Deadline alert: State worker protections, Blue Lives, voting bills

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Up against another crucial deadline, lawmakers will consider bills this week that address whether agency heads will be able to fire state workers at will, whether anti-police crimes are punished more harshly and if some will be able to vote early.

These questions, along with a number of others, are addressed in several key bills facing a Tuesday deadline. That’s when Senate and House committees must act on general bills that originated in the opposite chamber.

House Bill 974 is before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Under that bill, most of the 30,000 people who work for the state of Mississippi would no longer have civil-service protections for three years and would serve at the will and pleasure of their agency bosses.

The House appropriations committee will consider Senate Bill 2625, which patches several problems encountered in last year’s special fund sweeps law. The erroneous wording of parts of that law limited six different agencies’ use of millions of dollars in special funds, interrupting some state services.

Both houses passed versions of campaign finance reform, which would limit how the state’s elected officials can spend their campaign contributions. The House is considering Senate Bill 2689, while the Senate is considering House Bill 479. Lawmakers in both houses have hinted that they will send the bills to conference committee, where leaders from both houses will tweak one of the bills.

Meanwhile, the House must consider Senate Bill 2469, called the “Blue, Red and Med Lives Matter Act,” would make crimes against police officers, firefighters and EMTs subject to enhanced penalties.

House Bill 228 would authorize pre-election day voting in Mississippi. The bill was double referred to Senate elections and accountability, efficiency and transparency committees.

The House must consider Senate Bill 2634, which would place millions in BP oil spill settlement moneys in a separate state account that could only be drawn from “for projects benefiting the Gulf Coast.” The plans for how to spend the settlement funds have created loud floor battles before. All 23 Gulf Coast delegates want to keep the money in the three coastal counties, while other delegates see that money as a gift for other needed projects statewide like infrastructure improvements.

Also, House Bill 875 changes the school conservatorship process to Achievement School District, where school districts rated “D” or “F” must maintain a “C” or higher rating for 5 years before coming out from under state control. There is currently no academic requirement for school districts to regain local control.

Senate Bill 2398 changes the qualifications for superintendents moving forward. The bill would require new superintendents to have at least six years of classroom or administrative experience, three of which must be as a principal of an A- or B-rated school or a school that increased its rating by a letter grade during the time the individual was principal. School superintendents are currently required to hold a valid administrator’s license from the state and have at least four years of classroom or administrative experience.

Senate Bill 2413 removes a provision in the law allowing school districts to hire relatives of the district’s superintendents and principals.

House Bill 509 also would require the Department of Public Safety to develop a high school course teaching students how to respond when stopped by law enforcement. The bill was double-referred to Senate education and appropriations committees.