Make no mistake, lawmakers have been busy

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

If Mississippi lawmakers do craft a budget and adjourn, a legitimate question is whether the governor will have enough ink left in his official pen to sign the appropriations into law?

Yes, I know. People always wag about how much sessions cost and how little gets done, but a portion of the official Web site of the Mississippi Legislature ( tells a different story. It contains an item-by-item list and full text of every measure passed during this year’s marathon regular session. There have been hundreds, each drawing fluid from the gubernatorial pen.

What weighty matters have already been resolved?

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• Youths at least 16 may donate blood with parental permission.

• Folks with gun permits can renew them by mail instead of making a personal appearance.

• The state beaver control program henceforth will be administered by counties with beaver problems.

• People who process and sell less than 500 gallons of honey a year don’t have to have their product inspected.

What hard decisions have been made?

• Where it hasn’t been illegal to show a fake ID to buy whisky or beer (the seller could be punished, but not the buyer), flashing someone else’s license or a do-it-yourself document becomes a crime on July 1.

• In another cleanup-type measure, a person convicted of capital murder where the accompanying violent felony was rape will have to enroll as a sex offender. Previously, there was no requirement to register unless the rape victim lived.

• Penalties are also higher for people who alter their gas, water or electric meters to give false low readings. (Maybe this one is to keep up with rising utility bills — heading off the chance paying the fine for rigging a meter, if caught, would still be cheaper than paying the actual bill.)

Any innovations? Well, yes.

• Cities and counties can create “entertainment districts” and levy special taxes on tickets to events therein. Other than the revenue aspect, it’s not clear why this bill was needed — but it sounds like fun.

• Supervisors, if they wish, can now provide their county coroners a vehicle. If so, said vehicles may have “standard” emergency lights, not the deluxe (expensive) variety.

• Circuit clerks have had the option of staying open until noon on the last Saturday before voter registration deadlines. In the future, that will not be an option. It will be required.

Any bills deserving extensive debate and compromise? Just one was subject to lengthy debate, and the give-and-take resulted in a law that almost requires tanning parlors to hire an attorney to work at the reception desk. Deciphered, the law says:

• No tanning for those under 14 without written permission and a parent present for the whole session; tanning for 14- to 17-year-olds only with written parental permission which must be renewed annually.

What about the medical field? Yes.

• Acupuncturists may practice in Mississippi after July 1, but only on patients referred by a licensed physician.

• People not authorized to sell artificial body parts face arrest if they do.

A couple of breaks for the little people.

• The last week in July, the 7 percent sales tax will not apply to clothing items and shoes costing less than $100 per item. The back-to-school tax break, however, specifically excludes bookbags. (That industry’s lobbyist must have taken a long lunch break.)

• Professional farmers and loggers will soon get a partial sales tax exemption on tractors, saws, repairs and other supplies.

Literally hundreds of measures have been sent to and signed by the governor this year, most of them, as usual, are commendations, resolutions and proclamations. (May 12 was World Kidney Day, in case you missed it.) And various task forces and study teams have been commissioned. One will study the Delta some more. Another will study “children and family issues.”

What has been unusual this year is the budget uncertainty, brought about by the national recession and, frankly, by years of Mississippi lawmakers declining to make really hard decisions on how to fund Medicaid and such.

So at this point it’s really like shooting fish in a barrel to sit back and carp (sorry) about how long everything has dragged on with so little of substance resolved.

It’s not all their fault, in other words. Much of the delay is due to circumstances well beyond the control of rank and file lawmakers.

They have been busy.

The list of actions taken may not be overwhelming, but it is lengthy.