Rep. Ford addresses texting issue

Rep. Ford addresses texting issue


The Mississippi Legislature has been in session a little more than two weeks, and already Dist. 73 State Rep. Jill Ford, who represents Madison County, has filed several bills.

One bill Ford filed is House Bill 429 that would amend the state’s texting and driving law to make it a misdemeanor to text and drive and punishable by a $500 fine.

“The bill is in effect already,” Ford said. “What I’m changing in the bill is I’m putting teeth in it by making it a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine. It was $100, and there’s not really any teeth in it.”

Ford’s bill is titled the “J.T. Williamson Act to amend section 63-33-1, Mississippi Code of 1972, to revise the penalty for texting while driving without using a voice-operated or hands-free device to make it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of five hundred dollars and prohibit any use of a hand-held mobile telephone while driving; and for related purposes.”

Ford said she named the bill after the late J.T. Williamson, a longtime Madison resident and SuperTalk Radio host who died last year.

Ford said she used to listen to Williamson’s broadcasts daily.

“J.T., on a daily basis, would tell his audience that we have to have a texting and driving law with some teeth in it,” Ford said. “He was adamant about getting a bill passed with some teeth in it on texting and driving, and so that is why I’m doing this. I’m doing it to honor in his passion for saving lives.”

Ford said she spoke to Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal after she was elected, and he too wanted to see more teeth in the state’s texting and driving law.

“His No. 1 thing out of the number of things that he asked me about that day would be to put some teeth in the texting and driving bill,” Ford said, adding that Neal told her so many people were texting behind the wheel that it is not worth risking an officer’s life for a $100 fine. “We have to put some teeth in it and make it a misdemeanor and $500 fine.”

Ford said she hopes the measure will pass and help save lives.

“People might get serious about staying off their phones with them checking their social media outlets and texting,” she said.

Another measure Ford has introduced will create incentives for businesses to support blood drives for Mississippi Blood Services, which is low on blood donations.

House Bill 427 would “authorize an income tax credit for taxpayers for blood donations made by employees of a taxpayer during a blood drive; to define certain terms; to provide for the amount of the tax credit; and for related purposes.”

“Blood donations and Mississippi Blood Services is really struggling for blood right now,” said Ford, who sits on the organization’s board. 

Ford said her bill is modeled after one in Georgia that authorized a tax credit for companies that hold blood drives. 

“It’s going to give the company tax exemption if they hold a companywide blood drive,” Ford said.

Other legislation Ford has filed:

• House Bill 530, a teacher payraise bill that Ford co-authored with principal author Dist. 120 Rep. Richard Bennett, and several other state representatives. The bill would accelerate the “recruitment and retention of teachers (START) act of 2022, for the purpose of providing for an increase to the minimum teacher salary scale.” The bill proposes a $6,000 increase for the lowest paid teachers and lesser amounts for teachers with more experience.

A senate filed a teacher pay raise bill as well that, according to the Associated Press, would bring an average $4,700 pay increase to teachers over two years.

• House Bill 426 would exempt from sales tax sales of coins, currency and bullion, which Ford said would be in accordance with proposals to eliminate the state’s income tax and cover investors who invest in coins, currency and bullion.

• House Bill 20, which Ford joined in supporting with Dist. 74 State Rep. Lee Yancey, who authored the bill. HB 20 is “an act to enact Cole’s Law to prohibit discrimination against recipients of an anatomical gift or organ transplant based on disability; to define certain terms for the act; to provided requirements for covered entities; to provide the relief provided by the act; to provide certain requirements of insurers; and for related purposes.”

• House Bill 428 career and technical education “to provide that dual credit career and technical education instructors shall not be required to hold an associate or bachelor’s degree.” The bill also would require “the state board of education to provide notice to all incoming middle school and junior high students of the career track programs offered by local school boards; to require all students in the career and technical education track to take the act workkeys assessment” and other technical education measures.

• House Bill 479 “to authorize the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning to contract with all teaching staff and all administrative employees of such institutions for a term not to exceed six years; and for related purposes.”

• House Bill 480 to amend Section 41-29-139 of the Mississippi Code of 1972 “to provide an enhanced penalty for sell or transfer of illegal drugs, except marijuana, if such use of the drugs are determined to be the proximate cause of death; and for related purposes.” Violation of HB 480 would result in five to 20 years in the Department of Corrections.

Ford said she is also planning to introduce more measures in the coming days:

• One that would require each public and non-public school to have at least one employee at each school who is trained in the requirements necessary to administer seizure rescue medication or perform manual vagus nerve stimulation for a person experiencing a seizure.

• One bill titled “Hospital Right to Visit Act” would require hospitals to allow visitations for hospitalized patients for more than 24 hours.

• One bill Ford said would be a true medical marijuana bill.

• Other legislation filed this session, includes a “Mississippi Tax Freedom Act” to eliminate the state’s income tax. The bill is authored and filed by Speaker of the House, Dist. 56 Rep. Philip Gunn, who represents Madison County.

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