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House and Senate approve bill that adds domestic violence provision for divorce

By Kayleigh Skinner

Mississippi Today

House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a bill that broadens the ability of domestic abuse victims to cite such abuse as grounds for divorce, according to Rep. Andy Gipson.

The Braxton Republican said Monday that House and Senate committee members came to an agreement on Senate Bill 2680, which adds “spousal domestic violence” as grounds for divorce to a bill that originally clarified legal placement options for abused children.

Gipson came under fire last month when he chose not to take up two bills that made domestic violence and bona fide separation grounds for divorce, respectively.

Ultimately, Gipson proposed the amendment to SB 2680 as the “solution” for the issue.

The conference report adds language that details what constitutes abusive physical and non-physical conduct, and standard of proof for judges to consider when ruling on divorce cases.

It also allows the injured spouse to testify and the court consider that spouse a credible witness. Under existing divorce law, an additional witness is required to corroborate testimony from a spouse about abuse.

The report states spouses who send threats or commit acts of intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, sexual extortion or abuse, stalking or aggravated stalking could be found guilty of physical abuse.

The conference report also says a reason for divorce can be “if the pattern or behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.” Gipson told reporters that standard of behavior that “rises above the level of unkindness” was drawn from a state Supreme Court divorce decision.

Gipson said the report will likely be presented to the House on Tuesday.

Public schools cut $40 million from last year

The Legislature on Monday passed the appropriations bill for K-12 education in less than 20 minutes and with little debate.

The bill funds the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, the formula that dictates how much money goes to school districts each year, at about $40 million less than last year.

However, compared to the amount school districts are receiving after a series of mid-year budget cuts ordered by the governor, the cut is a little less than 1 percent below the current year.

MAEP’s final appropriation for Fiscal Year 2018 is $2,201,038,129. With other agencies cut as much as 14 percent, K-12’s share of the budget cuts was relatively small.

The cut represents a reduction of about $80 per student, House Education Committee Chairman John Moore told members when presenting the bill.

Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, told Moore that by his math, this amount means the MAEP is underfunded by $445 million, according to the amount called for by law.

The MAEP has been fully funded only twice since being passed into law in 1997.

During Senate discussion of the bill, Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, spoke on a potential rewrite of the school funding formula and said he hopes the Legislature will start over.

Bryan, referring to what was supposed to be a relatively quick revamp of the school funding formula based on recommendations by New Jersey-based consulting firm EdBuild, said areas such as special education funding need extra time and attention.

The budget for the Mississippi School for the Blind and Deaf remained level, while funding for Chickasaw Interest, Educational Television Authority and the Library Commission all saw cuts. Funding for Vocational and Technical programs remained level from last year.

Katie Royals of Mississippi Today contributed to this report.