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Bold moves appreciated from the Mississippi Capitol gallery

History was made when a state board and agency chief were ousted as a result of sunset legislation.

The passage of Senate Bill 2764 — considered by some a showdown by Senate Republicans and House Democrats — replaced the current 13-member state Board of Health with an 11-member board and ousted State Health Officer Dr. Brian Amy, effective June 30 (Senate Bill 2764). The governor will appoint seven members, and the lieutenant governor and attorney general will each appoint two members to the new board, which will be subject to stronger conflict of interest criteria.

The legislation was considered one of many bold moves appreciated from the gallery, such as the new law (Senate Bill 2056) prohibiting Mississippians from running for more than one office in the same election if the law prohibits a person from simultaneously holding both positions.

“Everybody got things done and got out of town on speaking terms,” said Marty Wiseman, executive director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, “but it doesn’t mean there aren’t dark partisan clouds on the horizon.”

Business bonanza

More small- and mid-sized businesses may qualify for GO Zone tax-exempt bond financing as they build new facilities or expand in Mississippi as a result of House Bill 1390, which changes the Small Enterprise Development Finance Program concerning low-interest loans of $350,000 to $4 million to finance the construction and renovation of buildings or the purchase of new equipment. Now, retail development and service-related businesses may join manufacturing and industrial projects as qualifying businesses for tax-exempt financing.

“The job creation potential of this new law is significant,” remarked Gov. Haley Barbour. “The combination of lower than market interest rates, a fixed term and state tax incentives will make this an attractive financing option for many businesses locating or expanding within the (49-county) GO Zone.”

Other bold moves, noted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), included preventing a new state labor department, stopping the state minimum/living wage bill and defeating all health mandates. NFIB counted among business-friendly legislative victories that had gone nowhere in previous years: exempting vehicles (up to 26,000 pounds, including trailers) from burdensome federal regulation and approving attorney’s fees for bad check collections.

Second gear

After several years of kicking around various versions of a toll road bill, Mississippi lawmakers approved the “pay as you go” plan for building highways in areas needed to ease congestion (Senate Bill 2375).

The program could be used to help finance the proposed $400-million Airport Parkway between downtown Jackson and the Jackson-Evers International Airport.

Take five

A new incentive encouraging $10 million in private investment in the tourism industry was created — gaming companies excluded — through House Bill 1142, and Mississippi’s film incentive program was improved, increasing rebate incentives offered to filmmakers by another 10% (30% total) up to $5 million for each individual project. Unnamed insiders say the bill was spurred by filmmaker Gary Ross’ dilemma whether to film his next movie project in Mississippi or Louisiana. Ross, best known for producing the blockbuster “Seabiscuit,” has made noise about filming an historical movie near Laurel.

“Over the years, the film industry has been supported by every community in Mississippi,” said state tourism director Craig Ray. “Across the state, we recognize the role it plays in expanding tourism opportunities, creating economic impact and raising awareness of our great state.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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