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Machine-Gun Converter Ban, Closing Parchman, Medicaid Expansion: #MSLeg Roundup

A man in a blue suit speaks at a mi and gestures to another man, who's back is to the camera
The Mississippi House passed House Bill 1196, which would ban sexual extortion, on Feb. 28, 2024. “Images are being spread around. Oftentimes, they are spread thinking they would be held privately; however, things go wrong and those images are ultimately used against them,” Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, said on the House floor on Feb. 28, 2024. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

A man carrying a semi-automatic pistol that he had modified to make it fully-automatic shot and killed George County, Miss., Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Malone during a traffic stop in Lucedale, Miss., on Jan. 4.

Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Manly Barton, R-Moss Point, recalled the tragedy while speaking House floor on Feb. 27 as he introduced House Bill 903, the Deputy Jeremy Malone Act.

Under the bill, people who make or own devices that convert semi-automatic guns into fully automatic machine guns could serve up to 10 years in prison and pay $3,000 in fines.

“There’s a proliferation of glock switches and auto sears which are turning regular pistols into machine guns that can fire up to 30 rounds in 2.6 seconds,” Rep. Kevin Felsher, R-Biloxi, said on the House floor on Feb. 27. “Currently, it is only a federal offense to possess a modified weapon without an appropriate license or stamp. So criminals in possession of these modified firearms can currently not be charged at a state and local level.”

Jeremy Malone seen laughing with his wife and three daughters in a Christmas themed family photo
George County Deputy Jeremy Malone, pictured top-right with his family, died after authorities say a suspect shot him during a traffic stop on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety is hosting a GoFundMe fundraiser for his family featuring this photo. Photo courtesy GoFundMe campaign

He said the Jackson Police Department seizes about 20 machine-gun converters each month.

The House passed H.B. 903 by a 112-8 vote; it now goes to the Senate. If the Senate approves the bill with no changes, it will head to Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk where he can choose whether or not to sign it into law.

Seven-Day Alcohol Sales

Mississippians could buy and sell alcoholic spirits seven days a week under House Bill 329, which the House passed on March 1.

Mississippi does not currently permit alcoholic spirit sales on Sundays, but the bill would allow liquor stores to open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays if they wish.

“It does not require a package store to be open; it just gives them simply the opportunity to be open on Sunday,” Rep. Brent Powell, R-Brandon, said.

If a city, county or municipality did not want to participate in Sunday alcohol sales, 20% of residents or 1,500 people, whichever is higher, could bring forward a petition to stop Sunday sales. The petition would allow for an election and at least 60% of voters must vote to ban Sunday alcohol sales before local elected officials could prohibit Sunday sales.

The House passed a Sunday alcohol sales bill last year, but it died in the Senate. Powell said the House is “giving it another shot.”

H.B. 329 earned approval this year with a 68-31 vote. It heads to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate approves the bill without amendments, Gov. Tate Reeves would get the chance to sign it into law.

Banning Sexual Extortion

Walker Montgomery died by suicide at age 16 after online extortionists threatened to release a video of the tenth grader nude if he did not send them $1,000, his father says. The people on the other side of the screen were from Nigeria but pretended to be an attractive teenage girl who was flirting with him. Montgomery died on Dec. 1, 2022.

“The information we collected shows that the pressure Walker was under was unbearable,” the boy’s father, Brian Montgomery, told Fox News on Feb. 20, 2023.  “To the point that during this exchange, Walker finally tells them, ‘Hey, I’m going to commit suicide. I’m going to kill myself.’ And they respond with, ‘Go ahead, because you’re already dead.’ As a parent, obviously, you hear that and it’s heartbreaking.”

A teen boy in a blue and orange football uniform and black tar smeared on his cheeks
Online extorters threatened to release nude videos of 16-year-old Walker Montgomery if he did not send them $1,000. Montgomery died by suicide on Dec. 1, 2022. Photo courtesy Brian Montgomery

Sexual extortion is when a perpetrator asks a person to send them a nude photo, and after receiving the picture, the perpetrator threatens to publicly share the image if the person does not send them money or comply with the perpetrator’s requests.

House Bill 1196 would criminalize sexual extortion against adults and minors. Offenders who extort adults would have to serve no more than five years in prison after the first offense, no more than 10 years after the second and no more than 20 years after the third instance. The consequences for extorting minors are not specified in the bill but would be higher, Rep. Jansen Owen, R-Poplarville, said when introducing it.

“Images are being spread around,” he said on the House floor on Feb. 28. “Oftentimes, they are spread thinking they would be held privately; however, things go wrong and those images are ultimately used against them.”

The House unanimously passed H.B. 1196 on Feb. 28. If the Senate decides to take up and approve the bill with no changes, Gov. Tate Reeves will have the chance to decide whether to sign it into law.

Annual Training for Police Chiefs

Police chiefs and police officers at colleges, universities and the Pearl River Valley Water Supply would have to complete 20 hours of “executive level continuing education courses” each year under House Bill 418.

New police chiefs would have to train for 40 hours during their first year in the position if the bill became law.

“With all the things happening on those campuses, we need to make sure every officer knows the laws of the State of Mississippi,” Rep. Robert Sanders, D-Cleveland, said on the House floor on Feb. 29.

The House unanimously passed the bill on Feb. 29. If the Senate decides to take up and pass H.B. 418 with no changes, then Gov. Tate Reeves would choose whether to sign it into law.

Medicaid Expansion

At least 200,000 working Mississippians would become eligible for health-care coverage under House Bill 1725, a Medicaid-expansion bill that the House passed on Feb. 28. Last week was the first time either the House or Senate passed a bill that would expand Medicaid since the option became available in 2010 under former President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“Beyond the policy and politics of this issue, what we really have before us is a solution to a fundamental challenge: Access to health care,” House Medicaid Committee Chairwoman Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, said on the House floor on Feb. 28.

A woman speaking at a legislative committee
Mississippi House Medicaid Committee Chairwoman Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, urged her colleagues to pass a Medicaid expansion bill on Feb. 28, 2024. The House passed the bill by a 99-20 vote. AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisAP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Representatives approved the bill 99-20; it heads to the Senate for consideration. The Senate is working on its own Medicaid expansion bill that could have some differences, meaning the two chambers may have to work out a compromise bill.

Gov. Tate Reeves opposes the Medicaid expansion efforts and could veto a Medicaid expansion bill if it reaches his desk. If he did, lawmakers could override his veto if they were able to muster two-thirds majorities in both chambers.

Parchman Penitentiary Could Close

The Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman could shut down by 2028 under a bill the Senate advanced from the Senate Corrections Committee to the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 1.  The move follows decades of reports of abuse and constitutional violations at Parchman.

Parchman is the state’s oldest correctional facility. Senate Bill 2353 proposes closing Parchman starting in July 2024 and ending in 2028. The bill says the state would continue to house inmates on death row in Unit 39 of the correctional facility.

“I know this bill is not a fix-all, but we have to start somewhere,” Senate Corrections Committee Chair Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, said during the committee’s Friday, March 1 meeting.

Man in a light grey suit speaking with one hand raised
Mississippi Sen. Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, the Senate Corrections Committee chairman, said “we have to start somewhere” as the committee advanced a bill to close the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, on March 1, 2024. Photo by Rogelio V. Solis/AP

If it became law, S.B. 2353 would phase down Parchman, which is located in Sunflower and Quitman counties, over four years. Under the bill, the State would move the incarcerated people at Parchman to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility at Tutweiler and rename the prison as Northwest Mississippi Correctional Facility. Parchman employees would go to other correctional facilities in the state.

Barnett told committee members on Friday that the Tutweiler prison’s owner CoreCivic gave a $14 million annual estimate for operating the Northwest Mississippi Correctional Facility. CoreCivic is a private prison company with a controversial history.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will meet on Tuesday to work on the bill. If it passes out of committee, senators could vote on S.B. 2353. If the House also approves the bill, Gov. Tate Reeves could choose whether to sign it into law.

Joint Custody with Equal Parenting Time

When parents first make custody agreements, they would split equal custody of their child under the presumption that it is “in the best interest of the child” under House Bill 783. If either parent wants more or less time with the child, they would have to prove to the court why they deserve to change the custody agreement. Both parents must petition the court if they want one parent to have sole custody of the child.

“Going into the courtroom, one parent, traditionally the father, is usually at a disadvantage, starts lower on the totem pole when it comes to acquiring custody of the minor children,” Rep. Jansen Owens, R-Poplarville, said on the House floor on Feb. 28.

The House unanimously passed the bill. H.B. 783 moves to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate approves the bill with no changes, it will go to Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk for his signature.

Presumptive Eligibility For Pregnancy

Pregnant women who have low incomes would be able to gain access to Medicaid coverage through presumptive eligibility while the Division of Medicaid considers their applications to the official program under House Bill 539.

Mississippi state Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, listens to a discussion during a Joint Legislative Budget Committee meeting
“We are not a healthy state. According to all leading health care experts, the most critical mechanism to prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes and risk is to get adequate prenatal care,” Mississippi Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, said. The Legislature sent a bill to the governor’s desk on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, that would allow women with low incomes to get Medicaid coverage earlier in pregnancy. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

“We are not a healthy state,” Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, said on the Senate floor on Feb. 29. “According to all leading health care experts, the most critical mechanism to prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes and risk is to get adequate prenatal care.”

The House approved the bill on Feb. 2, and the Senate passed it on Feb. 29. H.B. 539 heads to Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk where he can decide whether to sign it into law.

Prior Authorization Reform Becomes Law

Health insurance companies will soon be required to provide patients with more transparency and speedier access to some treatments after a prior authorization reform bill became law with Senate Bill 2140.

Gov. Tate Reeves Reeves had Feb. 29 to decide whether to sign the bill, let it become law without his signature or veto it; he chose to let it become law without signing it. The legislation had support from more than two-thirds of the House and Senate—veto-proof majorities.

When S.B. 2140 takes effect in July, insurance companies will have to make a list of procedures and medications that require prior authorization and post the list online with “prior authorization statistics.”

The House and Senate passed an earlier prior authorization reform bill in 2023, but Reeves vetoed the legislation. Lawmakers did not try to override his earlier veto.

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