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Analysis: Mississippi legislators love to try to micromanage

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

Every year, Mississippi legislators deal with bills that could fall under the heading: Things You Shouldn’t Have to Tell a Sensible Adult.

A case in point this year is Senate Bill 2305 , which says drivers must slow down and give space on the road to rural mail carriers who are making deliveries. Failure to do so would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $250 to $1,000.

No sensible adult should have to be told to mind their manners behind the wheel, but the legislation was clearly written because some folks can’t seem to find their brakes or move over and give a decent amount of space when they see the mail carrier’s flashing lights.

The bill passed the Senate 52-0 and the House 115-1, and is headed to Gov. Phil Bryant.

Some bills are written with specific pet peeves in mind. One this year was House Bill 511, which proposed a fine of $5 to $50 for people who drive slowly in the left lane of a highway. Rep. Cory Wilson, R-Madison, spoke in favor of the bill in the House Transportation Committee, saying he had heard from people who are exasperated by other drivers who linger in the left lane. The proposal would have covered four-lane highways, not those with two lanes only.

The House voted 89-32 to ban the left-lane lollygagging. But, the Senate Highways and Transportation Committee killed the proposal. For now, slow driving in the left lane will still earn you a dirty look, but not a fine.

Legislators also love to micromanage, especially when it comes to education.

Senate Bill 2273 says cursive writing must be taught in public schools before the end of fifth grade. It’s not as if the old-school handwriting style is completely ignored. On the state Department of Education website, the word “cursive” is mentioned several times in the outline for English language standards for grades 2 through 8, but always as an option. Students can demonstrate their knowledge by printing, writing in cursive or using a computer keyboard.

The cursive bill was filed by Republican and Democratic senators and passed with broad bipartisan support. The House made minor changes and is sending the bill back to the Senate. It will then go to Gov. Bryant, where it could get his endorsement through his easy-to-read cursive signature.

House Bill 211 proposed shortening the school year from 180 days to 170. And, for good measure, it said the academic year could start no sooner than the Tuesday after Labor Day — a change that would likely wreak havoc on schools that like to conduct end-of-semester exams before the Christmas break. That bit of micromanagement died in the House Education Committee, as did House Bill 866 , which would have limited statewide standardized testing to no more than three days year.

Republican Rep. Becky Currie of Brookhaven, who’s usually a champion of small government, filed House Bill 348 , which said students should be allowed to drink water on the school bus. Currie said it’s not right for people to put children “on a tin can in 110-degree weather” and tell them they can’t have water. Democratic Rep. Kathy Sykes of Jackson, who is Currie’s political opposite but empathized with the thirsty youngsters, signed on as a co-sponsor.

The water-on-the bus bill passed the House 107-8, even after Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville asked what would happen if students packed bottles of vodka instead of water. But, the bill dried up and died in the Senate Education Committee.

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Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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One comment

  1. Like you said, maybe if “adults,” “administrators,” and “authorities” acted like they have some sense, the legislature wouldn’t feel the need to give them first grade instructions. You should be fussing at the original perpetrators.

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