By NEMS Daily Journal
To say that the Mississippi Legislature guards its prerogatives jealously would be an understatement.
Lawmakers have been particularly vigilant this session to make sure that they hold local governments in check. Some of it has the look of a solution in search of a problem.
For instance, they’ve passed legislation prohibiting municipal or county governments from establishing local food ordinances. No New York-style restrictions on the size of sugary soft drinks or trans fats or requirements for posting nutrition information.
If there has been a great movement in that direction at the local level in Mississippi, we’ve missed it. In Tupelo, an initiative to get healthy shelves in convenience stores has picked up momentum, but it’s strictly voluntary. Surely that’s not objectionable to legislators in this most obese and least healthy of all states, but you never know.
Of course, it’s fair to ask whether lawmakers – who steadfastly refuse to adopt a statewide ban on smoking in public places – regard ordinances in 68 Mississippi municipalities that do so as objectionable. Even if they do, the horse is out of the barn on that one.
Some of the food ordinances passed elsewhere that legislators want to prevent in Mississippi are examples of government overreach, no doubt. But why shouldn’t local governments – those governments closest to the people – be able to make that judgment for themselves and be accountable to their constituents for it?
Similarly, why shouldn’t local governments – subject to a 60 percent vote of their constituents – be able to propose a local sales tax for a specific, time-limited project without having to ask the Legislature for permission? Lawmakers every year reject local pleas for such latitude. They know best, of course – not the local elected officials and citizenry.
Finally, lawmakers want to make sure no local government raises the minimum wage, so they’ve voted to outlaw such a move. Again, what local governments are clamoring to do that? None that we know of, but the Legislature wants to make sure it never happens.
Mississippi legislators don’t like it when the federal government tells them what they can and can’t do. They are of a decidedly different mind when it comes to ordering local governments around. Do they notice the contradiction?