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Budget constraints may halt some proposals

Business groups ready for 2001 legislative session

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series of articles taking a look at business issues in the 2001 Mississippi Legislature.

JACKSON — This holiday season, an unlikely group of contractors, lawyers, restaurant owners and insurance folks have a common goal: they’re gearing up for the 2001

legislative session, which convenes Jan. 2.

The Mississippi Bar

Creating and funding a statewide system of indigent defense in criminal cases and a statewide youth court system, and providing legal services for the poor top Mississippi

lawyers’ legislative wish list.

Continuing the construction of the judicial complex that will house the Court of Appeals and the Mississippi Supreme Court, and supporting an increase in pay for district

attorneys are also on the list, said James Reynolds, director of government relations for The Mississippi Bar.

“We’d like to see an indigent defense established on a district-wide basis, and an office for full-time appellate lawyers for indigent defense, and a statewide commission to

supervise the system,” said Reynolds. “We had a statewide system — the public defender commission — that was dismantled last year.”

The Mississippi Bar supports a statewide youth court system that will bring “effective, efficient and competent justice to every county in the state,” Reynolds said. “It’s essential

to address the needs of juvenile justice in Mississippi. We have fragmented systems throughout the state and we’d like to see a more uniform system.”

Even though the construction of a new judicial complex for the Court of Appeals and the Mississippi Supreme Court has been approved, the project needs to be expedited, said

Reynolds.

“The present housing for the courts is inadequate, and the project is already on track,” he said. “There might be more bond money, or enabling legislation, needed to move

forward.”

The new building would be located on the site of the current facility for the Supreme Court.

Because Mississippi ranks last in the nation for funding legal aid for the poor, and because more than 800,000 citizens qualify financially, The Mississippi Bar supports

legislation that would add more legal services staff attorneys, Reynolds said.

“Currently, there are only 36 on staff,” Reynolds said. “Even with the help of the Bar, thousands of citizens are turned away every year because of a lack of adequate resources.”

The Mississippi Bar recently voted to support a pay increase for the state’s district attorneys, even though a specific amount has not been recommended. “If a pay increase bill is

introduced and supported by the D.A.s, we’ll support it,” he said.

“Basically, our theme is that we’d like to see operations streamlined and see the poor people of the state served,” Reynolds said. “We know it will be a tight year financially, and

it all comes down to money.”

Associated General

Contractors of Mississippi

A trenching and digging law revision bill, a tax increase for contractors and tighter controls in licensing laws top the agenda for the Associated General Contractors of

Mississippi.

“Several things are coming up this year that will be of interest to this industry,” said Perry Nations, executive director of AGC Mississippi. “There may be a trenching and

digging law revision bill that we are working on with Mississippi One Call to assure that the proposed law changes would be fair to the contractors and utilities, and would be

fairly administered. Another bill would increase the contractors’ tax from 3-1/2% to 4%, and we’ll try and clear up the confusion on what is a component part of the building and

what should be taxed at full sales tax. Another bill will clear up some language in the board of contractors bill to give them more authority over contractors operating without a

license in Mississippi, and to tighten the exclusions of work that can be built without a license.”

Even though those issues relate to major bills, the AGC will watch other pending legislation closely, “such as the Institutions of Higher Learning wanting to build certain facilities

without having to bid them,” Nations said.

Mississippi Restaurant Association

“We will be watching the local and private tax issues very carefully,” said Mike Cashion, executive director of the Mississippi Restaurant Association. “We are opposed to

industry-specific taxes that are not directly related to generating tourism activity. There has been a lot of talk about the local option sales tax issue as well. While no one is

especially keen on raising taxes by any method, we are not opposed to an across the board tax that does not single out a specific industry to carry the burden of a local tax.”

Mississippi Insurance Department

Legislation concerning agents and insurance companies are priority items for the state department of insurance in 2001.

The proposed agent legislation bill would adopt the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Producer Licensing Model Act while changing all agent definitions and the

age requirement from 21 to 18.

This technical change to the penalty statute would conform this law to the countersignature of a policy statute. The bill would also delete the portion of a subsection that would

allow non-resident agents to own an interest in a Mississippi agency and would remove the contradiction involving the authorization to suspend a license without a hearing.

Proposed insurance company legislation would require insurance companies to give written notice to MID before distributing extraordinary dividends, eliminate the 30-day

deemer clause for MID response, and require the company to receive written approval for payment of the extraordinary dividend.

With this bill, the requirement for the Mississippi Reserve Certificate for life insurance companies would be deleted. Title insurance companies would be required to post statutory

deposits of 50% of their capital with MID, in conformity with other types of insurance companies, and would authorize all insurance companies to comply with the legal process

statute where only foreign companies are required to comply.

Miscellaneous legislation includes an extension of a repealer to allow banks to pay referral fees, consumer issues such as a bill providing prohibition of discrimination of spousal

abuse affecting life, health, and property and casualty insurance, and a bill to update the current Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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