Archive for March, 2012

Split PSC allows Kemper to move forward (Updated)

March 30th, 2012 No comments

The Mississippi Public Service Commission voted 2-1 Friday morning to allow — at least temporarily — Mississippi Power Co. to continue construction on the Kemper County coal plant.

Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley was the dissenting vote.

Commissioners will hold another hearing Tuesday morning to decide if they will issue a permanent certificate of public necessity and convenience. Friday’s hearing was in response to a 9-0 ruling in mid-March by the Mississippi Supreme Court that said the PSC — in the same 2-1 split — decision in 2010 that moved Kemper forward was not based on “substantial evidence presented.”

In his written dissent, Presley cited John Conlee’s classic country music hit “Rose Colored Glasses,” writing that “the rose colored glasses allow the majority to bypass state laws about certificate proceedings, redefine ‘temporary,’ and brush away apparent cost overruns while forcing customers to bear risk for untried technology.”

Presley, the only commissioner to speak to reporters, said after the hearing — which lasted less than one minute — that “(MPC) is already in a too-big-to-fail scenario. I guarantee you we’ll be bailing them out eventually, and I’m against that kind of corporate socialism.”

MPC spokesman Jeff Shepard denied that the coal-fired generation plant is experiencing cost overruns. He added that the company has spent $1.1 billion on the project since construction started in 2010. Construction is expected to finish in 2014. Halting construction would lead to massive cost overruns, he said, noting that contractors who have already been hired would continue to bill the company.

“The cash register is ringing the entire time,” he said.

Mississippi Sierra Club director Louie Miller called Friday morning’s hearing “patently illegal,” saying that such hearings should contain public testimony. “The reason they haven’t opened this docket up is because they know it couldn’t stand the light of day,” he said, adding that the Sierra Club will appeal Friday’s decision, whose legal journey will most likely lead right back to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

UPDATE: A small correction: I just finished reviewing the docket for Tuesday’s meeting, and Kemper isn’t on there. It could be added, up to 24 hours before the meeting. Or, if commissioners want to add it during the meeting, they could, if all three agree to do so. That’s highly unlikely. It’s also unlikely that it will be on the docket if it’s not on there by now.

That said, the issue will be taken up either at the PSC’s next regularly scheduled meeting in May, or during a special called meeting in April. Sorry for that confusion. Y’all have a good weekend.

MPC asks PSC to validate certificate in light of court’s ruling

March 29th, 2012 No comments

In advance of Friday morning’s hearing, Mississippi Power Co. filed Thursday a motion asking the Public Service Commission to issue a declaratory opinion affirming that the certificate of public convenience and necessity the Commission issued for the Kemper County coal plant last year is still valid.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled 9-0 March 15 that the PSC’s split decision to grant the certificate in 2010 was not based on “substantial evidence presented.” Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley voted against the project. The Southern District’s Leonard Bentz and Lynn Posey of the Central District voted for it.  MPC said shortly after the high court’s ruling that it would continue construction on the project.

What MPC is asking commissioners to affirm is that, essentially, the Supreme Court’s ruling does not disallow construction on the $2.88 billion project from continuing.

The motion says that stopping construction would do “significant and potentially irreparable harm to MPC and its customers and to ensure the timely and cost-effective completion of the Kemper Project in order to assure maintenance of adequate service to customers.”

Commissioners will take up the matter Friday at 9 a.m. in the PSC meeting room of the Woolfolk building in Jackson.

One of two ABW bills makes deadline with room to spare (Updated with Bryant remarks)

March 27th, 2012 No comments

One of the two bills that would increase the alcohol-by-weight content in beer from 5 percent to 8 percent has met a major deadline.

Senate Bill 2878 was sent to the House floor by the Ways and Means Committee Tuesday morning. The deadline for committees to report general bills that originated in the opposite chamber is April 3.

House Bill 1422, which is identical to SB 2878, still sits in two Senate committees, Economic Development and Tourism, meaning it has to clear both to reach the floor. Folks with Raise Your Pints seem optimistic that will happen, with good reason: The Senate bill that cleared House Ways and Means Tuesday cleared each of those committees before it made it to the House.

The next deadline one or both of the bills will have to meet is April 11, the last day for floor action on general bills that originated in the opposite chamber.

The best news, though, is that since the bills are identical, it’s likely they will avoid a conference committee, and be sent straight to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk. Bryant said in January, and has reiterated a few times since, that he isn’t “necessarily opposed” to signing the legislation.

If and when Tuesday the House ABW bill clears one or both of the Senate committees, I’ll update. As they have for the past month or so, though, things are looking good for the craft beer movement.

UPDATE: SB 2878 has cleared the House and has been sent to Gov. Phil Bryant. I’ve emailed his spokesperson to see what Bryant might do with it. When I get a response, I’ll post it.

SECOND UPDATE: Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock just emailed a short statement. It said, “Gov. Bryant will review the measure after it has been transmitted to him by the Legislature.”

Like his predecessor, we probably won’t know what Bryant will do until he actually does it.

Coleman enters Northern District MSSC race

March 21st, 2012 No comments

Defense attorney Josiah Coleman of Toccopola announced Wednesday afternoon that he has qualified to run for the Mississippi Supreme Court seat being vacated by Presiding Justice George C. Carlson Jr.

The seat is one of three in the Northern District. Coleman, whose grandfather J.P. Coleman served as governor, joins Batesville lawyer Flip Phillips and the Stennis Institute’s Lydia Quarles in the race.

Here’s a press release Coleman sent.

Mississippi defense attorney Josiah Dennis Coleman of Toccopola announced today that he will be a candidate for the Mississippi Supreme Court; District 3, Place 3.  He has qualified with the Secretary of State’s Office.
“The principles of our democratic and constitutional form of government demand the careful safeguarding of liberty.  My campaign for Supreme Court will be about legal integrity,” stated Coleman.  He added, “I believe appellate judges should not act to make public policy as though they were members of the legislative branch of the government.  Rather, the job of our courts is to fairly apply properly enacted law to the facts of the cases before them.”
“Mississippi’s courts must be impartial and consistent in reviewing cases, as it heavily impacts the people in our state,” continued Coleman.  “As a Supreme Court Justice, I will ensure that our laws protect our families and businesses and that Mississippi is a place where fair and swift justice prevail, so as to not threaten the life, liberty, and property of the people.  By upholding the values of due process and submitting to the law, I want to prevent unnecessary multiplication of expense and effort to litigate disputes in Mississippi.”
Coleman has a family history of public service, as he is the son of Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Thomas A. Coleman and the grandson of Governor and Fifth Circuit Judge J.P. Coleman.  In addition, his mother, Dr. Frances Coleman, dedicated 30 years to instructing Mississippi’s students as a public school teacher in Choctaw County.  
Over the last 10 to 15 years, many people in Mississippi have devoted themselves to making sure that Mississippi’s courts are fair and impartial, and Coleman, as a Supreme Court Justice, will act with diligence and impartiality to ensure their work continues to last.
“I am running for this position because I believe in the rights that all Mississippians have before the courts of this state, and my dedication to ensuring those rights, equipped with the skills and gifts to serve our state, makes me the ideal candidate for the Supreme Court,” Coleman said.  
Coleman grew up on his grandfather’s farm where he was first introduced to hard work and perseverance, leading him to graduate valedictorian from Ackerman High School.  He attended The University of Mississippi, where he graduated cum laude and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in History and Philosophy in 1995. Upon graduation, he worked for the Mississippi Secretary of State.  Later he attended and graduated from The University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served as Treasurer of the Moot Court Board.
After graduating from law school in 1999, Coleman clerked for United States Magistrate Judge Allan Alexander.  Following his clerkship, Coleman entered private practice.  His practice has emphasized defense litigation, including the defense of physicians, hospitals, businesses and individuals throughout Mississippi.  He currently works for the Oxford firm of Hickman, Goza, & Spragins.
Coleman is a member of the Mississippi Bar Association, the Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association, Lafayette County Bar Association, American Inns of Court, Pontotoc County Firefighters Association and has been admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, all United States District Courts in the state and all State Courts in Mississippi. 
He resides in Toccopola in Pontotoc County where he is an active volunteer firefighter and a Deacon at College Hill Presbyterian Church in Oxford.  Coleman is married to the former Ashleigh Allison Burke of Columbia, South Carolina and they happily await the arrival of their first child in April

Categories: Mississippi Supreme Court Tags:

Gunn says he’s pleased with first two months of session

March 19th, 2012 No comments

Speaker Phillip Gunn said Monday afternoon that he was generally pleased with the bills the House sent to the Senate before last week’s deadline to do so.

Gunn was the speaker at the lunch meeting of the Stennis Capital Press Corps.

Gunn referred just more than 1,500 bills to House committees. Of those, 268 survived the committee deadline; about 150 survived the deadline for floor action and were sent to the Senate.

“We were able to get out of the House every bill that we wanted to,” Gunn said.

Not without controversy, though. Two days before last Thursday’s floor deadline, House Democrats began to request that a handful of bills be read aloud in the chamber before they were voted on. That caused a few late nights and early mornings before the disagreement among Democrats and Republicans was ironed out. Gunn did not provide details of what brought about the consternation, nor what was done to solve it.

Democrats were especially upset over bills involving illegal immigration reform, restrictions on abortion and the establishment of voter ID, to go with legislation curtailing Attorney General Jim Hood’s power to lead litigation on behalf of the state.

“Disagreement isn’t the problem,” said Gunn, in his first extended meeting with the media since he took over as Speaker in early January. “Not being able to reconcile those disagreements is a problem. We’re going to continue to have disagreements and spats, but as long as we can act like adults we’ll be fine.”

Gunn didn’t sound all that surprised at the sound and fury over the Republicans’ favored bills.

“There are a lot of policy issues Republicans have fought for that they couldn’t get to the floor (when Democrats controlled the House),” he said. Of the GOP takeover of the House, Gunn said, “I think it sends a signal that people want to see change.”

With the first few deadlines relating to general bills gone, leadership in both parties will soon turn their attention to the budget-writing process, something that hasn’t gone smoothly the past few sessions. The bill-reading maneuver Democrats employed is likely to be used again when it comes time to actually pass budget bills. With revenue bills requiring a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass, there’ll have to be some serious deal-making going on.

Beef plant trial, scheduled to start Monday, taken off judge’s calendar

March 16th, 2012 No comments

The civil trial involving the state and the Georgia-based company hired to manage the construction of the failed Mississippi Beef Processors plant in Oakland has been taken off Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston Kidd’s calendar.

The trial had been scheduled to start Monday morning.

Dorsey Carson, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, would not comment when reached on his cell phone Friday, other than to confirm that the trial was not going forward as of mid-afternoon.

Usually, a civil trial being removed from a judge’s calendar means the two sides have reached a settlement, or are close to doing so.

The state of Mississippi, its now-defunct Land, Water and Timber Board and the Mississippi Development Authority are suing Facility Construction Management Inc. in an effort to recoup some or all of the $54 million the state lost when the cull cattle plant closed shortly after it opened in 2004.

Three Facility executives have since been released from federal prison after they each plead guilty to making an improper donation to former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s campaign. Richard Hall, former president of Mississippi Beef Processors, is still incarcerated in a facility in Kentucky, according to the Bureau of Prisons website, and is scheduled for release in May.

Court: Kemper approval not based on ‘substantial evidence presented’

March 15th, 2012 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled 9-0 Thursday afternoon that the Mississippi Public Service Commission’s decision to allow Mississippi Power Co. to build a lignite coal-fired power plant in Kemper County was not supported by “substantial evidence presented,” as mandated by statute.

The Sierra Club had sought to halt the project in Harrison County Chancery Court, which ruled in favor of the company. The Sierra Club appealed that decision to the high court last year.

The PSC voted 2-1 to allow the project to proceed. Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley was the dissenting vote.

“I think this puts us back to square one,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision to remand the case back to the PSC for further proceedings. Presley said the Commission was checking with its legal counsel to see if MPC had to halt construction, which started last year. He added that MPC had alerted PSC monitors last week that it anticipated cost overruns on the project.

Opponents of the project argued from the outset that the technology MPC planned to employ at Kemper was unproven, making the $2.88 billion plant an enormous risk for the company’s ratepayers, who would pay for construction with increased power bills. The company revealed in filings with the PSC that, on average, power bills would rise 45 percent.

I have a phone message in to MPC spokesperson Cindy Duvall. If and when she responds, I’ll post it.

UPDATE: Duvall just responded via email. “We have received the Mississippi Supreme Court’s order and are presently reviewing it,” she wrote.

Bill temporarily removing Personnel Board oversight passes Senate

March 15th, 2012 No comments

The Senate passed Thursday morning a bill that would remove for two years State Personnel Board restrictions on agency heads’ ability to terminate employees.

It’s the fourth consecutive session the bill has been introduced. It passed on a 29-19 vote.

Supporters of the legislation called it a critical cost-saving measure. Opponents said it would hand too much authority to agency heads, who would be free to terminate employees without having to go through Personnel Board procedures beforehand. It would also eliminate Board-administered recourse terminated employees.

The bill also institutes a four-year hiring freeze.

Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, expressed concern that should an agency employee choose to take another job, the agency could not fill that position because under the terms of the bill, that position had been eliminated. Original language in the bill said that position could not be filled within the two-year window, but an amendment adopted stretched that to four years.

Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, didn’t deny that could be possible. “I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said. “If that’s the case, (agency heads) will have to come back to this Legislature and ask us to change it.”

Brown also didn’t deny that it was likely some state workers could lose their jobs.

“All we’re trying to do is save money,” he said. “We’ve cut these agencies and cut them and cut them. We’re to the point now that we’re digging into the bone. These agencies have to have some relief. This is a huge method of doing it.”

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said the claims that Reduction in Force procedures the Personnel Board oversaw related to employee termination were burdensome red tap were not true.

“On average, the entire process took 12 days,” he said. “Who gets hired should be based on what they know, not who they know. If you eliminate the Personnel Board, that’s what will happen. This is about politics. This is not going to save money.”

Categories: Mississippi Legislature Tags:

Regulatory, local option bills clear Senate

March 13th, 2012 No comments

A little more than 48 hours until the deadline for floor action on bills that have made it out of committee, the House spent much of Tuesday morning debating a bill that would require doctors performing physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals. The bill passed 80-37, but not before reigniting the worst parts of last fall’s Personhood debate.

The Senate, on the other hand, passed a handful of bills that have been watched closely by business groups and their advocates. One of those was the Mississippi Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act. 

The bill establishes a committee whose membership would include small business owners to review new and existing regulations, in an effort to make them less of a burden. This has been a priority for Ron Aldridge, head of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses, which lobbies for small business issues. Gov. Phil Bryant also made it part of his legislative agenda.

The Senate also approved a local option bill that would allow cities whose populations are greater than 6,000 (or if the city has fewer than 6,000 people but serves as a county seat) to vote to come out from under countywide dry laws. The process could not start until 20 percent of a city or town’s electorate signed a petition to put the issue on the ballot.

If approved, the bill would allow alcohol by the glass to be served in restaurants and hotels within the municipality, or at places that already have an on-premises retail permit. The permit requirement, offered in an amendment by Pearl Republican Sen. Dean Kirby, would make it almost impossible for new retailers (like liquor stores) to locate in newly wet cities and towns.

If the vote fails, the issue could not be revisited on the ballot for at least another two years. Probably the best thing this bill would do — besides putting the power in the hands of the cities and not the Legislature — is stop the endless parade each session of cities seeking permission to hold a vote to repeal their counties’ dry laws.

The Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association had been the bill’s most ardent supporter.

Categories: Mississippi Legislature, NFIB Tags:

Beer ABW bill clears the Senate

March 12th, 2012 No comments

Bills that would raise the alcohol-by-weight limit in beer in Mississippi from 5 percent to 8 percent have cleared the House and the Senate, clearing the way for whatever differences the two chambers have over the legislation to be ironed out in conference committee.

The Senate, by a vote of 37-14, followed the House’s lead and passed its own version of the bill Monday afternoon, three days before the floor deadline, which means that have already cleared committee have to pass the floor of the originating chamber or die.

This is big news for Raise Your Pints and other supporters of the craft beer movement. The bills in each chamber have received enough bipartisan support that there’s not much of a chance either of the bills will die in conference. Like Rep. Hank Zuber did in the House, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, made the bill about tourism and economic development, not alcohol, when he presented it to the Senate.

Whoever the conferees are from each chamber should continue to beat that drum.