statelegislature

‘This is a complete attack:’ At least 31 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced this session in Mississippi

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‘This is a complete attack:’ At least 31 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced this session in Mississippi

Lawmakers have introduced 31 bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ+ in education and health care as the first deadline to pass bills out of committee approaches.

It is likely the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in any state so far this year, say and LGBTQ+ advocates in Mississippi. Second to Mississippi is Missouri, where lawmakers have introduced 29 bills, according to a tracker from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Just eight bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community were introduced last year in Mississippi, according to advocates.

“I don’t know about anybody else, but my head is kind of spinning from all of this,” said Rob Hill, the director of the Human Rights Campaign Mississippi. “I’ve never seen anything like this from the years that I’ve been working in Mississippi. I get it if anybody else is overwhelmed by this, because I certainly am.”

Hill spoke during a call on Monday held by advocates – including the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, and the Trans Program.

The explosion of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, advocates said, is in part tied to this year’s election in Mississippi. The state’s trans community – the explicit target of many of these bills – is small. Last year, the Williams Institute, a research institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, estimated there are just 9,600 trans adults in Mississippi and 2,400 trans youth, a fraction of the nearly 3 million people who live in the state.

The bills range in scope and severity. Two House bills would prevent gender-confirmation surgery from being performed on anyone under the age of 21 in Mississippi; two more Senate bills would make this kind of surgery a form of child abuse. Another replicates Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Act.

Many of the bills that advocates are tracking are duplicates, and most won’t make it out of committee. But research by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ youth, has shown that bills don’t have to pass in order to have a harmful affect on the community’s mental health.

The bill with the fastest legs – House Bill 1125, also known as the “Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures Act,” or REAP – passed out of the House on Jan. 19. Authored by Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, it would prohibit Mississippi doctors from performing gender-affirming surgery or writing prescriptions for hormone replacement therapy or puberty blockers to minors.

Families could not be reimbursed by insurers or for these procedures. Any doctor that violated the law would lose their license and tort claim protections and could be sued under a “civil claim of action” for 30 years.

On the call, McKenna Raney-Gray, staff attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ Justice Project, noted the bill is based on misconceptions about trans health care. Gender-affirming care is not “experimental,” she said, but is endorsed by major medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association.

“The terminology that they’re using in the names of the acts is incredibly inaccurate and mischaracterizing everything about gender-affirming care,” Raney-Gray said.

Mississippians under 18 aren’t getting gender-confirmation surgery in the state. On the floor, Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, said he doesn’t know of any Mississippi children who’ve received it. The had 47 “visits” regarding gender affirming care between 2017 and 2022, but Bain said he is unsure if any of those patients were minors.

Trans youth in Mississippi – namely 16- and 17-year-olds – are receiving hormone replacement therapy, though advocates suspect this is likely not happening at high rates. While this form of treatment has been shown to improve mental health and reduce suicidality, it can be difficult for trans youth to obtain if they lack family support, the financial means, or access to supportive doctors.

“It breaks my heart y’all, because it’s nowhere near accurate,” said Jensen Luke Matar, the director of the nonprofit Trans Program. “It’s fluffed up in a way to make it seem like they’re working hard to protect our children, and it’s the exact opposite.”

Across the country, research has shown that anti-LGBTQ legislation is linked to more Internet searches about suicide and depression.

In Texas, after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered child welfare officials to investigate reports of children receiving gender-affirming care as child abuse, a 16-year-old transgender boy attempted suicide. After his family sought treatment, they were investigated for child abuse, according to a .

Last week, HB 1125 was assigned to a Senate committee. On the call, advocates speculated the reason for its speedy movement in the Senate is that the lieutenant governor, Delbert Hosemann, faces a challenge from the right this year in Sen. Chris McDaniel.

“It’s just chess,” Matar said. “They’re playing chess, and they’re using the most vulnerable population as their pawns.”

“This is a complete attack,” he added.

Raney-Gray said that many of the introduced bills in Mississippi are identical to bills filed across the country in the last year. HB 1125 is similar to legislation in Alabama and Arkansas, but she said it comes with a significant edit.

While the version of the REAP Act that passed in Alabama and Arkansas made it a for doctors to provide gender-affirming care, Mississippi’s bill only imposes civil penalities.

Raney-Gray said the changes to Mississippi’s seem designed so that the REAP Act holds up in Mississippi’s courts, while the bills in Alabama and Arkansas have been blocked by the courts.

Anti-LGBTQ+ bills identified by advocates:

HB 576: Gender reassignment surgery or services; prohibit performing or paying for.

HB 1124: Gender reassignment surgery or services; prohibit performing or paying for.

HB 1258: Gender Transition Procedures; prohibit for persons under age twenty-one.

HB 1126: Transgender procedures; restrict for persons under age 21.

SB 2760: Mississippi Help Not Harm Act; enact.

HB 1127: MS Safe Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE); create to prohibit providing gender transition procedures to minors.

HB 1125: Regulate Experimental Adolescent Procedures (REAP) Act; create to regulate transgender procedures and surgeries.

SB 2770: Gender reassignment surgery; criminalize performance of upon minors.

SB 2861: Insurance; prohibit mandates for gender reassignment surgery or services.

SB 2864: State funded health plans and Medicaid; prohibit payment of gender reassignment surgery or services

HB 456: Child abuse; revise definition to include gender reassignment.

SB 2883: Child sex abuse; include chemical or physical sterilization of child within definition of.

HB 509:”Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023″; enact.

HB 1476: “Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023”; enact.

HB 1478: Parental rights; establish fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.

SB 2763: Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act; enact.

HB 1489: “Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2023”; enact.

HB 1479: Parental rights; establish fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children.

HB 1480: “Parents’ Bill of Rights Act of 2023”; enact.

SB 2761: Parents’ Bill of Rights; enact.

SB 2765: Mississippi Families’ Rights And Responsibilities Act

HB 1074: The Title IX Preservation Act; enact.

SB 2820: “Transparency in Education Act”; prohibit certain curriculum in without parental consent

SB 2773: The Defense of Title IX Act; enact.

HB 1144: Title IX Preservation Act; create.

SB 2076: Title IX Preservation Act; enact

HB 1367: The Academic Transparency Act of 2023; enact.

HB 1045: Libraries; regulate the material that is curated for children and younger teens.

SB 2141: Distribution of obscene materials; delete exemption for public school libraries.

SB 2764: Parental rights in education; prohibit instruction regarding sexual orientation or gender identity in K-12

SB 2058: School counselors; delete requirement of counselors to abide by the American School Counselor Association Code of Ethics.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Ethics Commission’s final order: Law does not require Legislature to meet in public

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Ethics Commission’s final order: Law does not require Legislature to meet in public

Members of the Mississippi Ethics Commission by a 5-3 vote Wednesday reiterated their belief that the , which appropriates more than $20 billion annually in state and federal funds, is not bound by the open meetings law.

In reaching the conclusion, the majority said the Ethics Commission, a state agency, could not rely on guidance from the Mississippi Constitution.

The constitution states in Section 58 “the doors of each house in session or in committee of the whole, shall be kept open.”

Five members of the Ethics Commission said they were required by law to rule only on issues related to the state’s open meetings law and the law, they claimed, does not include the Legislature as a public body.

Wednesday’s meeting was the third one this month where the commission grappled with the issue. The order adopted Wednesday saying the Legislature is not a public body as defined by the open meetings law was a final order.

The issue arose from a complaint filed by the Mississippi Free Press saying House Speaker Philip Gunn was violating the open meetings law when the Republican Caucus, which includes 75 members of the 122-member House, meets routinely behind closed doors. The constitution mandates that a majority of either the House or Senate is a quorum or enough members to conduct business.

Mississippi Today has documented, based on multiple accounts, that the House Republican Caucus often discusses policy issues and legislation during the closed-door meetings. When other public bodies have met behind closed doors to discuss policy issues, it has been deemed to be a violation of the open meetings law by the courts.

The Free Press and Mississippi Center of Justice said Wednesday it would appeal the Ethics Commission ruling.

“Although the (state) Constitution requires the Legislature to keep its doors open when in session, the Open Meetings Act is even more comprehensive and would require that other meetings of legislators, like the Republican Caucus, be open to the public when they constitute a quorum and are discussing public business,” said Rob McDuff, a Center for Justice lawyer. “We are appealing because we believe the Ethics Commission got it wrong, but the Legislature could easily fix this by requiring itself to live up to the standards it requires of other public bodies.”

Commissioner Maxwell Luter of Tylertown offered a proposal that said while the commission does not have the authority to rule on constitutional issues, it could not ignore what the state constitution said. For that reason, he said, the commission should not rule and leave it to the courts to make a final decision.

Luter said the public perception of the Ethics Commission was at stake. He said it “is very important to know we (Ethics Commission members) make just decisions.”

Commissioner Ron Crowe of Brandon, the former executive director of the Ethics Commission, also opposed the finding that the Legislature is not a public body. He said the issue is “eerily” similar to an issue that arose with the state constitution’s conflict of interest provision. In the 1980s the commission interpreted the provision as prohibiting certain people, such as public school teachers, from serving in the Legislature.

Instead, of making that ruling, Crowe said the commission opted to allow the Legislature to address it. Ultimately, the courts sided with the Ethics Commission.

Commissioner Robert Waites of Brandon, a former House attorney in the 1980s, also opposed the finding that the Legislature is not a public body under the open meetings law.

The five commissioners who passed the motion saying the Legislature is not a public body are long-time Chairman Ben Stone of , Vice Chair Sean Milner of Clinton, Stephen Burrow of , Erin Lane of Ridgeland and Samuel of Madison.

Most of the five said they believe the Legislature should be a public body, but that the open meetings law is ambiguous on whether it applied to the Legislature. And if the law is ambiguous, then they had no choice but to rule that the Legislature is not covered.

But Milner said, “I don’t believe it is ambiguous. I think the law is clear (that it does not apply to the Legislature) once we apply proper interpretation.”

The law says most legislative committees are bound by open meetings requirements, but does not specifically list the Legislature among those public bodies that are included. McDuff, the Center for Justice attorney, pointed out the law says the open meetings mandate also applies “to any other policymaking entity.” Since the Legislature is the state’s primary “policymaking entity,” the law, of course would apply to lawmakers, McDuff said.

But a majority of the commission said the phrase “policymaking entity” referred to various executive boards, not the Legislature.

Under the nation’s and state’s system of checks and balances, legislators, including the Mississippi Legislature, generally make laws or policy and the executive agencies carry out those policies and laws.

The Ethics Commissioner members are appointed by the governor, speaker, lieutenant governor, and chief justice of the Supreme Court.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Ethics Commission says Legislature not subject to open meetings law

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Ethics Commission says Legislature not subject to open meetings law

The eight-member Mississippi Ethics Commission voted 5-3 Friday that the is not bound by the state’s open meetings law.

The Mississippi Constitution states that “the doors of each house, when in session, or in the committee of the whole, shall be kept open, except in cases which may require secrecy.” The Constitution also says a majority of the House or Senate is a quorum.

The ruling came in a complaint filed by the Mississippi Free Press saying that the House Republican caucus members, which currently consist of 75 of the 122 members, are violating the open meetings law when they meet behind closed doors to discuss policy.

Mississippi Today detailed the activities of the closed door meetings in a story earlier this year during the 2022 session. The story cited reports of various House members and detailed how the caucus meetings were usually the first place rank-and-file House Republicans were informed of details of major policies developed by Speaker Philip Gunn and a handful of other House leaders. And in those meetings, discussions often were held on whether members supported those proposals of the leadership. Caucus members who had questions were urged to speak privately with the relevant committee chairmen — Gunn appointees who are the speaker’s closest allies.

The Senate opted not to have a similar caucus because members expressed concern that it would violate the open meetings law.

Tom Hood, executive director of the Ethics Commission, recommended to the panel that the Legislature did fall under the open meetings law. The commission rejected the findings of its executive director and is to meet in the coming weeks to finalize its opinion on the issue.

The Hood opinion in part read, “It is essential to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government and to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business undertaken by a quorum of the House of Representatives be performed in an open and public manner. The formation and determination of public policy by a quorum of the House is public business and must be conducted at open meetings.”

Hood had recommended that the commission schedule a hearing to determine whether the House Republican Caucus did in fact meet in private with more than a majority of the House in present to discuss legislative issues. If so, he argued that would be in violation of the opening meetings law. The commission rejected his reasoning.

Gunn and members of the House leadership argued that a party caucus was not a governmental body that would be covered by the open meetings law.

The Hood opinion did not broach the issue of the constitutional provision that seems to mandate the Legislature meet in public. The Ethics Commission is charged in state law with ruling on issues regarding the state’s public records and public meetings laws, but not constitutional matters.

The Ethics Commission is comprised of appointees of the governor, Supreme Court chief justice, speaker and lieutenant governor.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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