Dozens of beaming legislators stood around Gov. Phil Bryant in the Mississippi Capitol rotunda. With a stroke of his pen on Jan. 30, he signed into law the first major piece of legislation of the 2019 legislative session: the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, which is designed to expand high-speed internet access to rural parts of the state.
The act allows the state's 25 electric cooperatives to offer rural broadband internet to their customers. Those cooperatives, all under the umbrella of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi organization, serve about 1.8 million Mississippians.
In an editorial for the Columbian Progress ahead of the bill's passage, Rep. Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown, wrote that "rural broadband is a long-term project."
"I hope that the truly rural areas are the ones that benefit from this legislation—not simply the high-density suburban areas that classify as 'rural' but could already attract a provider to invest in that market," wrote the lawmaker, whose district includes rural parts of Marion and Lamar counties where broadband access is limited.
It could still be years before rural Mississippians see the benefit from the bill. The law appropriates no funds for broadband infrastructure projects, but most electric cooperatives in the state are already applying for federal funds to begin projects.
Mississippi School Safety Act
On Jan. 31, legislators in the Mississippi House Education Committee advanced to the House floor a bill designed to help prepare schools for the worst: the possibility of gun violence.
It would require school districts to devise and conduct active-shooter drills within the first two months of each semester. All school-district employees would be required to attend civilian response and active-shooter training. Every two years, school employees would also attend training courses in mental health.
House Bill 1283 would also "expand student access to mental health resources" and develop ties between school districts and community-health facilities for