Dixon, D-Raymond, proposal to exempt motorcyclists from citations for running red lights (after stopping) “died in committee,” as about 95 percent of all bills do.

There are always back stories. Don’t know if Rep. Dixon has a Harley. Or whether a relative or constituent got a ticket. But she’s seen a wrong, and attempted to right it.

Same for Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune. His proposal to outlaw lingering in the left lane died. Yes, there is a safety issue, but it’s equally likely that Rep. Formby simply became aggravated one day while behind a pokey driver and remembered, “Hey. I’m a lawmaker. I’ll make this illegal.”

Nope. Dead in committee along with a least two other car-related laws. One would say that if a car’s wipers are on, the headlights must be, too. The other said no smoking in a car if there’s a passenger younger than 6.

A large number of bills dealt with crime and punishment, more specifically punishment. One idea was to free any inmate who has served at least 10 years on a drug offense and is 60 years old.

What happens in classrooms is a topic some legislators can’t seem to leave up to educators. One measure would have cut about 10 days out of the school year; another would have allowed otherwise home-schooled students to participate in group activities of public schools, such as band or athletics.

One detailed piece of legislation would have required schools to add a course in “Family Dynamics.” It is not a new concept. Most schools have long had home economics or other practical courses in, hygiene, personal banking, smart shopping, nutrition and such. But “Family Dynamics.” If nothing else, that’s a cool name.

One gets a sense from some proposals that there’s a general sense that poor people are out to cheat working people. Fraud is real and rampant in aid programs, but a mom can still send her child with the EBT card to pick up bread and milk. A proposal to require a photo ID matching the person using the card bit the dust.

Interestingly, a couple of measures were introduced to required legislators to, well, stifle themselves.

Everyone knows about the “do not call” lists designed to inhibit telemarketers. From the start, lawmakers exempted office-seekers from adhering to the wishes of those who don’t want to be phoned. A bill to remove that exemption — meaning no more pre-election Robo calls — was filed, but failed.

Another proposal was to stop officials from co-opting public funds into campaign funds by speaking and/or appearing (conveniently) in “public service” advertising. It’s an open secret that major amounts of tax money flow to media outlets in favor with the ruling class in Jackson. This bill didn’t address that, but would have kept, say, a mayor from leaning on the local tourist commission to put his or her face on a “Welcome to Wherever” billboard.

There were a couple of bills that are always filed — one to require residents to vote on whether they wish to be annexed into a nearby city and another to have county governments sharing in sales tax revenue. Under longstanding law, only municipalities receive a rebate.

As expected, bills also failed that would have established a $9 minimum state wage (to apply to everyone but state employees) and ordained gender-neutral compensation.

Also, the Bible will not become the official book of Mississippi this year and it’s still OK to import poisonous serpents as pets. A bill to ban them was, well, snakebit.

One reptilian bill did advance. The Senate has decided to authorized the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to study the feasibility of alligator ranching on the basis that Louisiana permits the beasts to be farmed as a cash crop.

Move over, catfish.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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