The state Capitol illuminated by lightning as thunderstorms moved through the Metro area. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Mississippians might need to buckle up for the next several months. The issues pending before the Mississippi Legislature could be some of the most impactful in recent history.

Legalizing medical marijuana, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in unexpected federal funds and a major restructuring of the state’s tax law are just some of the issues that the Legislature could consider in the 2022 session or perhaps a 2021 special session. It might behoove legislators and Gov. Tate Reeves to consider some of those issues in special session to ease a crowded regular session agenda.

Presumably, legislative leaders are still working behind the scenes in an attempt to reach agreement on proposals to legalize medical marijuana and to reinstate the ballot initiative process.

If that agreement can be reached, Reeves has indicated he would call a special session to address medical marijuana and the ballot initiative.

But reaching that agreement could prove more difficult than on first blush. While most of the state’s political leadership might agree that they want to legalize medical marijuana and reinstate the initiative process — both of which were struck down in a recent landmark Mississippi Supreme Court decision — the devil might be in the details.

For instance, who can obtain medical marijuana and how much can they obtain are examples of issues that could bog down an agreement on medical marijuana. Or, should Mississippians be allowed to gather signatures through the initiative process just to amend general law or the state Constitution or both?

Many want the two issues addressed during a special session because both have the potential of taking up a lot of time and oxygen during the 2022 regular session.

Politically, legislators will face pressure to approve both issues. They do not want to be accused of ignoring the will of the voters on medical marijuana or restoring the right of citizens to place issues on the ballot.

In other words, if that agreement is not reached in a special session, both issues are expected to be priorities during a busy 2022 legislative session.

In a regular session, medical marijuana and the initiative process will be competing with some other major issues.

First off, in the 2022 session that begins in January, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves will be vying to pass competing tax restructuring plans. Reeves wants to phrase out the general income tax, which accounts for about one-third of the state’s general fund revenue. Reeves’ fellow Republican, Gunn, wants to phase out the income tax, cut in half the 7% sales tax on groceries and raise by 2.5 cents the sales tax on most other retail items.

Either plan would represent a dramatic change in state taxing policy. Reeves’ plan also could dramatically impact the state’s budgetary policy.

But there is more.

The Legislature will have to redraw the four U.S. House seats early in the 2022 session to match population shifts found by the 2020 Census. The Legislature will have to move quickly on congressional redistricting because the deadline to qualify to run for Congress later in 2022 is March 1.

In addition, it is likely that legislators will redraw their own districts later in the 2022 session — always a combustible process that often leads to bitter division and fights.

Then there is the long-shot issue of expanding Medicaid as is allowed under federal law to provide health care coverage to up to 300,000 Mississippians — primarily the working poor who do not earn enough to obtain private health insurance. Both Reeves and Gunn say they oppose expanding Medicaid, but Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, has said that the issue should be studied.

Expanding Medicaid would be a defining accomplishment — for better or worse — in any legislative session.

Oh yeah, legislators in the 2022 session also will have to begin the task of deciding how to spend $1.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plans funds coming to the state. Federal officials are giving the state considerable latitude in how to spend the American Rescue Plan funds. That flexibility could lead to considerable wrangling and deal making during the 2022 session.

The bottom line is that under any circumstances, 2022 will not be an ordinary, mundane session. Any issue that could be resolved earlier — say in special session — probably would help make for a smoother regular session.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.