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Shoplifting Fine Increase, Prior Authorizations and More: #MSLeg Roundup

Fabian Nelson, in a navy suit, speaks at a legislative committee meeting
Mississippi House Rep. Fabian Nelson, D-Jackson, told fellow lawmakers on Feb. 20, 2024, that adopting a Purple Alert System would help find missing people with mental, physical or emotional disabilities. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Shoplifters would have to pay higher fines after each misdemeanor shoplifting conviction under a bill Mississippi House representatives passed last week.

If a person steals no more than $1,000 worth of merchandise, they must pay a fine for each charge. The current shoplifting fees are $1,000 for the first offense, $2,500 for the second and $3,000 for the third. If House Bill 438 became law, it would raise those numbers to $1,500, $3,000 and $4,000, respectively.

Shoplifting under $1,000 worth of items is a misdemeanor. After $1,000, it becomes a felony.

“There’s a real problem that retailers are having right now with people taking stuff that doesn’t belong to them,” the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, said on the House floor on Feb. 20. Despite a nationwide panic over shoplifting over the past year, data show that shoplifting is not on the rise in most of the country.

Read H.B. 438

Rep. Tracey Rosebud, D-Tutwiler, asked what would happen if a child stole a candy bar from a store, and Newman clarified that H.B. 438 only references adults.

Jeffery Harness, D-Fayette, wondered how the bill would deter potential shoplifters who do not know the fines increased.

“I’ve been involved in the criminal-justice system for almost 50 years in the bail-bonding business, and I can tell you that when penalties go up, the amount of crime goes down in that particular instance,” Newman told Harness. “And when it’s relaxed, the crime rate goes up.”

When Harness asked about data to back up the representative’s observations, Newman said he did not have any numbers, just real-world examples.

Reps. Jill Ford, R-Madison, and Rodney Hall, D-Southaven, joined Newman as cosponsors on H.B. 438. The House passed the bill 89-28 on Feb. 20. It moves to the Senate, where senators will decide whether to take it up. If the Senate approved H.B. 438 with no changes, it would go to Gov. Tate Reeves for his signature.

Purple Alert System

Local law enforcement could issue a Purple Alert in emergency situations for a missing person who has a mental, physical or emotional disability that is not Alzheimer’s, dementia or caused by substance abuse under House Bill 873, which the Mississippi House passed last week.

H.B. 873 says law enforcement could send out an Amber Alert, Silver Alert or mass notification as well as a Purple Alert if an endangered person meets the qualifications. The Purple Alert would only notify residents in “the geographic areas where the person could reasonably be,” the bill clarifies. Adults and children are covered under the bill.

A cosponsor of the bill, Rep. Fabian Nelson, D-Byram, said Mississippi should join Florida as the second state with a Purple Alert system. Florida has issued 255 alerts and found 250 missing people since it established the alert in 2022, he noted.

“Mississippi would finally be first in something good,” Nelson said on the House floor on Feb. 20.

The bill’s bipartisan cosponsors are Reps. Clay Mansell, R-Clinton; Doc Harris, R-Hernando; Celeste Hurst, R-Sandhill; Steve Lott, R-Lucedale; Jonathon McMillian, R-Madison; Kimberly Remak, R-Olive Branch; Lance Varner, R-Florence; Beth Waldo, R-Pontotoc; Henry Zuber, R-Ocean Springs; Jeffrey Hulum, D-Jackson; Vince Mangold, R-Jackson; Carolyn Crawford, R-Pass Christian; Dana Underwood McLean, R-Columbus.

The House passed H.B. 873 unanimously on Feb. 20. It moves to the Senate, where senators can decide to amend or approve the bill if they decide to take it up. If the Senate passes the bill without amendments, it goes to Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk.

Prior Authorization Update

The House and Senate have both approved Senate Bill 2140, which would make insurance companies reform how they handle prior authorization requests for patients’ uncovered procedures and medications.

Insurers would have to create lists of medicines and procedures that require prior authorizations and publish them online with “prior authorization statistics” under S.B. 2140.

The bill’s bipartisan cosponsors are Sens. Walter Michel, R-Ridgeland; Charles Younger, R-Columbus; Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula; Joseph Thomas, D-Yazoo City; Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp; Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson; Michael McLendon, R-DeSoto; Scott DeLano, R-Gulfport; Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford; Daniel Sparks, R-Belmont; Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune; John Horhn, D-Jackson; Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson; Derrick Simmons, D- Greenville; Lydia Chassaniol, D-Winona; Jennifer Branning, R-Philadelphia; Gary Brumfield, D-Magnolia; David Parker, R-Olive Branch; and Sarita Simmons, D-Cleveland.

Gov. Tate Reeves now has until Feb. 29 to decide if he wants to sign the bill into law. If he chose to veto the bill, the Legislature could override it with a two-thirds vote. If the governor takes no action, it becomes law after the deadline passes.

In other legislative news last week, read the Associated Press’ reports on the Mississippi House Medicaid Committee’s hearings on Medicaid expansion and the AP’s report on a bill targeting incarcerated transgender people.

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