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Regulatory, local option bills clear Senate

A little more than 48 hours until the deadline for floor action on bills that have made it out of committee, the House spent much of Tuesday morning debating a bill that would require doctors performing physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals. The bill passed 80-37, but not before reigniting the worst parts of last fall’s Personhood debate.

The Senate, on the other hand, passed a handful of bills that have been watched closely by business groups and their advocates. One of those was the Mississippi Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act. 

The bill establishes a committee whose membership would include small business owners to review new and existing regulations, in an effort to make them less of a burden. This has been a priority for Ron Aldridge, head of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses, which lobbies for small business issues. Gov. Phil Bryant also made it part of his legislative agenda.

The Senate also approved a local option bill that would allow cities whose populations are greater than 6,000 (or if the city has fewer than 6,000 people but serves as a county seat) to vote to come out from under countywide dry laws. The process could not start until 20 percent of a city or town’s electorate signed a petition to put the issue on the ballot.

If approved, the bill would allow alcohol by the glass to be served in restaurants and hotels within the municipality, or at places that already have an on-premises retail permit. The permit requirement, offered in an amendment by Pearl Republican Sen. Dean Kirby, would make it almost impossible for new retailers (like liquor stores) to locate in newly wet cities and towns.

If the vote fails, the issue could not be revisited on the ballot for at least another two years. Probably the best thing this bill would do — besides putting the power in the hands of the cities and not the Legislature — is stop the endless parade each session of cities seeking permission to hold a vote to repeal their counties’ dry laws.

The Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association had been the bill’s most ardent supporter.

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