The ACLU of Mississippi remains your Capitol’s watchdog and this year we knew we would need all hands on deck. Our legislative strategy sent all of the advocacy staff to the Capitol to lobby legislators using their specific expertise. With a robust legislative agenda, this year’s session was yet another challenge to the rights of individuals in Mississippi. Having the support of the full team made a huge difference.
Our team of advocates took to the State Capitol, promoting nine bills that endorsed freedom, transparency, and equal opportunity and access, and fought back against bills that threaten the rights of people across the state.
Look below for the bills that survived the 2018 session!
Improved Policing and Criminal Justice Reform
Leading our legislative package was the Body Cams Bill, SB 2283. While not mandating purchase or use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement agencies, this bill would have established standard policies for agencies’ use across the state. The legislative initiative was supported by the only statewide analysis of BWC policies that we released at the start of the session. “Striking the Balance: An Analysis of Body-worn Camera Policies in Mississippi” found key gaps in policies across the state and provided recommendations regarding BWC use. Read more about this bill and the report on page 5.
Our team vigorously fought back against SB 2868 – the Anti-Gang Bill – alongside partners, such as the Mississippi NAACP, the state’s public defender’s office, Families As Allies, and others. We were especially concerned about the bill’s overbroad definition of gangs and vague language and the potential harmful effects for juveniles, specifically minority children. SB 2868 would have increased the incarceration rate and costs for the state and diminished the progress of 2014’s HB 585 that has resulted in our prison population decrease. We effectively killed the bill in the Youth and Family Affairs committee.
An amendment to SB 2197 would have also authorized the establishment of mental health courts throughout the state but it did not pass. These courts would reduce counterproductive over-reliance on incarceration to handle mental health patients. We supported this bill and will continue to support other bills that address underlying issues of crime, better serve public safety, and reduce counterproductive over-reliance on incarceration for mental health patients.
Equal Opportunities for Educators and Students
Education has been at the forefront of state politics this session, including a major re-write to the controversial MAEP funding formula, the introduction of school vouchers, and a robust debate on school choice. The ACLU of MS stood in solidarity with the education equity coalition, “A Seat at the Table,” to actively oppose HB 957 and demand transparency in the rewrite of the education funding formula and equitable funding for all Mississippi school districts. The new funding formula bill was effectively killed in the Senate.
We also sought equity for educators with our proposed HB 753. This amendment would change the qualifications of superintendents to support equal opportunities for educators in low-resourced districts, who are predominantly African American. The current law prevents 98% of African American superintendents from seeking employment in other districts based on their current school accountability rating. Our efforts to amend the law to protect educators from stunted career growth died in committee, but we will continue to fight for equity in education for students and educators alike.
Increasing Access to the Polls
Common-sense voting reforms, including early voting and online voter registration, were also major components of our legislative package. A progressive push to modernize voting systems in the state gained bi-partisan support; however, the bill died in committee. We also supported a bill to study the current disenfranchisement laws that died in the Senate. Mississippi ranks second worst in the nation at disenfranchising its citizens. Our goal moving forward is to mobilize Mississippians to advocate for these measures by directly engaging lawmakers and local elected officials statewide. Modernizing Mississippi’s voting system will not only improve access and increase efficiency, but will also help to improve civic engagement and decrease barriers to the polls.
We aggressively lobbied to protect citizens from housing discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, but were met with push back from legislators and HB 597 was subsequently killed in committee. We also lobbied for SB 2489, which protected state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This bill also died in committee but our fervor for protecting LGBTQ rights has not. We will continue to stand in the gap for Mississippians who face discrimination and are not protected by state laws.