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Reeves: Bond bill has to meet long-term needs, and MDA fund limit needs lowering

January 7th, 2013 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will support a bond bill that addresses long-term capital needs, charter schools should be allowed to locate wherever parents want them, and the Mississippi Development Authority needs more legislative supervision over how it spends money out of its revolving loan fund.

Reeves touched on those topics and a few others Monday during the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon in Jackson.

The Republican has taken criticism, including from some in his party, since the last legislation session ended without the passage of a bond bill, the first time that’s happened in as long as a lot of legislative veterans can remember.

The first-term lieutenant governor repeated Monday what he’s said for a couple months: He can get behind a bond package “reasonable and rational in size” that pays for long-term capital needs instead of things that should be funded through the normal appropriations process. He listed local system bridge programs, and repairs and HVAC systems for state buildings as things that have historically been bonded, and that are a big reason why the state pays $430 million annually in debt service.

“If it does not meet those criteria, I cannot support” a bond bill, Reeves said.

Reeves also reiterated his support for charter schools in every district where enough parents want to form one. Who can trigger the charter law was a sticking point in last year’s session, with splits forming among those who held views similar to Reeves’, and those who wanted charter schools only in districts rated as unsuccessful or failing.

There will be another bill this session aimed at lowering the ceiling for which the MDA can spend out of its revolving loan fund without legislative approval. Currently, the MDA can spend up to $468 million before having to ask lawmakers’ permission. The fund is used to help economic development prospects with costs related to coming to Mississippi.

Last year, a bill passed the Senate that would have lowered the limit from $468 million to $50 million. It died in the House Ways and Means Committee when chairman Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, did not bring it up for a vote.

“I do not believe the Mississippi Development Authority ought to have $468 million to spend on whatever project they want to spend it on,” Reeve said.

Reeves affirmed his opposition to the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and said there would be no “serious, significant discussion” about it until the federal government clarifies certain rules. Particularly, Reeves said, states who opt out of the Medicaid expansion need to know if disproportionate share payments – made to hospitals that write off the cost of large amounts of treatment to indigent patients – will remain or be eliminated.

The 2013 session gavels to a start Tuesday at noon.

Third term secured, Knight prepares to advance Farm Bureau’s legislative agenda

December 7th, 2012 No comments

Randy Knight was elected in early December to his third term as president of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Like most heads of advocacy organizations, Knight is finalizing Farm Bureau’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 8.

Near the top of the legislative wish list is making sure no changes are made to the state’s animal cruelty law, which was passed in 2011 after a compromise between Farm Bureau and animal rights groups. It makes a second offense a felony.

“We’d love to see that compromise upheld,” Knight said.

Legislation legalizing deer farming, an issue packaged as a one that will drive economic development by attracting out-of-state hunters to deer farms, has failed the past few sessions. Allowing it would endanger livestock, Knight said.

“It carries significant risk of disease.” Deer farming is legal in 33 states.

Also on the legislative agenda is some kind of reform to the state’s cattle theft laws. According to 2011 numbers provided by Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, an average of 250 cattle are stolen per year. That number could rise, with droughts in Texas and the Midwest shrinking the U.S. cattle herd and driving up prices.

It involves more than rustlers stealing cows out of a pasture, Knight said. Buyers at sale barns can pose as legitimate cattle companies and make off with truckloads of cows because they’re allowed 48 hours to tender payment. Any legislation would have to protect sellers, Knight said.

Knight said his primary mission for Farm Bureau itself will be to grow the federation’s membership. He said the number of member families in 2012 exceeded 200,000 for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

“Our emphasis is educating the general public on what Farm Bureau does,” Knight said. “If people knew how we stood up for them in the Legislature and in Washington, more people would want to be a member of Farm Bureau.

“And we’re always growing our education process,” Knight continued. “If we don’t tell our story, and what we’re doing on the farm and how we’re taking care of our animals, somebody else is going to tell it for us. And it won’t be told the right way.”

 

With McGee’s seat open, list of possible replacements already includes one name

November 20th, 2012 No comments

Rep. Kevin McGee, R-Brandon, resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives Monday as part of a deal with the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission found in February that McGee had violated ethics laws after a printing company owned by his family had received almost $350,000 in state contracts while he was a House member. McGee no longer works at the printing company. McGee’s settlement with the Ethics Commission, which came more than a year after the case opened, included a $10,000 fine.

His old district, House District 59, is entirely within Rankin County. Gov. Phil Bryant will set a special election to fill McGee’s seat.

One name that emerged as a possible candidate Monday night is Bradley Lum. Lum is a partner in a new management firm, and a former teacher and coach at Brandon High School and Hinds Community College. He graduated from Ole Miss, where he played baseball.

Reached on his cell phone Tuesday morning, Lum would only say that he was considering a run.

Whoever wins would be in a reliably Republican district, and would hold what’s considered one of the safer seats in the Legislature. McGee first won election in 2007. He ran unopposed in 2011.

The Mississippi Business Journal first told you of The Ethics Commission’s investigation of McGee in October 2011. That story can be read here.

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New samples law more good news for existing, future breweries

May 31st, 2012 No comments

This week’s issue of the Mississippi Business Journal has a story in it about Crooked Letter Brewery, whose owners hope to be up and running this fall.

The Jackson County brewery would be Mississippi’s second, joining Hancock County’s Lazy Magnolia Brewing Co. (The Keg and Barrel in Hattiesburg is a brewpub, the only of its kind in the state.)

Crooked Letter CEO Wanda Blacksmith and her husband Paul, the brewery’s GM, said they had planned to open a brewery before Raise Your Pints and others were successful in their push to reform Mississippi’s beer laws. The Blacksmiths did say, though, that the new laws that raised beer’s alcohol content and allowed breweries to exceed that limit in beer sold out-of-state would help.

Crooked Letter got another bonus last Thursday, when Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill that allows breweries to offer samples to customers who tour their facility. It was yet another piece of the craft beer crowd’s legislative agenda. It didn’t make the Crooked Letter story, because the news of Bryant’s signature didn’t arrive until the MBJ’s printing presses were running.

The samples, according to the law, have to be made by the brewery offering them, and cannot exceed six ounces. No one person can have more than six at a time. The samples have to be consumed on the brewery’s premises, and can only be offered between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Obviously, the law requires that tasters be at least 21 years old.

Breweries also have to maintain records of how many and what kind of samples they offered, though there doesn’t seem to be any language that requires auditing of those records by a state agency.

Like the other new statutes, the brewery samples bill takes effect July 1.

 

Hosemann responds to DOJ employee who called Miss. “disgusting and shameful”

May 8th, 2012 3 comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann would like the Department of Justice employee who called Mississippi’s pursuit of a voter ID statute “disgusting and shameful” removed from any involvement in the state’s application to implement the new law.

Stefanie Gyamfi, who works in DOJ’s Voting Rights Division, made the comments on Facebook. Hosemann said at a press conference Tuesday morning that he became aware of them last week.

“I’m tired of people who don’t live in Mississippi stereotyping us,” Hosemann said.

Federal law requires a state seeking approval from DOJ on matters like the implementation of a voter ID law be treated with impartiality, something Hosemann said he’s afraid “isn’t happening here.”

Mississippi’s voter ID law must meet Section 5 of 1965’s Voting Rights Act. That section requires preclearance of any new voting law in states of covered jurisdiction. DOJ has recently rejected voter ID applications from South Carolina and Texas. Hosemann said Mississippi crafted its bill with that in mind. For example, he said, Texas and South Carolina’s law did not provide free IDs to anybody who needed one. Mississippi’s does.

Mississippi’s application process has already started. Attorney General Jim Hood submitted the preliminary paperwork in January, and DOJ responded in March. The next big step will come after Gov. Phil Bryant signs the bill enacting voter ID, which was passed this session in response to last fall’s ballot initiative. The bill will be made a part of the state’s application.

If Hosemann is convinced strongly enough that Mississippi won’t get a fair shake from DOJ, litigating the state’s application in front of a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is an option. Hosemann said he’s already considering doing that.

With rare exceptions, session that just wrapped unkind to tax credits

May 4th, 2012 No comments

Each session, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann submits a bundle of legislative proposals that seek to reform one way or another the state’s business laws.

The session that ended Thursday was no exception. Hosemann had some success — bills that would do everything from change the valuation process for public improvement districts to creating a single entity to govern registered agents were signed by Gov. Phil Bryant – but what didn’t pass is probably more notable.

Every single piece of legislation Hosemann proposed that offered a tax credit that was not already on the books failed. Perished bills would have offered tax credits to businesses either relocating their headquarters here or expanding existing headquarters; they would have offered a 7 percent credit to businesses that enter into a written research agreement with a Mississippi university; and they would have offered businesses the option of passing through a job-creation tax credit rarely used by start-ups to employees.

Each died in the Senate, which is important to note. All session, it was known around the Capitol that any kind of tax credits would have a hard time in the upper chamber. One very large exception to that was the passage of the inventory tax rebate system, which will phase out the unpopular tax over the next five years. Groups like the Mississippi Manufacturers Association had pushed for the phase-out for what seemed like forever.

Moving forward, tax credits might meet equal resistance in the House, based on what Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, told the Stennis Capitol Press Corps April 23.

Frierson said lawmakers will have to make themselves “reign in” their instinct to pass every business-related tax credit in future sessions.  The state’s budget, which still hasn’t fully recovered from the worst of times in 2008 and 2009 and will have enormous holes to fill with the loss of various sources of federal money, demands that happen, he added.

“There’s going to be a great debate over this,” Frierson said. He was quick to point out that no reasonable person could oppose a tax credit if it was proven on the front end that it would eventually create the kind of economic development that could replace the lost revenue.

The vetting process for those kinds of things, though, will only get more rigorous.

Highway funds bill dies while tax credit measures live on, for now

April 11th, 2012 No comments

Catching up on a few things …

House Bill 791, which would have for all intents and purposes precluded state Highway 9 north of Blue Springs from ever having extensive improvements made to it, did not survive the deadline for committees to report bills that originated in the opposite chamber. Its life officially ended April 3.

Gary Chandler, head of Corinth’s Alliance, who opposed the bill along with officials from Tishomingo and Prentiss counties, said he hopes the issue is dead for the session.

“You never say never,” he said in an interview Friday. “We are monitoring the situation. This was awfully damaging to our efforts to make 9 north a supplier route for Toyota.” There remains the possibility that the bill could be revived as an amendment to another bill that deals with the same section of law.

Also dying was one of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s business law proposals that would have allowed for a “pass-through” from employers to employees of a tax credit normally reserved for creating new jobs. Sharing that fate was another of Hosemann’s proposals to offer a 7 percent tax credit to companies who enter into a technology-based agreement with any of Mississippi’s research universities.

Two of Hosemann’s proposals remain alive, each of them a tax credit of some kind. One is a 50 percent tax credit for companies who relocate their headquarters here; another is a 50 percent tax credit for companies already headquartered here that choose to expand. Each sits in the Senate Finance Committee and faces an April 17 deadline to pass the Senate. Otherwise, they’ll die, too.

Bryant signs beer ABW bill (Updated)

April 9th, 2012 No comments

Gov. Phil Bryant has signed Senate Bill 2878, which raises the alcohol content in beer from 5 percent to 8 percent alcohol by weight.

According to the Legislature’s website, Bryant signed the bill April 5, which was last Thursday. Monday was the day Bryant had to either sign it or veto it before it automatically became law.

On July 1, when the law takes effect, Mississippi’s beer options will grow. Raise Your Pints and all the lawmakers — especially Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, and Rep Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs — deserve a massive amount of credit for being persistent and pushing this issue as one that had to do with economic development and tourism, and not alcohol.

UPDATE: Raise Your Pints president Butch Bailey, as you might imagine is having a pretty good Monday.

“We’re thrilled,” he said. “And, we’re thankful that Gov. Bryant recognizes that this will help our small businesses and it will promote the production and sale of Mississippi-made products.”

Bailey said his organization is planning a couple celebratory events. One is tonight in Hattiesburg at the Keg and Barrel. There will also be one in Jackson, either tonight or tomorrow.

Best I can tell, Bryant signed the bill late Thursday. Because lawmakers and Capitol clerks weren’t around Friday because of the Easter holiday, the signed bill didn’t get filed until this morning. That explains the delay between the listed signing date and it not appearing on the legislative website until Monday morning.

Immigration bill’s chances in Senate committee don’t look good

April 2nd, 2012 2 comments

The House bill that would enact several layers of illegal immigration reform, including requiring state and local law enforcement agencies to take a more active role in preventing it, faces a Tuesday deadline to make it out of the Senate Judiciary B Committee.

It doesn’t sound like it will.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chairman of Jud B, said at Monday’s meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps that the bill, House Bill 488, tries to solve a problem best handled by the federal government.

“It appears to instruct police and sheriff’s deputies on how to do their job,” Bryan said. “I agree illegal immigration is a serious problem, but I also think it’s a federal issue.”

Bryan would not say if he would bring the bill up in his committee Tuesday — and believe me, I tried to get him to say one way or the other — but it sounds like he will not. “Given what’s on the (federal) books, is this an efficient way to deal with the problem? I question whether this particular remedy is the best way to handle it.”

Several business groups and law enforcement organizations have signaled their opposition to the bill, which is one of Gov. Phil Bryant’s legislative priorities, saying it acts as an unfunded mandate and has the potential to do major harm to small businesses and to the state’s agriculture sector. Farm Bureau has also come out against it.

If it doesn’t make it out of Jud B tomorrow, it won’t be gone for good. It’s already been attached as an amendment to another bill so the issue will stick around at least a little while longer.

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.