Government, education and business leaders are applauding successes and criticizing losses as the 1999 legislative session winds down to a close.
THE GOVERNOR`S OFFICE
Gov. Kirk Fordice pointed fingers after House Bill 1665, an income tax rebate, died in the Senate Finance Committee.
“It is unbelievable to me that a bill that received 95% of the vote in the House would be allowed to die in the Senate Finance Committee without even an accountable vote,” said Fordice.
Fordice said the state’s citizens’ lack of support is among reasons the income tax rebate bill died.
“We have taken care of state employees, built many buildings, renovated buildings and state government has grown immensely,” said Fordice. “The taxpayers do not have a paid lobbyist or special interest group to rally for them on the Capitol steps.”
Fordice also criticized the Senate for allowing House Bill 551 to die in the Senate Finance Committee. The bill would have continued an income tax credit to employers who hire people receiving welfare benefits.
“This tax credit was a great way to help welfare recipients find employment without an inefficient, big government program,” Fordice said. “I am disappointed that it never made it out of the Senate.”
Fordice vetoed House Bill 1480 last week that would allow lenders to sell borrowers credit life insurance policies and to finance the premiums as part of an underlying loan because of “its potential for abuse,” he said.
“If this bill becomes law, an unsuspecting consumer could easily be saddled with a burdensome monthly obligation to repay not only the original loan but also the credit life insurance premiums and the term life insurance premiums — all at an interest rate of more than 30%,” he said.
Fordice is seriously considering calling a special session if certain issues are not resolved, said Robbie Wilbur of the governor’s office.
THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR`S OFFICE
Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said election year antics have not had an effect on the legislative session.
“Overall, this has been a very productive session, where, amazingly, politics for the sake of politics has not been at the forefront,” Musgrove said. “Already, we have seen action to reform our state’s campaign finance laws, to improve teacher compensation, to address state employee pay and to make improvements to the state retirement system. Certainly, health care issues and economic expansion issues have been considered in both houses as well.”
Musgrove called the establishment of the Health Care Trust Fund “a real victory” because the language of the bill protects Mississippians from any future raid on the general fund caused by “whims of the federal government.”
Stating that boundaries between education and the marketplace have blurred considerably, Musgrove said businesses are looking to schools to educate and to prepare workforce-ready graduates.
“This year’s continuing commitment to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, additional accountability measures for school districts, and a solid increase in teacher pay will all have a positive impact on the education of public school students, 92% of our student population.”
SECRETARY OF STATE`S OFFICE
The secretary of state’s office reported several victories this legislative session. In addition to recently signed House Bill 829, recommended by the Business Law Advisory Group headed by Secretary of State Eric Clark, “we’ve had two major successes — the campaign finance bill and the absentee voting bill,” said spokesman David Blount.
House Bill 829 clarifies and defines the standards of conduct and liability for directors and officers of Mississippi business corporations. It also explains the duties of corporate directors and officers and makes Mississippi law consistent with other states.
THE INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING
Conference reports have been filed, but legislation has not passed in the Workforce Training Consolidation bill. Senate Bill 2796, which would consolidate all workforce-training funds into a single agency and would overhaul the workforce training programs under the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, has been closely watched by business and education leaders.
“Consolidating Mississippi’s workforce training efforts represented the number one priority for the state’s long-range economic development,” said Karyn Smith, communications and marketing coordinator for the Institutions of Higher Learning. “While the special task force (appointed by the governor) developed many proposals for improving Mississippi’s long-term economic development, it presented only its top five recommendations to the Legislature this year.”
Three other IHL-introduced bills have fared better. Senate Bill 2156, designed to increase the ability of high school graduates to be more productive in the workforce by holding individual schools accountable for student growth and performance, House Bill 1221, which implements a regional strategic resources action plan, and Senate Bill 2856, which establishes a legislative liaison committee dealing with science and technology issues, all passed the Legislature and have been signed by the governor.
Commissioner Tom Layzell said the Legislature “has been responsive throughout the session and we trust that resolution of several issues will be achieved.”
After three years in the workings, Senate Bill 2792, which provides a fund to allow regular repair and renovation funds for universities, community colleges and state agencies, was passed even though no money was provided for the fund this year.
“The establishment of this mechanism for future funding is encouraging,” said Smith.