By Erik R. Fleming, Director of Advocacy and Policy

The challenging 2016 Mississippi Legislative session has come to a close. Of utmost concern is the enactment of HB 1523 - the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” - which supposedly provides protections to anyone that holds certain religious beliefs or moral convictions against same-sex marriages, children of same sex couples, and single parents. In truth, this act allows people to use religion to discriminate against citizens of this state. By codifying certain beliefs and offering legal immunity, it abuses the concept of religious freedom and appears to be a direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ACLU of Mississippi will continue to challenge this law until it is repealed.

Women’s reproductive rights suffered setbacks as well. HB 519 - the “Mississippi Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act” - sets the stage for abortions to halt altogether in the state. Under this act, a doctor can be criminally charged and an injunction can be placed on the facility where the procedure took place. Since Mississippi has only one abortion clinic operating, a single charge could shut that clinic down indefinitely. In addition to HB 519, SB 2238 prohibits the state Division of Medicaid from reimbursing Planned Parenthood for family planning services.

SB 2237 cloaks matters related to execution in secrecy and prevents governmental transparency. The ACLU of Mississippi fought hard to defeat the bill. We forced the removal of language which would have allowed the use of firing squads as an alternative to lethal injections.

In partnership with the Mississippi Municipal League and the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance, we stopped SB 2306. This bill would have prohibited Mississippi municipalities from declaring themselves “Sanctuary Cities,” adversely impacting undocumented immigrants.

Our partnership with the Mississippi Center of Public Policy led to the creation of a task force via HB 1410. The task force will potentially lead to reforms in our state’s Civil Asset Forfeiture laws and policies.

Our previous task force work with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office led to the passage of HB 809, which will allow existing voters to update their information online. This is an important first step toward online voter registration, which we will advocate for passage next legislative session.

As we continue to assess the total impact of the 2016 Session, we are making preparations for the 2017 session. We will continue to build positive relationships with legislators, as well as engage our members and the community at-large, in order to enhance our commitment toward criminal justice reform, guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression, and extending equality for all Mississippians.