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Anticipation mounts for what could be significant changes at MDECD

Business eyes turn to summer’s special session

As the 2000 legislative session winds down and a special session on economic development draws near, business leaders have been buzzing about changes in the legislative climate and legislation — that did or did not pass — that impacted various industries.

“The biggest disappointment for us was that home inspector licensing passed the Senate unanimously but failed in the House,” said R. Scott Brunner, CAE, executive vice president of the Mississippi Association of Realtors. “We’ll be back with it next year.”

The most important bill for MAR that did pass was House Bill 1384, which increases the amount of mortgage revenue bonds the Mississippi Home Corp. may issue, Brunner said.

“(This) will help more Mississippi families purchase their first home,” he said. “Now let’s just hope the governor will sign it.”

Jerry McBride, president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, said the most far-reaching pieces of legislation that did not pass this session would have dramatically changed the governmental and political landscape of Mississippi by increasing the power of unions.

“Legislation to create a state department of labor would have unnecessarily carved up many of the existing state agencies to create a new agency,” McBride said. “In most states with a true department of labor, the agency is controlled by organized labor. In Mississippi’s case, having someone in charge from the 5.6% of the workforce that is unionized would not be representative of the other 94.4% of the workers.”

Legislation to allow dues check-off for teachers or state employees would have made these two unions the most politically powerful groups in the state, McBride said.

“We oppose efforts to have the state’s taxpayers pick up the tab for collecting dues for organizations involved in lobbying the Legislature or involved in political campaigns,” he said.

Legislative action that can have the greatest benefit for Mississippi in the future is the decision by the chairmen of the Senate and House Public Utilities committees to study whether or not to open Mississippi’s electric markets to competition, McBride said.

“MMA is encouraged that the committees are studying the issue because we believe competition will be beneficial for the state of Mississippi,” he said.

Perry Nations, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Mississippi, said the biggest impact on the association’s members was the signing of Senate Bill 2900, which changes the length of time that an addendum can be placed on the market prior to bidding without extending the bid date.

“The old law allowed an addendum to be submitted up to 12 hours of the bid,” Nation said. “The new law changes that time to 48 hours. This is quite important to allow time for bids to be put together without errors and also making sure that general contractors are in receipt of all addenda on that job. The new language says no addendum to bid specifications may be issued within 48 working hours of the time established for the receipt of bids unless such addendum also amends the bid opening to a date not less than five working days after the date of the addendum.”

Richard D. Wilcox, president of BIPEC, a business and industry political education committee, said there were a couple of issues that indicated a difference in the legislative climate.

“There are always some positive and negative things that are introduced,” he said. “Some didn’t get very far. From a standpoint of research, just the fact that some of the issues came up and got some attention indicates a different climate in the Legislature. One, the idea of a department of labor. Another one, the idea of doing away with the employment-at-will doctrine. Neither came up for a floor vote. Also, in this different climate, there are those (legislators) that don’t understand business and economic development.”

Wilcox said BIPEC is in the data-gathering process of identifying and tallying votes on issues that have some impact on the economy, job growth and business. Votes will be evaluated and individual legislators will be scored before a report is distributed later this year — after the special session, Wilcox said.

Brad Morris, publisher of MS Pol, a political newsletter, said he was surprised that it wasn’t until April before major legislation came out of the legislative session.

“The month of April hit like a flurry with the teacher pay raise package that went through and then, of course, the flack that was created from state employees,” he said. “Then the whole flag brouhaha that blew up created a lively end of the session.”

Several developments toward the end set the stage for future sessions, such as the teacher pay raise.

Many questions linger about the agenda of the upcoming special session on economic development, Morris said.

“There’s a lot of curiosity as to exactly what will happen at the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development and any specific proposals that may come up in terms of an overall plan for economic development,” he said.

The special session is expected to last two days and cost taxpayers about $30,000.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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