JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — New Mississippi laws provide pay raises for teachers, require closer monitoring for concussions in school sports and attempt to limit the cost of obtaining public records.
Dozens of new laws take effect Tuesday, including a comprehensive measure designed to make the criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive.
One new law bans abortions at 20 weeks, the midpoint of a full-term pregnancy. There are exceptions for severe fetal abnormality or if the woman faces death or permanent injury because of the pregnancy. The 20-week ban won’t affect the state’s only abortion clinic, which says it stops at 16 weeks. State Health Department statistics show abortions after 20 weeks are rare.
Another new law, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal and says government can’t put a substantial burden on religious practices — a measure that has already sparked protests from opponents who believe it could allow state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday demonstrates that Mississippi is correct setting its own law that mirrors the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority in a 5-4 ruling, said forcing companies to pay for types of contraception to which they object violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Mississippi’s RFRA statute, which takes effect July 1, is nearly identical to the federal law, and I hope the court’s opinion proves to detractors of Mississippi’s law that claims of discrimination are baseless,” Bryant said in a statement praising the ruling.
Mississippi becomes the 19th state to enact its own Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Mississippi had the second-lowest teacher pay in the nation in 2013 at $41,994. The pay raise law gives a $1,500 increase during the budget year that starts Tuesday and a $1,000 increase in the budget year that starts July 1, 2015. Merit pay raises become available in the 2016-17 school year for teachers in districts with high academic performance.
A welfare drug-testing law that was supposed to take effect Tuesday has been delayed. It says who applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will have to answer a questionnaire, and if the answers show the possibility of substance abuse, the person will have to take a drug test. Anyone testing positive would have to receive treatment to receive cash assistance. If the person tests positive for drugs after receiving treatment, the assistance would end.
The state Department of Human Services last week agreed to a request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice to delay implementation of the drug-testing law, to allow for a period of public comment required by state administrative procedures. DHS will hold a July 22 hearing in Jackson to gather more comments, and the agency is not yet saying when the law will be in effect.
NEW MISSISSIPPI LAWS
JACKSON, Mississippi — Here’s a glance at some new Mississippi laws that take effect Tuesday:
ABORTION — House Bill 1400 (http://bit.ly/1guNDDZ ) bans abortion at 20 weeks, the midpoint of a 40-week full-term pregnancy. Abortion will still be allowed at or after 20 weeks if the woman faces death or permanent injury because of the pregnancy. It will also be allowed in cases of severe fetal abnormality. Diane Derzis, owner of the state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, says the clinic stops doing abortions after 16 weeks. The most recent Health Department statistics show 2,176 abortions were done in Mississippi in 2012. Two were listed at 21 weeks or later, and 382 were unknown gestational age.
CONCUSSION — House Bill 48 (http://bit.ly/1mQvHZF ) will require public and private schools to evaluate student athletes for concussions after they’re shaken up during practice or competition. A player with a concussion would be banned from play until fully recovered. The bill was pushed by the NFL and the Mississippi State Medical Association and supported by groups that govern school activities.
DNA-ARRESTS — Senate Bill 2430 (http://bit.ly/1lJHeZK ) would require collection of DNA from people arrested and charged with violent crimes such as murder.
GUNS — House Bill 314 (http://bit.ly/1lJGpjE ) says weapons purchased in city- or county-sponsored buy-back programs would have to be put up for public auction rather than destroyed. It also would ban any state government official or employee from confiscating any legally held weapon or ammunition if the governor declares martial law.
PRISONS — House Bill 585 (http://bit.ly/1eOGbng ) mandates several changes intended to make the prison system more efficient and less expensive.
PUBLIC RECORDS– House Bill 928 (http://bit.ly/1feNYb8 ) attempts to cap the cost of fulfilling public records requests. It says that when a person requests government records, a board or agency can only require reimbursement of costs incurred by the lowest-level employee competent to fulfill the request. Some agencies have driven up the cost of public records by charging hourly fees for attorneys to examine them.
RELIGIOUS PRACTICE — Senate Bill 2681 (http://bit.ly/1hheTXI ) says government may not put a substantial burden a person’s right to practice religion. It also would add “In God We Trust” to the state seal.
TEACHER PAY — House Bill 504 (http://bit.ly/1nV77G3 ) sets a multi-year teacher pay raise.
Becoming law Aug. 1:
BUILDING CODES — Senate Bill 2378 (http://bit.ly/QMd780 ) creates statewide building codes. Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney pushed for the bill, saying buildings that are better able to withstand storms will be safer and could reduce the cost of insurance.
Becoming law Jan. 1:
TAXATION — House Bill 799 (http://bit.ly/1gWN3ki ) could make it harder for the state to rule that multistate corporations are paying too little in taxes to Mississippi. It says the Department of Revenue would have to present clear and convincing proof before it could reapportion how a company splits its income among states, and only do so in “limited and unique, nonrecurring circumstances.” The department says the proposed change could cost the state $100 million a year in lost revenue. Supporters dispute that figure and say the department’s collection powers put taxpayers at an unfair disadvantage.