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Legislature works on internet, human trafficking bills

Sen. Rita Potts Parks (right) sits at her desk in the Senate chamber at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson. Last week the Kossuth native voted to allow electric cooperatives to offer broadband internet.

Staff photo by Zack Steen

Sen. Rita Potts Parks is calling her vote to allow electric cooperatives to offer broadband internet a "long term success for rural Mississippi."

The Republican senator said all three of the electric power associations in the counties she represents "" Alcorn, Tippah and Tishomingo "" plan to perform a feasibility study with its membership base to determine if the services are wanted once the bill becomes law.

"The bill (House Bill 366) passed the Senate last week without any amendments and can now be sent to the governor for his approval," said the Kossuth lawmaker. "I am extremely proud to have been able to support this game changing bill for my counties."

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said he would sign the bill at his "earliest opportunity." Once signed, it will become law. Feasibility studies by some cooperatives across the state could begin as early as August.

The measure would allow Mississippi's 25 electric cooperatives to form subsidiaries to offer broadband internet service, removing a ban on the member-owned utilities getting into other businesses.

The measure requires a feasibility study and an annual audit. Cooperatives could invest money, loan money or guarantee loans to affiliates, but the bill says they can't use revenue from electric sales to subsidize broadband.

The measure is sponsored by House Speaker Philip Gunn. It got the early-session push that the Republican gives to some of his priorities, aided by an April 29 deadline for cooperatives to apply for $200 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to extend service to rural areas.

In the House

Four House bills were introduced and passed without much opposition last week.

Among those included one Rep. Nick Bain said would provide a needed change to a current law in the state.

House Bill 571 would prevent charges from being filed against trafficking victims who are younger than 18.

"This bill is designed to protect children who are victims of sex trafficking," said Bain, a Corinth Democrat. "It is meant to work to end the commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking of children."

The bill comes after Gunn's Commission on Public Policy hosted a summit on human trafficking in Mississippi in 2018.

The bill passed with a bipartisan vote of 116-3. It must pass the Senate before it can go to Bryant before possibly becoming a law.

According to Rep. Lester "Bubba" Carpenter, there were three other bills that passed the House last week and were relatively uncontested.

"One would prohibit any food product that contains animal tissue and plant or insect-based products from being labeled as meat (BH 793), another would increase the maximum annual gross sales of a cottage food operation (HB 702), while another would exclude equipment operated and owned by the Mississippi Military Department from the definition of commercial motor vehicle under the Commercial Driver's License Act (HB 751)," said the Tishomingo County Republican, via email. "It was a busy week, but things will ramp up even more this week as we the next bill deadline."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

(Capitol Connections by staff writer Zack Steen will appear in the Daily Corinthian throughout the 2019 Mississippi Legislature session.)