By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi is enacting new laws Monday to restructure some public school offerings, to more closely regulate abortion-inducing drugs and to let private companies take over collection of overdue child-support payments.
However, one law that’s gotten lots of attention the past few weeks has been put on hold. Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd issued an injunction Friday to block a law that would let people openly carry guns in many public places. Kidd is scheduled to hear more arguments July 8 about whether to extend his injunction.
The chief sponsor of the gun law, Republican Rep. Andy Gipson of Braxton, said it simply restates a right guaranteed in Section 12 of the Mississippi Constitution. He said some people mistakenly believed they couldn’t carry a visible gun without a permit. A state-issued permit is still needed to carry a concealed weapon, and lawmakers this year said information about concealed-carry permit holders is no longer a matter of public record.
Some law officers worry that with the attention the open-carry law has gotten in recent weeks, people will become trigger-happy. Democratic Sen. John Horhn, of Jackson, called it “poorly thought-out legislation” that should be repealed and said it wasn’t explained thoroughly enough. The measure, House Bill 2, passed the House 111-8 and the Senate 51-0.
“This is one of the things we have done that we should not have done,” Horhn said.
Bennie Buckner, a Hinds County constable, said he’s concerned that more people will start to carry guns, even if they’re not trained in how to handle them. He said, for example, that a customer at a fast-food restaurant could carelessly pull a gun out of a pocket or waistband and accidentally shoot a small child or a grandmother.
“We’re concerned with the children and the innocents,” Buckner said.
Gipson said people have overreacted: “If they’ve got a problem with House Bill 2, they can take it up with the constitution.”
Attorney General Jim Hood issued a nonbinding legal opinion on June 13 saying guns remain illegal in schools and on college campuses and can be banned in courthouses and on private property. Since then, several sheriffs and police chiefs have said they intend to prohibit weapons in courthouses.
Other new laws seek to change education by allowing formation of charter schools, which receive public money but are free from many government regulations. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says charter schools could offer innovative ways to improve education in a state that perpetually ranks low in math and reading scores.
The state also is establishing grants to help schools hire security officers, and it is requiring each school district to adopt a policy about allowing a “limited public forum” at assemblies and other events to let students express their religious beliefs.
Another new law in Mississippi says a physician must be present when a woman takes abortion-inducing drugs, and the woman must have a follow-up physical examination two weeks later. Until now, the practice has been for a woman who gets a medical abortion to take the first pill at the medical clinic then to take the two subsequent rounds of pills on two subsequent days in another place, usually at home.
At the state’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, women who receive this type of abortion have been advised to have a checkup three weeks later, either at the clinic or another medical facility, to ensure that they’re no longer pregnant. Physicians there say some women can still get a false positive test two weeks later because of lingering hormones. Clinic owner Diane Derzis said the new law will be burdensome for patients who have to return for extra office visits and for clinic physicians who have to handle more appointments.
Another new law says the Department of Human Services can hire private vendors to collect overdue child support. Critics say the last time Mississippi tried this on a broad scale, in the 1990s, it was a disaster. Supporters of privatization say about $1 billion in overdue child support payments are owed to custodial parents. The current state-run collection system is underfunded and inefficient, they say.
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