Tubby Timmy just one topic on Legislature’s menu

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 10, 2010

Timmy too tubby?

Fear not, state Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, wants Mississippi to ride to the rescue.

Under one of her bills, Rep. Scott would direct public school personnel to tally and log the body mass index of every student. That information would be provided to parents who, under another Scott bill, could request that if Timmy’s too tubby he would only be fed low-fat breakfasts, lunches and snacks by cafeteria personnel.

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The purpose here is not to understate the significance of childhood obesity, which is too common in the state and can lead to serious health problems. The purpose is not to launch a discussion of adding “food police” to the tasks and titles of teachers. The purpose is to set the stage to mention a few of the bills now officially pending in Jackson. Most will not survive the first committee deadlines, but they do illustrate the diversity of philosophy among lawmakers. And there are some novel ideas, too.

Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail.

Thanks to the Internet, anyone anywhere in Mississippi can read proposed laws and track them through the session. The Web site is http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/.

Speaking of a philosophy gap, Rep. Scott believes the Legislature is not doing enough to help people manage their lives, Rep. Henry Zuber, R-Jackson, thinks there’s entirely too much lawmaking going on. He wants to amend the Constitution to have regular sessions every other year instead of annually.

When the session opened Tuesday, there were already 338 House bills and 27 Senate bills filed. That’s far too many to describe, so let’s sort a few into categories.

Let’s call the first one, “Oops.”

People talk about “attempted murder” all the time, but in Mississippi there’s no law that uses those exact words. Try to kill somebody and the charge might be aggravated assault or conspiracy or something, but not “attempted murder.” House Bill 273 would change that.

There are no standards or oversight for public pools in Mississippi. House Bill 178 would require a permit application to the state Department of Health.

There’s also no such crime as “child endangerment.” House Bill 201 would offer a definition and, upon conviction, appropriate punishment.

“Good government” bills are the essence of another category. They call on state and local agencies and governments to provide more information. A proposed Open Lawyer Fees Act is one. Another would require water associations and sewer, garbage and fire protection districts to publish their budgets. Another would add penalties for violating the existing Open Meetings Act.

A third category could be “ulterior motive” bills.

For example, passing a law saying only board-certified obstetricians may perform abortions has a patient safety aspect. But because board certification is a step beyond basic medical licensure for an obstetrician, the effect would be to limit abortion availability.

House Bill 329 would abolish tenure for faculty at all public universities. It appears somebody thinks there’s a professor who shouldn’t have job protection.

There are some, “well, that makes sense” bills.

One would do away with political parties in elections for county offices. What difference does it make if a sheriff is a Republican? What difference does it make if a chancery clerk is a Democrat?

Municipal and justice courts in Mississippi are not “courts of record.” Verdicts are written down, but not testimony. Domestic violence cases are often heard, at least initially, in municipal or justice courts. House Bill 336 provides that domestic violence cases be recorded, no matter what court hears them.

There are several “good will” bills. Lawmakers search for ways to honor the military. One proposal, among many for veterans and  their families, is to waive university tuition for the child of any soldier who dies in national service.

And there are the “repeat offenders,” bills filed annually.

One would allow residents of any proposed municipal annexation area to vote on the matter. Another would forbid opening school before Labor Day. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue-Chitto, is back with his proposal to add more women’s restrooms to state-owned buildings. And the perennial bill to allow sheriff’s departments to use radar speed controls? It’s back, too.

As everyone knows, the big kahuna in Jackson is how (or whether) the Legislature will come to grips with declining state revenue. Income has not met projections in 16 months and less operating cash is expected in the months and years ahead.

Money isn’t the term’s only topic, though. These days, with little effort, people can read up and chime in, if they want to. Want even better news? Distinct from their cousins in Washington, Mississippi legislators still draft fairly straightforward bills — each two or three pages long.

Technology has given people a voice. Use it.