Federal Judge Overturns HB 1523

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves blocked House Bill 1523 from going into effect following the state legislature’s passage during the 2016 Legislative Session. Under the bill, businesses would have been allowed to deny services based on sincerely held religious beliefs without facing reciprocity from the state. Individuals would still be able to bring suit against such businesses but the state would remain neutral.

Judge Reeves’ injunction asserts that the law violates the U.S. Constitution in two places:

  1. The First Amendment by “establish[ing] an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others,” and
  2. The Fourteenth Amendment by explicitly favoring “anti-LGBTG religious beliefs” and providing adherents to those beliefs a special right to discriminate that is not available to others.

Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood believes the federal court ruling was clear and does not expect to appeal. No other officials’ comments were available.

This is not the first time Judge Reeves has ruled on religious freedom issues. In July 2015, he issued a court order to prevent Rankin County School District (RCSD) from including any religious activities at school sponsored events. After receiving a $7,500 fine after failing to satisfactorily comply with the court order, the RCSD prevented the Brandon High School Band from playing “How Great Thou Art” during a halftime show fearing that such an act would violate the court order and subject the district to additional fines.

Although born in Texas, Reeves grew up in Yazoo City and was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi by President Obama in 2010.

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McDaniel undecided in 2015

In the Clarion-Ledger report “McDaniel ‘would prefer federal position’” by Geoff Pender, Sen. Chris McDaniel hinted at a possible 2016 run for the 4th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Steven Palazzo. In the interview, McDaniel indicated that he will seek re-election for the District 42 state Senate seat that he currently fills. Officially, McDaniel has only stated that he will not run for Governor.

In lieu of an official announcement, some indications have pointed to a possible run for Mississippi Lieutenant Governor. McDaniel has openly objected to Lt. Gen. Tate Reeves’ control over the state Senate as stripping control from the people.

As a Tea Party favorite, McDaniel garnered national attention during the 2014 election campaign in which he pushed Sen. Thad Cochran to a run-off in the Republican Primary.

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Cochran declared winner of runoff

The Associated Press declared Sen. Thad Cochran the victor in Mississippi’s heated Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate.  With 99.9% of precincts reporting, Cochran led with 50.8% of the vote and just over 6,000 more votes than Chris McDaniel.  The June 24th runoff was truly remarkable with more than 60,000 votes being cast than in the June 3rd Primary (in an off-year election, no less).

CNN reported, “Cochran’s backers turned to Democrats, especially African-Americans, who make up 37% of the state’s population.”  Breitbart added, “[A]allegations flew that Cochran allies were using ‘walking around money’ to incentivize Democrats to the polls.  Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole, for instance, said Cochran operatives were paying people in the black community to donate to Cochran.”  Such reports may inspire a McDaniel challenge since anyone who voted in the June 3rd Democrat Primary are ineligible to vote in the Republican runoff in accordance with state law (Mississippi Code § 23-15-575).

In accordance with Mississippi Code § 23-15-599, the Republican Party must certify the primary election vote by July 4th (within 10 Days of the election).

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Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Jackson approve pro-LGBT measures

Mississippi’s capital and largest city has joined 7 other cities in Mississippi to affirm equality and contributions of the LGBT community.  In a 3-1 vote, the city council passed the resolution that has been an objective of the Human Rights Campaign’s statewide initiative.

Jackson’s resolution follows Bay St. Louis and Waveland which adopted “diversity resolutions” in May. Starkville, Hattiesburg, Greenville, Magnolia, and Oxford are the other cities that have taken similar actions.

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AP News : Miss. lawmakers enter final days of budget writing

The Mississippi legislature plans to finalize the state budget before the end of the session in early April.  The 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee added $150 million to the fiscal 2014 budget (which ends June 30th) and $98 million to 2015 for a total budget of $5.4 billion.

Saturday, March 29th is the deadline for final versions of all proposed spending in the 2015 fiscal year.  Remaining significant issues include the following:

  • Teacher pay raise
  • Training school for Highway Patrol troopers, strike force teams, and the state Crime Lab
  • Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP)

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