Analysis: Few get all they want at Mississippi Capitol
Published: April 17,2012
Tags: abortion, Arizona, Gov. Phil Bryant, Groundhog Day, Illegal immigration, Legislature, Mississippi, Mississippi Business Journal, republican, Senate, South Carolina, Texas, U.S. Justice Department
JACKSON — The Mississippi Legislature is moving to the end of its 2012 session, and interest groups are being reminded of a universal truth in politics: You can’t always get what you want.
People who say the U.S. borders are too porous were upset when an immigration-enforcement died in a Senate committee, after passing the House. But of course an effort to enact an Arizona-style law won’t disappear because Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has been saying for years that he thinks illegal immigration is hurting Mississippi.
Immigrants-rights advocates, including some religious groups, are saving energy to fight enforcement bills in the future, possibly in 2013. They’ve expressed concern that a tough state law could lead to profiling of Hispanics, even if the law specifies that officers aren’t supposed to stop people based on looks or accent alone.
Abortion opponents advanced bills designed to sharply restrict access to the procedure in Mississippi, but they can’t check every item off their wish list. One bill that died would’ve put new restrictions on the use of RU-486, a drug that induces abortion.
Also killed this session were proposed constitutional amendments to define life as beginning at conception. They mirrored the “personhood” initiative that was rejected by 58 percent of voters last November.
Those who support the availability of abortion as a private medical option had a tough year.
A new law that’s set to take effect July 1 would require anyone performing the procedure in an abortion clinic to be an OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital. Supporters of the change hope it will create enough bureaucratic barriers to close the state’s only abortion clinic, because admitting privileges could be difficult for out-of-state doctors to obtain. The clinic’s owner, Diane Derzis, says Jackson Women’s Health Organization will try to fulfill the new requirements. But if it can’t, she said she’ll sue.
If a federal judge blocks the new law, abortion opponents’ celebration could be cut short. Additional restrictions are certain to be debated in the future.
Another contentious issue this session is voter ID. For more than a decade, lawmakers have debated whether all Mississippi voters should have to show a driver’s license or other identification before casting a ballot.
In November 2011, a voter-ID mandate appeared the statewide ballot as a constitutional amendment, and it was approved by 62 percent of voters. This session, the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working on enacting a law to carry out the ID requirement.
Because of Mississippi’s troubled history of suppressing black citizens’ voting rights up until a few decades ago, any changes to the state’s election laws must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
The repeated arguments over voter ID, however well-intentioned they might be, have a “Groundhog Day” quality — same thing over and over.
Supporters say ID will protect the integrity of elections and, anyway, showing ID shouldn’t be a big deal because people have to do it to board an airplane or rent a movie (an argument that’s actually starting to sound archaic in these days of streaming video).
Opponents say there’s scant proof of the type of election fraud that could be deterred by requiring people to show ID, and they point out that voting is a constitutional right, not a consumer decision. They also say an ID requirement could be a hardship for some voters who are elderly or poor or have disabilities.
The Justice Department has blocked voter ID requirements in South Carolina and Texas in recent months. In this presidential-election year, Mississippi’s law will receive tough scrutiny. And this could be another issue that never seems to get resolved. Groundhog Day, indeed.
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