JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Senate gave final approval Thursday to a bill to restrict electric car manufacturers from opening new brick-and-mortar dealerships in the state unless they comply with the same laws traditional carmakers follow.
The legislation, introduced in the House by Republican Rep. Trey Lamar of Senatobia, now heads to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who has not indicated whether he will sign it. On the Senate floor Thursday, the bill sparked an intraparty debate among GOP lawmakers.
Opponents said it would betray conservative principles by setting a government policy that interferes with the automobile market and would stop electric carmakers from bringing new technology and jobs to the state. Proponents said the law would ensure all car manufacturers, regardless of their business model, play by the same rules.
Tesla sells vehicles in person at one facility in Mississippi that is classified as a store, not a dealership. The distinction allows the company to operate outside state laws governing franchise businesses. This exception, and the prospect of other electric companies taking advantage of it, gives these manufacturers special privileges that traditional automakers don’t enjoy, according to Republican Sen. Daniel Sparks of Belmont.
“We’re saying if you choose to have a brick-and-mortar dealership, you have to follow the same laws that everyone else has to follow,” Sparks said. “Please don’t tell me Tesla’s car doesn’t identify as a car.”
Sen. Brice Wiggins, a Republican from Pascagoula, said the “protectionist” bill came from traditional car dealers threatened by competition from electric carmakers.
Republican Sen. Joey Fillingane of Sumrall said the bill could cause Mississippi to fall behind other states in the race to attract investment from electric car companies.
“Maybe we just like being last all the time. Maybe it’s a badge of honor — we’re the last ones to change,” Fillingane said. “If we’re not careful … we could deprive our citizens of opportunities they really ought not to be deprived of.”
The Biden administration has incentivized the purchase of electric vehicles. That, on top of an exception to regulations under state franchise laws, allows electric carmakers to operate by a different set of rules, Sparks said.
The bill does not restrict the direct sale of electric cars, as people can buy them online. But if they want to buy an electric car in person, they would have to drive to the state’s only Tesla store in Pearl, which would be allowed to remain open under the proposed new law. Tesla or any other electric car company could not open a new brick-and-mortar location to sell cars unless they enter a franchise agreement.
The bill passed in a bipartisan 39-13 vote.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.