JACKSON- Attorney General Jim Hood today once again called upon the Mississippi Legislature to increase funding for the Department of Mental Health and said the state must take action during the 2017 legislative session to stem the epidemic of opioid abuse.

In a news conference announcing his legislative agenda, Attorney General Hood said lawmakers should make it a priority to improve mental-health treatment in Mississippi. Last year, the Legislature cut the Department of Mental Health’s budget by $8.3 million. A few months later, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state, accusing Mississippi of violating federal law in the way it delivers services to the mentally ill.

Attorney General Hood also encouraged the Legislature to approve meaningful legislation to curb opioid abuse. Among the Attorney General’s proposed bills is one that would require health care professionals to have the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program checked before prescribing controlled substances such as opioids.

“Opioid abuse has affected millions of Americans, and we see the dramatic impact of such abuse right here in Mississippi,” Attorney General Hood said. “The devastating result of this abuse is broken families, escalating medical costs, overdoses and deaths. We must tackle this problem, and we must fund the state agencies that have the resources to address this crisis.”

A year ago, Attorney General Hood recommended that legislators allocate more than $20 million to state agencies for various programs. However, little of that money was appropriated for those purposes. In fact, since 2008, budget constraints have forced the Department of Mental Health to reduce the number of beds by approximately 500.

“We have a responsibility to the least among us. While we have made some improvements in our mental-health system over the last few years, we can’t lose focus. Nor can we choose to enrich greedy out-of-state corporations through tax cuts rather than meet the needs of people hurting right here in Mississippi,” Attorney General Hood said.

Other legislative priorities for the Attorney General include:

* Establishing an Internet use tax. A tax on Internet sales could bring in more than $130 million annually, according to one estimate. More importantly, such a tax would level the playing field for brick-and-mortar stores that are required to levy sales tax. AG Hood recently urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider a 1992 ruling that requires a business to have a physical presence in a state in order to be required to remit sales and use taxes. The AG’s proposal would refine and expand that requirement to include most Internet businesses.

* Early voting. A pre-Election Day voting period would begin three weeks before each election.

* Campaign finance. Candidates and political committees would be required to itemize credit-card purchases.

* Wiretapping authority for human trafficking investigations. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the Attorney General’s Office could be authorized by a judge to use wiretaps if the agencies demonstrate probable cause to believe the wiretap will provide evidence of the commission of a felony under the Human Trafficking Act.

* Indecent Assault. There is currently not an effective method to charge an individual with fondling a competent adult. Such acts are often charged as simple assault, but are being dismissed because that charge requires bodily injury or an attempt to cause bodily injury as an element for conviction. Adding “indecent assault” as a crime would correct this problem.

* Sexual assault protection order. Courts would be authorized to issue, as part of the sentence, a criminal protection order against anyone convicted of rape or sexual battery, which would prohibit the offender from having contact with the victim. The order would be applicable regardless whether there had been a previous domestic relationship between the offender and victim.

* Internet purchasing notification. Internet retailers would be required to inform the state the monetary amount of online purchases by Mississippi residents.

* Currency forgery/counterfeiting. The punishment for counterfeiting or forging currency would be enhanced to a felony.