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Archive for January, 2012

Democrats, freshmen dot Reeves’ committee chairs

January 6th, 2012 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves revealed his committee assignments Friday morning.

There were no major surprises. Democrats will chair 17 of the Senate’s 39 committees. Of those 17, the most powerful are probably Judiciary B, chaired by Hob Bryan; and Highways and Transportation, chaired by Willie Simmons.

Five Senators in their first terms will serve as chairs. Melanie Sojourner, D-Natchez, leads that list as head of the Forestry Committee.

The old Fees and Salaries Committee is now the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, chaired by Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, who is serving her first term.

The old Oil and Gas Committee and the old Public Utilities Committee have been merged, creating the new Energy Committee.

“This was an incredibly difficult task,” Reeves said. Reeves said he wanted to include Democrats for chairmanships to properly reflect the make-up of the Senate and the state. “That hasn’t happened in the past in the other chamber,” he said, referring to former House Speaker Billy McCoy appointing only Democrats to chairmanships.

Here’s the full list of committees, and their chairmen and vice chairmen:

Accountability Efficiency and Transparency

Nancy Collins, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Agriculture

Billy Hudson, Chairman

Russell Jolly, Vice Chairman

Appropriations

Buck Clarke, Chairman

Terry Burton, Vice Chairman

Business and Financial Institutions

Gary Jackson, Chairman

J.P. Wilemon, Vice Chairman

Compilation, Revision and Publication

Derrick Simmons, Chairman

Dean Kirby, Vice Chairman

Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Constitution

Michael Watson, Chairman

Will Longwitz, Vice Chairman

Corrections

Sampson Jackson, Chairman

Lydia Chassanoil, Vice Chairman

County Affairs

Nickey Browning, Chairman

Billy Hudson Vice, Chairman

Drug Policy

David Jordan, Chairman

Michael Watson, Vice Chairman

Economic Development

John Horhn, Chairman

Steve Hale Vice, Chairman

Education

Gray Tollison, Chairman

Nancy Collins, Vice Chairman

Elections

Chris McDaniel, Chairman

David Blount, Vice Chairman

Energy

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Enrolled Bills

Alice Harden, Chairman

Kelvin Butler, Vice Chairman

Environmental Protection, Conservation and Water Resources

Tommy Gollott, Chairman

Deborah Dawkins, Vice Chairman

Ethics

Bennie Turner, Chairman

Gary Jackson, Vice Chairman

Executive Contingent Fund

Robert Jackson, Chairman

Gray Tollison, Vice Chairman

Finance

Joey Fillingane, Chairman

Merle Flowers, Vice Chairman

Forestry

Melanie Sojourner, Chairman

Giles Ward, Vice Chairman

Highways and Transportation

Willie Simmons, Chairman

Perry Lee, Vice Chairman

Housing

Hillman Frazier, Chairman

Chris Massey, Vice Chairman

Insurance

Videt Carmichael, Chairman

Rita Parks, Vice Chairman

Interstate and Federal Co-op

Kenny Wayne Jones, Chairman

Sampson Jackson, Vice Chairman

Investigate State Offices

Albert Butler, Chairman

Videt Carmichael, Vice Chairman

Judiciary A

Briggs Hopson, Chairman

Bennie Turner, Vice Chairman

Judiciary B

Hob Bryan, Chairman

Chris McDaniel, Vice Chairman

Labor

Kelvin Butler, Chairman

Robert Jackson, Vice Chairman

Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting

Merle Flowers, Chairman

Local and Private

Perry Lee, Chairman

Tony Smith, Vice Chairman

Municipalities

J.P. Wilemon, Chairman

Bill Stone, Vice Chairman

Ports and Marine Resources

Brice Wiggins, Chairman

Public Health and Welfare

Dean Kirby, Chairman

Hob Bryan, Vice Chairman

Public Property

David Blount, Chairman

Sally Doty, Vice Chairman

State Library

Deborah Dawkins, Chairman

Albert Butler, Vice Chairman

Tourism

Lydia Chassanoil, Chairman

Sean Tindal, Vice Chairman

Universities and Colleges

Terry Burton, Chairman

John Polk, Vice Chairman

Veterans and Military Affairs

Haskins Montgomery, Chairman

Philip Moran, Vice Chairman

Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Giles Ward, Chairman

Angela Hill, Vice Chairman

UMMC lays off 115 employees

January 4th, 2012 No comments

University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has just announced that it will reduce its workforce by 2 percent, by eliminating 90 vacant positions and laying off 115 employees.

That’s bad news for one of the state’s largest employers.

Here’s the full press release:

The University of Mississippi Medical Center is reducing the size of its workforce by approximately 115 employees today.

Coupled with a decision to not fill 90 vacant positions, the UMMC workforce will be about 2 percent smaller than it was at the end of 2011, according to Dr. James E. Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs.

Keeton said a number of factors combined to cause the cutbacks in staffing, but the most compelling are the poor economy and the increase in uninsured and underinsured patients.  Weak economic conditions have dampened demand for clinical services and increased the ranks of the state’s unemployed, who often lose their health insurance along with their jobs. 

“This is a very tough decision but it is imperative that we align our costs with our revenues,” Keeton said.  “I am truly sorry for the people who are affected but we have no other option.”

In addition to the poor economy, UMMC has been contending with the considerable costs of implementing an electronic health record in order to comply with federal regulations. 

Affected employees include administrators, technicians, nurses and support staff. 

“Health care is facing many unknowns at the local, state and federal levels and we have to take precautions to respond to that uncertainty,” Keeton said.  “Over the long term, the need for health care and the health professionals we’re training to provide it will only grow.”

Sources: Schloegel, Barksdale among finalists for MDA post (Updated)

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant will make what a press release called a “major agency appointment” Wednesday afternoon at a 2 p.m. news conference.

I’ve done some calling around since Tuesday, when the release was sent, and here’s what I’ve learned:

Two sources have said the new executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority will be named at the news conference. Each had a different name. One source said former Hancock Bank president and current Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel will succeed interim MDA director Leland Speed.

The other source, who had not heard Schloegel’s name connected to MDA, said Netscape founder and public education philanthropist Jim Barksdale will get the job. “He’s been vetted the past couple weeks,” the source said. “That’s who I’m going with until I hear different.”

For what it’s worth, a woman who answered the phone at Gulfport’s city hall at 10 a.m. said Schloegel was in his office, but was unavailable to take a call. To make it to Jackson for the 2 p.m. news conference, he’d have to leave the Coast by noon or shortly before.

I’ll update this throughout the day, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: Another source has said it’s Barksdale. So if you’re scoring at home, Barksdale leads Schloegel 2-1.

SECOND UPDATE: If you had Barksdale in your office pool, you win. Bryant said Barksdale will serve on an interim basis, and will help in the search for a permanent director. Bryant said the timetable for completing the search would be within 90-120 days, about the length of the legislative session. Barksdale will be paid $1, just as Speed was.

Barksdale will have to go through the confirmation process in the Senate if he still holds the job toward the end of the legislative session, when confirmations are normally done.

Bryant said Barksdale would immediately begin a review of MDA’s structure, to see if there are ways to make the agency more efficient and/or effective. Bryant praised Speed’s work and said the MDA has been great in recruiting industry to Mississippi, but added, “we can’t just say we’ll be like everybody else and be satisfied with that.”

Barksdale said he has filed his financial disclosure information with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, and is unaware of any business holding that would represent a conflict of interest with his new position.

For his part, Speed told the crowd gathered at the Woolfolk State Office Building that when Bryant asked him about bringing Barksdale to the MDA, “it took my breah away. This is a super step for our state.”

Metro Jackson well-repped in key political positions

January 1st, 2012 No comments

The governor’s office and both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature will have entirely new leadership when the 2012 session starts at noon Jan. 3.

And each of the new faces has roots in the Jackson Metro area.

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves are from Rankin County. Rep. Phillip Gunn, a Republican whose district includes portions of Clinton and Madison County, is all but guaranteed to be the next House Speaker.

The three men whose approval each piece of legislation must receive before it becomes law are intimately familiar with the city of Jackson and its needs and problems. Will that give Jackson a built-in advantage in getting its legislative wish list passed?

“I would hope it would help,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who has been the tip of the spear for many a legislative fight on behalf of Jackson. “But of course, (former speaker) Billy McCoy has been a big supporter of Jackson.”

Indeed, McCoy told the Mississippi Business Journal during an interview last session that one of his favorite ways to unwind after a day at the Capitol was to drive by the Farish Street project and check on its progress. David Watkins, who is developing the historic Farish Street district, said in a separate interview last April that he and McCoy would often run into each other in the construction zone.

“He’s really interested in what we’re doing here,” Watkins said of McCoy. “He realizes what Farish Street could do for Jackson.”

Brown was part of a meeting right before Christmas with Jackson officials in which the city’s legislative priorities were discussed. And while specifics weren’t laid out, Brown said the city’s agenda would be similar to those from previous sessions.

“They have to decide what they want to do,” he said. “Obviously, they’d like some help with some of the infrastructure projects that we have. We don’t know exactly what they’ll ask for, but roads are always a problem. There’s just not enough money for them.”

Brown said he expects to receive Jackson’s legislative bundle by mid-January, in time to file the bills before the session’s first deadline on Feb. 20.

It’s likely the agenda will include a mechanism to enact a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes law, in which Jackson would receive a lump sum from the state to offset the revenue the city loses from state buildings being exempt from property taxes.  The bill would likely be dead on arrival, though, Brown said.

“I’d like to see it. I think we need to do it with our property tax situation. With the budget like it is, I think anything that adds cost to the state general fund is going to be a non-starter.”

With revenue bills required to originate in the House, such legislation would have to earn Gunn’s approval before hitting the floor. Gunn did not return messages by the time the MBJ went to press last Tuesday.

Jackson scored a couple major victories during the 2011 session. A bond package totaling $38 million for a civil rights museum and a Mississippi history museum passed. The two museums should be open in time for the state’s bicentennial in 2017. They will sit adjacent to each other in downtown Jackson.

The bill setting up the fund for the museums enjoyed support from Gov. Haley Barbour, and several key committee chairmen whose districts are outside Jackson. It would have been difficult to form that coalition in the past, Brown said.

“I don’t’ sense as much anti-Jackson (sentiment) as maybe there was 20 years ago. A lot of cities in the state need help. There has been some concern in other parts of the state that if we help Jackson, what will happen for Hattiesburg, Meridian, the Gulf Coast. Everybody needs help.

“I do see some concern about just the whole financial situation,” Brown continued. “We don’t have enough money to do the things we need to do. There’s just not enough to go around.”