Lawmakers propose tighter divorce restrictions

Mississippi lawmakers this week could decide whether to say "I do" to bills that would make it easier to get married and harder to get divorced.

A bill awaiting House consideration would remove the three-day waiting period to get a marriage license and would allow couples to get their premarital blood tests out of state.

A bill in the Senate would create covenant marriages, which would require couples to undergo premarital counseling and would put tighter restrictions on the grounds for divorce.

People applying for a covenant marriage license would have to sign a statement saying: "I promise to seek counsel in times of trouble. I believe that I have chosen my life mate wisely and have disclosed to him or her all facts that may adversely affect his or her decision to enter into this covenant with me."

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who's in his first term, pledged to push for a covenant marriage law. Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, is the bill's author.

"The idea is to really make sure people have thought seriously about what they're getting into before they get married," said Fillingane, who is single.

Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona have the option of covenant marriage. Oklahoma is among the states considering legislation to create it this year.

Some House members have tried for several years to eliminate the three-day waiting period for receiving a Mississippi marriage license. Supporters say the change would help the state become a destination for large weddings where families spend lots of money.

Opponents say the change could cause some couples to make drastic - or drunken - decisions to tie the knot.

Lawmakers are approaching the halfway point of their scheduled 103-day session.

"We're here to work as many hours as necessary to complete the calendar," said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.

Thursday is the final day for the House to consider more than 150 general bills that have passed House committees and the Senate to consider more than 175 general bills that have passed Senate committees. Some bills are likely to die for lack of debate.

After this deadline, the two chambers will exchange the surviving bills and do more work.

March 12 is the deadline for the first round of work on budget proposals. The session is scheduled to end April 19.

McCoy said the House will create a "noncontroversial calendar" that will allow some bills to be handled quickly. If at least a dozen House members object, a bill can be taken off the noncontroversial list so it can be given longer debate.

Some bills awaiting House and Senate action this week would:

- Make several changes in the Justice Court system. Among other things, it would strengthen the Justice Court judges' training requirements and expand the jurisdiction for cases handled in Justice Court. Now, disputes over property worth up to $2,500 are handled in Justice Court; the bill would increase that to $3,500.

- Give the University of Mississippi Medical Center the land near its Jackson campus where an old farmer's market sits. A few vendors still sell vegetables and plants on the market site. The state Department of Agriculture and Commerce opened a new farmer's market a few miles away, near the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.

- Require the University of Mississippi Medical Center to establish an obesity clinic in the Delta.

- Close the Columbia Training School, which now houses female juvenile offenders. The state Department of Human Services this month recommended closing Columbia, nearly four years after the federal government cited the state for allowing the abuse of juveniles by the facility's staff.

- Revise the Open Meetings law to allow municipal or regional airport authority commissioners to meet privately to an airline, cargo, commercial or industrial prospect for business development at the airport.