Politics & Government

Jim Hood: HB 1523 tarnishes Mississippi, distracts from critical issues

Rabbi Jeremy Simons, director of Rabbinic Services for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, speaks on the steps of the Capitol in Jackson on July 1 as he and others celebrated a federal judge’s ruling to block HB 1523. Simons, a plaintiff in one of the cases challenging HB 1523, said Reform Judaism has a history of accepting and including LGBT people.
Rabbi Jeremy Simons, director of Rabbinic Services for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, speaks on the steps of the Capitol in Jackson on July 1 as he and others celebrated a federal judge’s ruling to block HB 1523. Simons, a plaintiff in one of the cases challenging HB 1523, said Reform Judaism has a history of accepting and including LGBT people. Associated Press

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced on Wednesday he will not appeal U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves’ decision to block House Bill 1523, adding that the “religious freedom” bill tarnished society’s perception of Mississippi while allowing politicians to distract residents from other issues.

“I am convinced that continuing this divisive and expensive litigation is not in the best interests of the state of Mississippi or its taxpayers,” Hood said in a press release.

Gov. Phil Bryant filed a notice on July 8 asking the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower federal court’s decision to block the law from taking effect July 1.

In court papers, Bryant’s lawyer says Reeves was wrong to block the law and asks Reeves to let the law take effect while the appeal is pending.

Hood noted that the bill, which would in part allow businesses to discriminate against Mississippi’s LGBT community based on religious obligation, cannot overturn or preempt federal law.

“All HB 1523 has done is tarnish Mississippi’s image while distracting us from the more pressing issues of decaying roads and bridges, underfunding of public education, the plight of the mentally ill and the need to solve our state’s financial mess,” Hood said.

In the press release, Hood accused lawmakers of ignoring critical issues by handing out tax breaks to big corporations. Hood said corporations paid $117.8 million less in taxes in fiscal year 2016 than the previous year — a 16 percent tax cut. Hood said a $135 million “hole” in next year’s budget is problematic.

“The numbers do not lie that we have a budget crisis that will cause a danger to our families from the mentally ill problem alone,” Hood said.

Hood also criticized HB 1523 for promoting discrimination from an entire population of Mississippians.

“To appeal HB 1523 and fight for an empty bill that dupes one segment of our population into believing it has merit while discriminating against another is just plain wrong,” Hood said. “I don’t believe that’s the way to carry out Jesus’ primary directives to protect the least among us and to love thy neighbor.”

Hood said public officials “misinformed” pastors and business owners into thinking they would be “forced to violate their religious beliefs” under the proposed law signed by Bryant.

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @Journalism_J

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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