Mississippi residents may need to buckle up for the next several months. The questions pending before the Mississippi Legislature may be among the most influential in recent history.
Medical marijuana legalization, the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on unexpected federal funds, and a major restructuring of the state’s tax law are just a few of the issues lawmakers could consider in the 2022 session, or perhaps a special session in 2021. It may be appropriate for Legislature and Governor Tate Reeves to have some of these issues in a special session to ease the crowded agenda of the regular sessions.
Presumably, the legislature’s leaders are still working behind the scenes to reach an agreement on proposals to legalize medical marijuana and reinstate the voting process.
If that deal can be reached, Reeves has announced that a special meeting will be called to look at medical marijuana and the election initiative.
But reaching such an agreement may prove to be more difficult than at first sight. While most state politicians could agree to legalize medical marijuana and resume the initiative process – both of which were recently rejected in a landmark Mississippi Supreme Court ruling – the devil could be in the details.
For example, who can get medical marijuana and how much they can get are examples of issues that could block a medical marijuana agreement. Or should Mississippians be allowed to collect signatures under the initiative process just to change general law or the state constitution, or both?
Many would like the two topics to be dealt with in a special session as both have the potential to consume a lot of time and oxygen during the regular 2022 session.
Politically, the legislature will come under pressure to agree to both issues. They don’t want to be accused of ignoring the will of voters regarding medical marijuana or restoring citizens’ right to put issues on the ballot.
In other words, unless that agreement is reached in a special session, both issues are expected to be prioritized during a busy 2022 legislative session.
In a regular session, medical marijuana and the initiative process will compete with a few other important topics.
For starters, in the 2022 session beginning January 2022, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves will battle it out to pass competing tax restructuring plans. Reeves plans to pronounce general income tax, which accounts for about a third of the state’s general fund revenue. Reeves’ Republican compatriot Gunn plans to phase out income tax, cut 7% sales tax on groceries in half and increase sales tax on most other retail items by 2.5 cents.
Both plans would mean a dramatic change in government tax policy. Reeves’ plan could also have a dramatic impact on the state’s fiscal policy.
Legislators must move the four seats in the US House of Representatives at the beginning of the 2022 session to accommodate the population shifts identified in the 2020 census. Legislators need to move quickly with the redistribution of Congress as the deadline to qualify for running for Congress is March 1, later in 2022.
In addition, it is likely that legislators will redefine their own districts later in the 2022 session – always a flammable process that often leads to bitter divisions and struggles.
Then there is the farsighted question of expanding Medicaid to include federal law allowing health insurance for up to 300,000 Mississippi residents – especially the working poor who don’t earn enough to get private health insurance. Both Reeves and Gunn say they oppose Medicaid’s expansion, but Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who chairs the Senate, has said the issue should be investigated.
The expansion of Medicaid would be a critical achievement in any legislative period, for better or for worse.
Oh yes, lawmakers in the 2022 session must also begin deciding how to spend $ 1.8 billion on U.S. federal bailout plans coming into the state. Federal officials are giving the state significant leeway in using the funds from the American bailout plan. This flexibility could lead to significant arguments and deals during the 2022 session.
The bottom line is that under no circumstances will 2022 be an ordinary, everyday meeting. Any problem that could be resolved earlier – say, at a special meeting – would likely help make the regular meeting run more smoothly.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Senior Capitol Reporter for Mississippi Today and was a longtime Capitol reporter for the Daily Journal. Readers can contact him at (601) 946-9931 or [email protected].