UPDATE: New law calls for Rx for some cold meds in Miss.

JACKSON — Ryan Harper, a pharmacist at Brandon Discount Drugs, is a little surprised there hasn’t been a rush to buy medicine containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine.

The cold medicine, which is also the main ingredient used to manufacture methamphetamine, has been available over-the-counter, but starting Thursday, a doctor’s prescription is needed to purchase it. It’s a new law designed to curb the state’s escalating drug problem by reducing meth makers’ access to pseudoephedrine.

“I thought for sure people were going to stockpile,” Harper said. “I think people realize for the little bit of inconvenience, we’ll be able to drastically slow down illicit drug use.”

The law is among dozens passed during the 2010 legislative session. The new laws run the gamut from allowing more felons to expunge their records to giving parents a voice in restructuring failing schools.

The prescription requirement was one of the most high-profile bills as law enforcement agencies, including the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, lobbied lawmakers for the change. In 2006, Oregon became the first state in the nation to impose such a restriction on pseudoephedrine.

Lawmakers had said the new law would require prescriptions for common medicines that include Advil Cold and Sinus, Aleve D, Claritin D, Mucinex D, Nyquil D, Sudafed, Tylenol Sinus Severe Cold and Zyrtec D.

“We think it has all the potential to be a watershed event for law enforcement,” said MBN Director Marshall Fisher.

Another new law takes aim at cute, novelty lighters often mistaken for toys. It’s now illegal to sell the contraptions, and violators could face a fine of up to $500.

Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, authored the law, and he said he’s gotten mostly positive feedback.

“Some people had bought these novelty toys for kids and later found out they were cigarette lighters. Luckily, they didn’t burn their house down,” Evans said this week.

The state’s new school reform law allows chronically low-performing schools to be restructured.

Schools could become either charter or “new start” schools, both of which are public schools designed to increase parental involvement. Under the law, a failing public school could become a conversion charter school if more than 50 percent of the parents petition for it. The state Board of Education would have to approve the conversion.

Derrick Johnson, state president of the Mississippi NAACP, isn’t ready to wholeheartedly embrace the law.

“Any school principal will be happy to get more than half of their parents involved in the school. It’s unfortunate school failure has to be the initiator of that level of school involvement,” Johnson said. “It would behoove the state to help school districts identify effective strategies before failure occurs.”

Johnson said many of the failing districts are in low-income areas. He said those districts could use more direction and support from the state Department of Education.

Mississippi has 951 elementary and secondary schools, and officials say 212 of those are classified as failing or at risk of failing.

Other new laws would:

— Require motorists to allow a 3-foot buffer when passing cyclists, who must now ride in the right-hand lane. The law also penalizes those who taunt or throw objects at cyclists. Fines range from $100 to $2,500 and seven days in jail.

— Simplify the process for involuntary commitments for mental evaluations and treatment. The law requires officials to develop a one-page commitment form that would be easy to understand and make clear a hearing on the commitment could take place anywhere in the county, even at mental health facilities.

— Create a process for first-time, non-violent offenders convicted of certain felonies to expunge their records. The ex-convicts could petition to have the record cleared after they have served their jail term and paid all fines and restitution.

“There’s no such thing as a non-serious felony. There are certainly some felonies that carry less consequence than others,” said Evans, who is also a public defender.

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The bills are House Bills 512, 232, Senate Bills 2293 and 3014, House Bills 1525 and 160.

Shelia Bryd/The Associated Press