State Politics

Legislator wants state’s universities out of ‘political’ NCAA

Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they says will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson in April.
Protesters call for Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to veto House Bill 1523, which they says will allow discrimination against LGBT people, during a rally outside the Governor's Mansion in Jackson in April. AP

The “religious freedom” bill passed this year by the Legislature remains provocative.

Four Republican Coast lawmakers at a Legislative Preview sponsored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino were asked if they would support HB 1523 if it were reintroduced in 2017. The bill, drafted partly in response to a Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, was signed into law earlier this year. It would have offered protections to people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman; sex should be confined to marriage; and a person’s gender is determined by “anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” However, it was struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves. That decision has been appealed by Gov. Phil Bryant.

The forum, featuring Sens. Sean Tindell and Michael Watson and Reps. Doug McLeod and Scott DeLano, had been fairly tame with the four agreeing the Coast delegation was unified and prepared for a tough fight over BP funds; that some sort of education funding overhaul was inevitable; and that the state has to do something about its deteriorating roads and bridges.

But the religious-freedom question evoked strong emotions, particularly from McLeod, who represents Stone and George counties, who suggested it was time Mississippi’s universities break with the NCAA.

“I want our universities to break away from the NCAA,” he said. “It’s time. The NCAA is a political group that turns everything political.”

He said the NCAA was being hypocritical by taking away NCAA championship events from North Carolina because it passed a law prohibiting transgender males from using women’s restrooms but did nothing to Colorado when it legalized the “banned substance” marijuana.

As for the negative publicity HB 1523 brought, “A lot of times, I really don’t care what somebody else thinks about us.”

Changes expected

Tindell of Gulfport and Watson of Pascagoula said they supported the law but it could have been better written.

“I think there are some things that fundamentally and philosophically at the heart of what we believe as Americans,” Watson said. “And those fights are worth fighting.”

Tindell said anything that could be portrayed as allowing hatred toward any group should be taken out.

“It’s really complicated,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful.”

Time to move on

DeLano of Biloxi was the harshest critic of the law.

“I cannot believe we keep hitting ourselves with a hammer over issues like this,” he said. “My personal feelings align very closely with my colleagues (here). But I didn’t ask for you to vote for me to push my personal agendas.”

He said the law wasn’t worth the negative publicity it brought Mississippi but said there should be some protections “for all of us.”

“This particular issue has become so toxic and such a lightning rod for the state of Mississippi, we need to let it go away, then we need to address it after the courts system has had an opportunity to speak.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton

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