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Lobbyists already at work on next year

Architects, engineers say headway made during session

Even though the 2001 legislative session wasn’t exactly a banner year for legislation concerning the architect and engineer community, several bills made an impact, and supporters are already gathering support for legislative items in next year’s session.

“There were not as many ‘hot’ items in this years legislative session as there have been in past years,” said James C. Nelson, P.E., of Allen & Hoshall, Ltd. Architects Engineers of Jackson.

“As always, we monitored all legislation because sometimes a bill can inadvertently have an adverse effect on the consulting engineering business. The MDOT appropriation bill was a good example of legislation written by people who were not familiar with the day-to-day operation of MDOT or the consequences of the bill. Many engineers work for MDOT and could have been unfairly hurt if the bill had passed as originally written.”

Architects followed HB 692, legislation that would eliminate compliance with costly environmental equipment that the state health department has not identified as hazardous. As a result of passage of the bill, residential and commercial lawn and fire protection sprinkler systems and swimming pools connected to public water systems would not be required to have backflow preventers. The governor approved the bill April 16, effective immediately.

HB 1695, a comparative bill to SB 2609 that failed earlier in the session, identified strong oversight by the Mississippi State Tax Commission in determining ‘arm’s length transactions’ in financial dealings of any business that extends its operations into Mississippi, said Elizabeth Fargason of Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel Architects PA of Jackson.

“This measure was strongly opposed by AIA earlier in the 2001 session, and through the efforts of many trade and individual organizations the measure was defeated,” she said. “However, it once again gained new life through a suspension of the rules resolution. AIA and other businesses opposed the measure, but due to the slowing economic outlook for tax collections the Legislature was inclined to pass it.”

All corporations that currently maintain a “company store” in Mississippi with income reported in other states will face additional taxes, Fargason said.

“It is not a death knell for these corporations; however, it flies in the face of our previous economic avails to attract such suppliers,” she said. “It is not a good measure and since it passed by only a narrow margin will certainly be a hot topic for the 2002 legislative session.”

Judy Adams, executive director of The Consulting Engineers Council of Mississippi, which provides lobbying assistance for consulting engineers, said the organization did not offer a public position on HB 1695.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove approved the bill April 11, retroactive Jan. 1.

The AIA opposed SB 2631, which would have repealed sections of the code that provided for employment at will.

“AIA opposed these efforts by the major union factions operating in our state and, together with other trade associations, were successful in the measures’ failure,” Fargason said. “JBHM supported the AIA position.”

SB 2894, a measure directed at eliminating the need for additional privilege licenses, which would reduce the amount contractors or subcontractors incur when contracting outside their home office, was awaiting the governor’s approval at press time. The cost reduction would be passed on to clients, Fargason said.

Architects supported the move to save the Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism department from significant budget cuts.

“SB 3106 contained the budget for tourism in this appropriation measure,” Fargason said. “The bill was originally slated for cuts of approximately $6 million dollars, or about 35%, in response to declining tax collections and poor economic growth predictions. Of this, about half of the entire State of Mississippi’s advertising budget would be affected. This invariably would all but eliminate tourism’s ability to advertise the exciting events and hotels/casinos. Many supporting associations were successful in returning $5 million of the $6 million deducted from the agency’s budget.”

SB 3158, which would provide a yearly bond for all improvements via repair, renovation or new construction for state agencies, the IHL and community colleges, was awaiting the governor’s approval at press time.

“While most new construction would be curtailed for the most part due to the economic situation, there will be an attractive array of repair projects,” said Fargason. “The impact of this measure totals over $58 million dollars. The issue does not address the Ayers college desegregation case.”

HB 439, which authorizes funding of infrastructure improvements and was approved by the governor March 23; HB 1596, the MDOT appropriations bill; and SB 2318, the Local System Road Program, were among the bills closely followed by engineers this session.

“We watched the MDOT bill all the way through,” said Adams. “We were opposed to the 10-mile minimum part of the bill because we would like to see more of our smaller firms do MDOT work, rather than see it go to only larger firms. I won’t say we’re happy with the MDOT bill, but we’ll live with it.”

Adams said the establishment of the Local System Road Program, which allows counties to use part of their bridge money, provided that all repaired bridges have a rating of 50 or lower, to fund the local road program without meeting state aid specifications, was a hot issue.

“There were eight bills introduced concerning the program, and we were pleased that SB 2318 passed,” she said. The governor approved it March 24 with an effective date of July 1.

SB 2129, which would have authorized the IHL board of trustees to award public construction contracts for design-build projects on college campuses, died early in committee.

“Consulting engineers are considering submitting design-build legislation for next year’s session,” Nelson said. “At present, design-build is used on some state projects. The Department of Corrections has used the design-build to construct prisons and the last two years the IHL has introduced legislation for design-build. None has passed so far. There is no real consensus as to what parameters should be imposed on the design build process. It can be appropriate for some larger projects, but it isn’t always a good idea to not have the design professional preparing the contract documents and utilizing the bid process for construction.”

The passage of HB 848, which requires the licensure and regulation of home inspectors, was well received by engineers, Adams said.

“We watched it to make sure we were exempt because structural engineers frequently inspect homes,” she said.

Engineers also endorsed a multi-modal bill that created funds for airports, structural railroads and transit systems; a flooding control districts bill that died early in the session; and a local option sales tax bill, which “fails every year,” Adams said.

“We feel that municipalities and counties must have an option to do infrastructure work because the tax base sometimes just doesn’t support infrastructure work,” she said. “There’s so much that needs to be done in areas around the state.”

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


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