‘Back the badge’ bill heads to governor

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After a few rounds of question-and-answer, the House sent three bills to Gov. Phil Bryant Thursday morning.

The Back the Badge Act, the Legislature’s answer to so-called Blue Lives Matter legislation enacted in other states, was approved after House members agreed to changes made in the Senate.

Originally, two versions existed, including one that would have imposed stiffer penalties for certain crimes of violence against law-enforcement officials, firefighters, emergency management personnel and other first responders. One version, which ultimately died, would have made these offenses hate crimes.

Ultimately, the negotiated bill doubles the penalty for any crime against first responders, including nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors. The bill also was amended to clarify that the bill does not diminish individuals’ rights to free speech or peaceful assembly, supporters said before the House voted 94-18 to send the bill to the governor.

Despite being watered down, in part because of lobbying by the hospital industry, a bill that would allow University of Mississippi Medical Center to cut deals with private hospitals drew spirited debate.

House Bill 926 would relax restrictions on how the University of Mississippi Medical Center strikes partnerships and buys equipment.

Mississippi House

Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando

Rep. Robert Foster, R-Love, spoke against the bill, saying it would have long-term consequences that would be hard to reverse.

“To me, it opens the door down the road for socialized medicine in Mississippi, for one-provider health care. I think everybody needs to be very wary of that,” Foster said.

“Every nation that’s ever gone down that road it has not turned out well for their country,” he added. “We need to be very careful of our government intruding into the private sector, especially one as important as health care.”

Supporters of the legislation said that it would enable the state’s only teaching hospital and one of the state’s largest employers to attract medical professionals to the state.

“They’re asking for a chance to compete,” said Rep. Jason White, R-West.

White noted that UMMC’s workforce of 10,000 generates $9 billion in economic impact for Mississippi.  The bill passed 93-17.

The House voted to send several other bills to the governor, but procedural holds will delay the legislation from moving forward immediately.

In other action, the House sent several bills to a joint negotiating committee with the Senate. They included a bill that would give the governor control of 26 occupational boards and commissions and one that would require governments to allow vendors to submit electronic bids.

The House adjourned until Monday afternoon.