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Mississippians need opportunities, not regulation

Mississippi is the most regulated state in the South.

In 2018, as part of a national review of state regulations, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found Mississippi has nearly 118,000 regulatory restrictions on the books. All told, the state codebook includes 9.3 million words, and it would take about 13 weeks to read if all one did was read regulations as a full-time job.

The biggest regulator in Mississippi, by far, is the Department of Health, with more than 20,000 restrictions. Coming in second is the Department of Human Services, with over 12,000 restrictions. Various state boards, commissions, and examiners have a combined 10,000 restrictions.

But these are simply numbers, what does it look like in real life?

If you are an eyebrow threader like Dipa Bhattarai who learned how to thread as a young child growing up in Nepal, you must still complete 600 hours of instruction to become an esthetician, even though the classes don’t actually cover eyebrow threading.

Cosmetologists like Wendy Swart and Dana Presley who were trained and licensed in other states can’t work in Mississippi because we don’t recognize their out-of-state occupational license even though they never had an infraction.

Entrepreneurs like Donna Harris who want to start businesses to provide weight loss advice, healthy recipes, and grocery list recommendations can be sent to jail for six months and fined $1,000 if they don’t complete 1,200 hours of unnecessary training.

Cottage food operators who would like to sell food they make at home are limited in what they can sell, how they can sell it, and what they can earn.

Nurse practitioners who would like full practice authority must enter into a collaborative agreement with a physician if they would like to open their own clinic.

Liquor stores are required to deal with product shortages because the state controls the distribution of alcohol and can’t keep up with supply. And consumers can’t purchase alcohol online and have it delivered to their front door because we are one of the few states where direct shipment remains illegal.

If you would like to start a home-based business, many cities in Mississippi prohibit you from hiring employees who don’t live in the house and have vague capacities on how much space in your house you can use for your business. And you’ll have to pay a bookkeeping fee.   

Farmers like the Baileys and Beals can’t sell raw cow milk to willing consumers. We can sell goat milk, but you can’t have 10 or more goats and you can’t advertise online. And some in the legislature even tried to outlaw that this past session.

Numerous businesses like the Little Yazoo Sports Bar & Grill were shut down during the pandemic and then only allowed to open at limited capacity. 

Those who want to rent out a room or their house on Airbnb or similar websites are often restricted by local government ordinances.

We don’t allow small poultry producers to sell to grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and other institutions even though the federal government has said it’s fine.

If you would like to start a healthcare business or just expand your current operation, you likely need permission from the state — and your competitors — in what is known as a Certificate of Need before you can proceed.

We can bet on sports, but only in casinos. We can’t place bets on our phones or computers as most prefer.

While Mississippi is the most regulated state per capita in the South, it is also one of only two states (the other being Louisiana) not seeing population growth in the South.

Mississippi had a negative domestic migration rate of 3.6 last year, meaning for every 100 residents that moved to Mississippi last year, 103.6 left, according to an analysis of Census numbers from the Illinois Policy Institute. Louisiana had a negative rate of 5.5. Every other southern state, south of Virginia, had positive numbers. Some smaller like 0.8 in Arkansas, some larger like 10.3 in South Carolina.

So, people aren’t leaving the South, or running for liberal policy (see California, Illinois, and New York), they are just leaving Mississippi.

And this trend has been going on for five years.

We can look at Mississippi and say things like, “we don’t have any cool large cities today that people want to move to.” But honestly, were Salt Lake City or Raleigh or Nashville that cool 30 years ago? They certainly looked and performed much differently than they do today.

People moved to those places because of opportunity. And there are policies the state can adopt that would put Mississippi ahead of the curve when it comes to national policy and position the state to be competitive nationwide. And it begins with moving away from a desire to overregulate commerce and embolden government bureaucrats.

Because of federalism, we can look at the templates from other states. And if we’d like to be successful, we can follow the model of our high growth, low regulation neighbors.

But before we can grow, we need opportunity, not more government.

Brett Kittredge is the Director of Marketing & Communications of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.