Bryant, business groups weigh in on House immigration bill

January 28th, 2011 1 comment

It was late Thursday afternoon when the House blindsided the Senate with an immigration bill that, structurally, shifts the liability for enforcing illegal immigration laws from law enforcement to the businesses that hire them.

The Senate’s version put most of the burden of enforcing illegal immigration laws on law enforcement; the bill included provisions that allowed citizens to sue their local police department or sheriff’s office if that citizen felt either agency was not doing enough, under the terms of the bill, to stop illegal immigration. Businesses who knowingly hired illegal immigrants faced mostly administrative penalties, like the possibility of lost operating licenses and probationary periods in which they had to submit employment reports to their local district attorney.

The House version takes a different tack. Gone is the ability to sue law enforcement, and in its place are heavy monetary penalties for businesses who knowingly hire folks who turn out to be in the U.S. illegally. The specifics: A $5,000 fine per day per illegal worker, up to $25,000 per day. That’s a lot of cash and would put most small businesses out of commission within a few days.

The House’s position is pretty simple: Illegal workers wouldn’t be here if businesses would stop hiring them.

Two directors of major business groups Magnolia Marketplace spoke with Friday morning had two wildly different opinions of the House bill.

Jay Moon, president and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturing Association, didn’t have much of a problem with it “per se.”

“There are some things we’re not quite sure of,” he said. One of the biggest ambiguities, Moon said, is the question of whether companies that verify their workers’ residency eligibility through E-Verify, and that worker turns out to be here illegally, are still subject to the $5,000 per day fine for that worker.

One part of the bill seems to say the companies would be held harmless; another section seems to insinuate they would not.

“We’re not complaining about the sanctions, because we don’t support any manufacturer that hires undocumented workers, but we would like to see that cleaned up a little bit,” Moon said. “We have more procedural questions about the bill than anything else. The general spirit of it is something we can live with.”

Buddy Edens, head of the Mississippi Associated Builders and Contractors, had not read the bill when we spoke to him Friday morning, but said the notion of businesses being slapped with a fine that high “makes no sense at all. That’s pretty excessive.”

Politically, the breakdown of the House vote could present a conundrum for Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Senate GOP leadership.

Two Republican representatives, Larry Baker of Senatobia and Jessica Upshaw of Diamondhead, were absent when the vote went down Thursday afternoon. Rep. Tad Campbell, R-Meridian, voted against it. Every other House Republican voted for it.

Bryant was one of the bill’s most ardent supporters before the Senate sent it to the House. So he has a watershed decision to make in an election year that for him is the most important of his political life: Does he take a hardline stand against illegal immigration at the expense of the business community, which will solidify his popularity with the Tea Party and alienate his law enforcement and most of his business supporters? Or does he protect the business community and open himself up to accusations of being soft on illegal immigration?

He’s not totally tipping his hand yet.

“This is part of the legislative process,” he said in an emailed statement to Magnolia Marketplace. “But we believe the Senate has a better approach to a more fair and reasonable illegal immigration reform. The Senate bill mandates e-verify to protect employers and legal employees while giving law enforcement the authority to arrest those who cross our borders and violate our immigration laws.”




Categories: Elections, News, Phil Bryant, Politics Tags:

Viking Classic economic impact numbers have arrived

January 27th, 2011 No comments

Thursday morning, Magnolia Marketplace got some numbers we’ve been waiting on for several weeks.

A study commissioned by the Mississippi Development Authority and conducted by Mississippi State’s College of Business and its Extension Service took a look at the economic impact of the PGA Tour’s Viking Classic, played every year at Annandale Golf Club in Madison.

Surveyors asked 2,500 attendees at last fall’s Viking how much money they spent on things like food, gas, hotel rooms, how much money they spent at the course on memorabilia, etc.

Here’s what they found:

The total economic impact of the tournament is $22 million. That includes a value added total of $12.5 million, which reflects things like return in rents, wages, interest and profits, according to a press release from MSU. That economic activity created 362 jobs, including 280 direct jobs and 77 indirect jobs.

“It’s a significant amount,” said Dr. Becky Smith, an economist for the College of Business who coordinated the project with Garen Evans and Al Myles, MSU Extension economists in the agricultural economics department.

The total estimated impact on labor income came in at $7.2 million, including $4.9 million worth of income directly attributable to the event, and an another $2.3 million from indirect and induced impacts. Estimated sales taxes collected from Viking-related spending was $1.5 million.

Before this latest study, the last economic impact analysis of the Viking Classic came in the mid-1990s and pegged it at $20 million. It’s no surprise at all that the new numbers came in over that.

These figures will be a part of the sales pitch for tournament organizers when it comes time to sit down with Viking Range to start renewal negotiations. Viking’s title sponsorship contract expires after this year’s tournament, which will be played in July instead of September.

The MDA paid MSU $30,000 to conduct the study. Surveys were taken by undergraduate students at MSU’s College of Business and were gathered during the three-day run-up to the tournament and during the four days of play.

Duvall surprised at level of attention his Ole Miss bill is getting

January 26th, 2011 No comments

In the 2009 legislative session, Rep. Mark Duvall, D-Mantachie, was one of two authors of a bill that would have prohibited the use of automated cameras on streets and highways to catch folks speeding, running stop signs or red lights or any other illegal traffic shenanigans. The bill eventually gained Gov. Haley Barbour’s approval and the use of any kind of electronic recording equipment to police traffic is now illegal in Mississippi.

Duvall, who’s in his first term, got a lot of blowback on that issue, but nothing like he’s getting now on his bill that would mandate the Ole Miss mascot be Colonel Rebel, the sports teams’ nickname be Rebels, and that the band play “Dixie.”

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a 15-minute phone conversation with Duvall. We’ll get to what he said in just a second, but first a little background on Duvall:

After graduating from Mantachie High School, he attended Itawamba Community College with the hopes of majoring in pharmacy at Ole Miss. Before he finished at ICC, he decided he wanted to major in engineering, so Mississippi State made the most sense. He said he pulls for Ole Miss except when the Rebels play the Bulldogs.

“And then I’m a Bulldog fan,” he said.

So with that in mind, why did Duvall introduce this bill?

“Out of concern that was expressed to me from some of the folks in my district because of the mascot change,” he said. “They didn’t feel they were getting their point across to the athletic department and the administration, so I said I’d do whatever I could to help that happen. Filing this bill is the only way I could do that.”

House Bill 1106 has been referred to the Universities and Colleges Committee. Duvall realizes it has virtually no shot of making it out to the House floor. Like the traffic camera bill two years ago, Duvall said it’s possible the mascot/Dixie legislation could be attached to an appropriations bill. “But that would all depend on the mood of the House,” he said. Duvall added that he has not received any direct feedback from Ole Miss brass.

He’s received plenty from everybody else.

“I really didn’t think it would get this much coverage,” he said. “My email inbox is flooded. My cell phone won’t stop ringing. I’m pretty sure my secretary is ready for this to be over, but it’s all part of the process.”

Anheuser-Busch: No position on beer legislation

January 24th, 2011 6 comments

Raise Your Pints President Butch Bailey has been making the media rounds in the week since the Mississippi Business Journal had a cover story about the grassroots organization’s efforts to update Mississippi’s beer laws.

Bailey was on WLBT very early this morning, though Magnolia Marketplace didn’t catch it because the segment aired before we were awake.

Anyway, Jackson Jambalaya had a blog post yesterday that detailed the money trail from Anheuser-Busch and its lobbyist, Beth Clay, to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Kirby that stretched back a couple years. It’s worth a read.

It’s in Kirby’s Finance Committee where the legislation that would raise the alcohol content in beer from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent ABW has died the last two sessions, and where it will very likely die again this session.

But a House bill identical to the Senate version died in the Ways and Means Committee last year, the first time it was introduced by Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, and will probably die again this session. Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, chairs the Ways and Means Committee.

A glance through Watson’s campaign finance filings from the past two years lists the max ($1,000) contribution in 2008 and 2009 from Anheuser-Busch, just like Kirby’s filings do. Filings from 2010 aren’t due in to the secretary of state’s office until Jan. 31.

Also included in Watson’s filings from 2008 and 2009 are $1,000 donations from the Mississippi Malt Beverage Association, whose president told the MBJ for our story last week that it supports the beer legislation. Kirby’s filings do not show any money from the MMBA.

Anheuser-Busch would seem to have the most to lose from the influx of craft beer to Mississippi, because its main competitor, Miller-Coors distributor Capital City Beverage Co. in Jackson, is the main importer and distributor of what little craft and gourmet beer is legal in Mississippi. In an emailed statement to the MBJ from region VP for state affairs Doug Bailey, Anheuser-Busch said it had no position on the beer legislation, intended to take no action on it via its lobbyist Clay, and that the alcohol content of beer in Mississippi “is a matter for the state legislature and Mississippi consumers to decide.”

We’ll let you decide if A-B really means that.

Categories: News, Politics Tags:

Health Report Card: “Failed in many areas”

January 21st, 2011 1 comment

We promised you yesterday to provide the particulars of the Mississippi State Medical Association and the Mississippi State Department of Health’s 2011 Mississippi Public Health Report Card.

It’s a little late because the Fifth Circuit’s damages cap ruling took up yesterday’s blog time, but here it is:

“The state’s health is in critical condition,” said Dr. Timothy Alford, MSMA president. “We have failed in many areas.”

Alford was referring to our state’s rankings in several health indicators. For example, according to the MSMA and the MSDH, Mississippi has more obese adults per capita than any state in the U.S. We also lead in adults who report no physical activity in the past month. We lead in deaths by heart disease, we’re second in cases of diabetes and hypertension, first in traffic fatalities and second in infant mortality.

Basically, like we have been for generations, we’re first in everything bad and last in everything good. Mary Currier, the state health officer, says those statistics trace back to choices.

“Many of these things are predictable and are things we can do something about,” she said during a press conference Thursday at the Capitol.

Numbers like these that are unveiled during a legislative session are usually accompanied by recommendations, and the Report Card was no different. Fighting the general unhealthiness, Alford said, will take a statewide smoking ban, and full funding of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program, the Healthcare Trust Fund, the Trauma Care Trust Fund and full funding of Medicaid. So like everything and everybody else, the MSMA and MDH are asking for money.

It’s an election year, so Medicaid will almost certainly be given most if not all of the money it needs. A smoking ban, however, is already meeting resistance for the same reason.

Re-election anxiety will be at the center of every major decision this session, and these issues are not immune. So have a good weekend, and lay off the french fries.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

State’s non-economic damages cap certified by Fifth Circuit

January 20th, 2011 No comments

Mississippi’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases has just been certified by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The question will now be before the Mississippi Supreme Court for the second time in a year.

In a ruling handed down yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the constitutionality of the non-economic damages question to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The punitive damages cap was one of the centerpieces of the 2004 tort reform legislation.

The case this question arose from involved a woman, Lisa Learmonth, who had sued Sears and Roebuck Co. after she had been involved in an automobile collision with one of the company’s vans. A District Court jury found Sears liable for her injuries and awarded Learmonth $4 million in compensatory damages. The trial judge lowered the compensatory damages award to $1 million. Her attorneys appealed that to the Fifth Circuit; Sears’ attorneys appealed to the same court seeking a new trial, after the trial judge denied that motion.

In its ruling, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial judge’s decision to not grant Sears a new trial, and also affirmed the adjustment of the compensatory damages from $4 million to $1 million.

This is the second time in about a year that Mississippi’s constitutional cap on non-economic damages has undergone a legal challenge. In late winter of last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld $1 million in damages stemming from a premises liability case involving a Double Quick convenience store in Belzoni. A jury had awarded Ronnie Lee Lymas, who had been severely beaten outside of the Belzoni Double Quick, compensatory damages in excess of $1 million, but the same thing happened there as with the federal case: The trial judge adjusted the damages to conform with the $1 million cap.

That case, Double Quick Inc. v. Ronnie Lee Lymas, represented the first serious challenge to Mississippi’s constitutional cap since its inception in 2004. It drew amicus briefs on behalf of Double Quick from every business and trade group imaginable, and even one from Gov. Haley Barbour. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Double Quick, but it did not clearly say that the damages cap was 100 percent in line with the state’s constitution; it did clearly answer the premises liability question.

What this Fifth Circuit ruling does, best we can tell, is leave the constitutionality of the compensatory damages cap to the Mississippi Supreme Court; and this time, there is no out like there was with the premises liability issue in the Double Quick case. The nine justices in Jackson will have to decide once and for all if the damages cap is constitutional. We have left a voicemail for a law professor we depend on to interpret such matters, and we’ll report what he says when we hear back.

Obviously, this latest ruling from the Fifth Circuit will draw plenty of attention from Mississippi’s legal community. You can read the ruling here.

UPDATED AT 11:55 A.M. : We just got off the phone with Matt Steffey, a professor at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. He confirmed what we wrote earlier, that the Mississippi Supreme Court has now been asked by the Fifth Circuit to determine the constitutionality of the damages cap.

But there is a catch.

“Theoretically, it is possible the Mississippi Supreme Court could decline to answer the question, or to not answer it totally and clearly,” Steffey said. “An out (like there was in the Double Quick case) would be much harder to come by, but it wouldn’t be impossible. Ordinarily you would expect the state Supreme Court to answer the question. I would think it’s likely they would.”

So there you have it. It will almost certainly be early summer before the Supreme Court hands down a ruling on this. In the meantime, the amicus brief from the same groups — and probably from Barbour, too — will fly into the Gartin Justice Building just like they did in the Double Quick case.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

How healthy are we? And how are our casinos doing? We’re about to find out

January 19th, 2011 No comments

It’s report card time.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the Mississippi State Medical Association will unveil Mississippi’s 2011 Public Health Report Card at the Capitol. The event is in conjunction with MSMA Alliance’s sixth annual Capitol Screening Initiative, which offers free health screenings to legislators and Capitol staff.

We’ll learn where we stand on health indicators like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, infant mortality, drug and tobacco use by teens, and a few others. As has been the case for what seems like forever, we’re probably not doing very well with any of those, at least statistically. Like Weird Al sang, We’re fat and we know it. But we’ll see.

And come Monday, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, will release the results of a study the Stennis Institute did that compares our casino industry with that of other states. “An Overview for Decision-Makers,” is what it’s called. If Flaggs is heading this thing up, it will at least be entertaining.

Magnolia Marketplace will be at each event, and we’ll let you know the particualars as soon as we can. In the meantime, be healthy and be lucky.


Categories: Casinos, News Tags:

Craft beer bill in the House, like Senate companion, dead on arrival

January 17th, 2011 2 comments

If you’ve gotten your paper copy of this week’s Mississippi Business Journal, you noticed the giant mug of beer on the cover. Looks good enough to drink, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it teases our story inside about a bill Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, authored that would raise the maximum alcohol content in beers made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent ABW. Check it out. There’s some pretty interesting stuff about the economics of craft beer.

A few hours after the MBJ went to press last Thursday, similar legislation dropped in the House. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, wrote the House bill, which was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Like its companion in the Senate, the House bill doesn’t sound likely to gain much traction in an election year.

“I don’t think its chances would be good this year,” Moak said Monday morning. “Neither side is going to want to deal with anything related to alcohol this session. There’s just too short a window after we’re done with the session to go back home and thoroughly explain something as potentially explosive as an issue like this.”

Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said he had not had a chance to read the bill as of Monday morning, but said that it most likely would not make it out of his committee, should he even choose to introduce it.

“This just isn’t a good year for legislation that deals with alcohol,” Watson said.

Not surprisingly, it will be at least next year before legislation like this gets a serious look, a fact Raise Your Pints and other grassroots organizations pushing it are resigned to.

“But we’re going to fight until this happens,” said Raise Your Pints President Butch Bailey of Hattiesburg.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Barbour sounds more like a presidential candidate than he ever has

January 11th, 2011 2 comments

For the past few months, anytime somebody’s asked us if we thought Haley Barbour would run for president in 2012, our answer has been the same: He already is.

And no better proof of that exists than Barbour’s last State of the State.

Tuesday night at the Capitol, Barbour threw out enough conservative red meat to feed the 5,000. He talked about fiscal restraint and smaller government. He boasted of the advanced manufacturing projects the state has lured and the jobs they have created. Barbour refreshed everybody’s memory on tort reform and issued a reminder that he hasn’t raised anybody’s taxes. He slammed President Obama’s energy policies right after he pointed out that 2004’s Defense of Marriage Act got more votes percentage-wise in Mississippi than any other state in the nation. It went on and on.

Of course, Barbour didn’t talk quite as much about the budget shortfall he’s enduring now or the brutally unpopular decisions that lie ahead for him and lawmakers on how to spend scarce state revenue. Barbour won’t be on a ballot this year, but a lot of folks who have carried his water — especially in the Senate — will be, and there will come an issue that will force some of them to choose loyalty to the governor or loyalty to their political well-being. 

But cold reality is not what a State of the State is about . It’s about political chest-thumping, and Barbour beat his with both fists. The hard stuff can wait until February and March.

Barbour has said he’ll announce his presidential plans in the spring. Call us crazy, but we think the decision has been made for quite some time, and his last turn in front of a joint session of the Legislature only made us think that even more.

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Transportation commission getting total makeover — almost

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Lots of news on a snowy/icy morning, so let’s lace up our boots and get after it.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown has announced he will step down in June, at the end of the fiscal year. That comes as no big surprise. Brown is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, after it returned for the third time late last year.

Politically, there are immediate ramifications: The most obvious is it will remove a major campaign theme. Each of the candidates would have had to address Brown’s leadership style and his out-of-office activities. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall would have seen to it.

Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, who chairs the Transportation Committee, revealed today that he will seek to replace the retiring Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) for the Southern District Post. He’s probably the favorite right now, and had been considered such once it became clear a few weeks ago would he would seek the post.

Speaking of elections, the special election to replace Bill Minor, who represented MDOT’s Northern District until his death late least  year, is still scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change.

Gov. Haley Barbour, his spokesman Dan Turner told us just a minute ago, will make that decision some time this morning. Theoretically, Turner said, the Coast could go ahead with its election to replace Steven Palazzo, and North Mississippi could wait until maybe Wednesday to hold a vote for Minor’s old seat and to fill Alan Nunnelee’s post.

“But I really doubt one would go forward without the other,” Turner said. “Right now if the pattern holds, and this is your typical Mississippi ice storm that’s here one day and gone the next, they’ll go on as normal.”

At the Capitol, the Senate is still set to gavel in at 3 p.m.; the House will follow at 4 p.m. We have a feeling there’ll be a few snow stories swapped.