New state laws affect everyday life

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON – People in Mississippi will be able to buy stronger beer and get quicker access to marriage licenses. Residents might have to show a photo ID before voting. Students will pay more to earn a university degree.
These are just some of ways everyday life will be affected by decisions Mississippi legislators made during the 2012 session. For example:
* Senate Bill 2878, which becomes law July 1, allows the sale of beer with alcohol content of up to 8 percent by weight, above the current 5 percent limit. A group called Raise Your Pints lobbied for the change for three years, saying thousands of Mississippians have been driving to surrounding states to buy craft beers that aren’t available here.
“We’ll introduce high-gravity, gourmet beer to Mississippi in a big way, come July 1,” Butch Bailey, president of Raise Your Pints, said after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill in April.
* Senate Bill 2851, which becomes law July 1, removes the three-day waiting period to obtain a marriage license, and it erases the requirement for the bride and groom to each have a blood test for syphilis.
Lawmakers argued about these changes for years, and previous bills died because opponents said they didn’t want Mississippi to become a haven for quickie decisions about what should be a lifelong commitment. Some also expressed reservations about the development of tacky chapels where couples could take their vows from Elvis impersonators.
In the end, legislators made it easier to obtain a marriage license because tourism officials said doing so could increase the numbers of destination weddings. More flowers and cakes sold in Natchez and on the Gulf Coast mean more tax dollars for state and local coffers.
* House Bill 921 would require voters to show a driver’s license, student ID, passport or other form of photo identification before casting a ballot. The bill will become law only if it’s approved by the federal government. Such approval is required by the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination.
* Senate Bill 2227 would revoke voting rights for anyone convicted of vote fraud. It will become law if it receives federal approval.
* Because of the way the state budget was set, the College Board has approved tuition increases averaging 8.5 percent for the 2012-13 academic year at Mississippi’s eight public universities. The board predicts an increase of between 5 percent and 6.9 percent will be needed for the 2013-14 year. Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds said the rising cost of tuition is directly related to the relative decline in state financial support for universities the past several years.
* House Bill 1390, which becomes law July 1, would require any physician who does abortions at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic to be an OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital. The owner of the clinic says the physicians there already are OB-GYNs, but only one has admitting privileges. The privileges can be difficult to obtain, either because physicians are coming from out of state to work at the clinic, or because hospitals with religious affiliations might choose not to grant them.
Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and other supporters of the law say they hope it will shut down the clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The clinic’s owner said she will try to meet the new requirements but will sue if she can’t. The Mississippi State Department of Health website shows 2,297 abortions were performed in the state in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics were available.

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