Archive for the ‘Phil Bryant’ Category

Barbour: Vetting process for Twin Creeks was sound

December 14th, 2012 1 comment

Former Gov. Haley Barbour says the vetting process for Twin Creeks revealed a company that had an advantage over its competitors because it used 4 percent as much silicon to make its solar panels.

That wasn’t enough to keep the company from going under, and owing the state just more than $27 million in aid used to build an 80,000 square-foot facility in Senatobia and to purchase equipment to put in it. China’s decision to flood the U.S. solar panel market with products even cheaper than Twin Creeks’ was what did the company in, Barbour said, echoing what Mississippi Development Authority officials have said recently.

“We thought it was a company that could compete very successfully,” Barbour said in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal. “They had an agreement to sell quite a large number of solar panels in India. Indian officials even came to the groundbreaking. Those expected contracts fell through when the Chinese ran the price down so much. So while Twin Creeks could beat everybody’s price over here, the Chinese didn’t care what the price was. The Chinese were interested in employment. They’ll sell the solar panels for whatever they get. They don’t care about profit.”

To go with its contracts in India, Barbour said Twin Creeks had more than $100 million in private investment committed, something he called “a key indicator” as to whether the company was legitimate.

Barbour said the state has had success with start-ups before, pointing to steelmaker SeverCorr (now Severstal) in Columbus.

“We spent about $35 million on their facility in Columbus – site prep, drainage, and the like,” Barbour said. “Then we gave them a $60 million loan guarantee, which they have paid off. We’re in that deal about $35 million and they’re in it several hundred million dollars.”

Barbour did not praise or criticize current Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent assertion that the state would be more interested in investing in established companies with a track record of success, rather than start-ups like Twin Creeks.

“For us, when we looked at something that was a start-up, it always came back to how much private investors were putting in. It’s up to (the Bryant administration) to set the policies, to fine-tune them how they think is best. Nobody’s crystal ball is perfect.”

Charter schools, Medicaid expansion hot topics at Jackson stop of Gunn’s Ideas Tour

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Among the most popular suggestions at the Jackson stop of House Speaker Phillip Gunn’s Mississippi Solutions – An Ideas Tour were the need for the state to expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and the lack of need for charter schools.

More than 100 people and a handful of legislators joined Gunn at the Capitol to kick off his 9-city, week-long trek across the state to gather ideas and input from citizens about how to move the state forward and improve quality of life.

“We’re trying to bring the Legislature to them,” Gunn, R-Clinton, said.

Out of 16 people who offered their thoughts, three asked Gunn and the lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act. In its June decision upholding the ACA, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the option of expanding their Medicaid programs, but would not incur penalties for not doing so.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said since that expanding Mississippi’s program would be cost-prohibitive because it would add nearly 400,000 people to the rolls. Gunn has promised to examine the issue once the session starts. He reiterated that stance after Monday’s event.

Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, was among the pro-Medicaid expansion crowd, saying refusing to do so could erect barriers to quality healthcare, and increase uncompensated care costs for hospitals. “Some of those hospitals could be forced to close,” Sivak said.

George Schimmel, who sits on the Jackson Public Schools board of trustees but said he was speaking as a citizen, said legislators should be careful when considering charter school legislation to ensure that traditional public schools are not unnecessarily harmed.

“Weakening traditional public schools weakens communities,” he said.

Bryant has said charter school legislation would be near the top of his list of priorities when the 2013 session starts in January. A charter school bill died last session when a group of DeSoto County Republicans coalesced to kill it in committee.

A state’s power to govern itself was the focus of Laura VanOverschelde’s idea. “We’re experiencing a loss in state sovereignty,” said VanOverschelde, the vice president of the Mississippi Tea Party and the organization’s issues chairman. “We’re seeing a federal government that wants to take over the lives of people.” VanOverschelde urged lawmakers to consider legislation that would assert Mississippi’s sovereignty.

Other ideas included state assistance for nonprofits providing financial education to the poor, clarifying statutes governing state control of 16th section land, an increase in the tax on wine, a smoke-free workplace bill, increasing the state retirement age, small business tax reform, and cheaper access to prescription drugs taken to treat multiple sclerosis.

Gunn’s tour was headed to Greenwood and Hernando later Monday. It wraps up Friday in Brookhaven with stops in Tupelo, Columbus, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Biloxi in-between. The full schedule can be viewed here.

Categories: Phil Bryant, Phillip Gunn, Tate Reeves Tags:

Report: Performance-based pay system for teachers has to be flexible

July 27th, 2012 No comments

Gov. Phil Bryant in his State of the State Address called for an examination of how Mississippi might implement a performance-based compensation system for teachers

The results of a report – “Effective Teachers and Performance Pay” — compiled by Mississippi State University’s Research and Curriculum Unit that did just that were unveiled Friday at a news conference in Jackson.

The gist: Flexibility is a requirement for any system that rewards teachers for excellence. Specifically, the state can set loose parameters for how a system would operate, but it would be up to a school district’s superintendent to determine what benchmarks teachers would have to meet in order to receive the monetary reward, which could be a bonus or a full-blown pay raise. Officials from MSU’s RCU said that similar programs in other states have shown that leaving a compensation system’s design up to individual district works better than anything else.

Julie Jordan, RCU director, said those benchmarks could take in a number of areas, like graduates rates or scores on specific areas of state tests, and would most likely try to improve an area of a school district that has lagged behind.

“The single factor most affecting student learning is ineffective teaching,” Jordan said. Jordan added that no performance-based compensation plan without the integration of the M-STAR teacher evaluation system into it. M-STAR – the Mississippi State Teacher Appraisal Rubric – is an assessment system the state Department of Education plans to begin on a pilot basis this fall.

Funding the program would be up to individual superintendents, too. Ideally, Bryant said Friday, the funding would come from the pool of money that has been used for what the state calls “step raises” for teachers who have a certain level of seniority. District supplements could also be used. Bryant didn’t rule out employing one or more existing education funding sources at the state level to pay for it.

The report is nothing more than a recommendation now. Bryant said he hopes that changes come January, when the 2013 legislative session starts. By releasing the report now, nearly six months before the session starts, Bryant said the plan is for legislators to become as familiar as they can with it so when they get to Jackson the legislative process can start immediately.

Presley to file challenge to new oversight removal law

July 3rd, 2012 No comments

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley intends to challenge the constitutionality of a new law that removes the “carrier of last resort” mandate from AT&T and other layers of oversight from phone companies operating in Mississippi.

Presley, the Commission’s lone Democrat, said in an interview Monday that he sees the potential for rural customers to have their landline phone service eliminated, now that AT&T is no longer mandated by law to provide service to those areas. Presley also said the law’s removing single-line phone service rates from PSC jurisdiction violates the Mississippi Constitution.

Specifically, Presley cites Article 7, Section 186, which requires the Legislature to pass laws that allow for the “supervision” of telephone companies, among others, either by a commission or other entity.

“I intend to challenge this on behalf of little communities like Randolph and Dennis and Dumas – little places where customers have been paying a phone bill all these years, and they don’t deserve to have the rug jerked out from under them or have to pay out the nose is this bill stands,” Presley said.

Presley, who is challenging the bill as a private citizen and not in his capacity as a public service commissioner, said he hopes to file court papers in Hinds County Circuit Court either late this week or early next week.

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.


Supreme Court deals Hood another bad loss with fees rulings

May 24th, 2012 1 comment

Attorney General Jim Hood’s recent run of bad luck with the Mississippi Supreme Court continued Thursday afternoon.

The court ruled against Hood in separate fees cases related to litigation involving MCI and Microsoft.

In both instances, the court found that the law requires that any outside counsel Hood hires must be paid from his contingent fund or from other funds the Legislature appropriates to his office. Both the MCI and Microsoft cases, the court said in a split decision with partial dissents and concurrences in each opinion, failed to meet that standard.

Auditor Stacey Pickering had sued to reroute the fees payments for outside counsel through the legislative appropriations process.

This is a big win for Pickering, and yet another bad loss for Hood right on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling against him on the pardons issue.

The links to Thursday’s opinions are here and here.

UPDATE: Pickering and Gov. Phil Bryant have issued statements. Pickering’s provides a lot of background, but here’s the pertinent part:

“The Supreme Court agreed that the Mississippi Statute uses the mandatory term ‘shall,’ and we view this mandate as declaratory that all fees paid through contingency fee contracts are public funds and must be appropriated by the Mississippi Legislature. These rulings today are a victory for open government and transparency as well as for the taxpayers of Mississippi.

“These opinions set a clear precedent in Mississippi ensuring that the purse strings of the State of Mississippi are to be controlled by the Mississippi Legislature. These funds are public funds, subject not only to control by the Legislature but also subject to audit by the State Auditor’s Office. I appreciate my predecessor Governor Bryant for his leadership on this issue when it began in 2007, and I am overwhelming pleased with today’s action by the Mississippi Supreme Court.”

And here’s what Bryant, who Pickering noted initiated the original litigation, had to say:

“The money attorneys received for pursuing the MCI case on behalf of the state is public funds, something I have long believed and fought for. The State Supreme Court’s ruling is a welcome sign as we open up this age old process of hiring outside counsel and then paying them excessive amounts of money, in this case $14 million. 

While serving as State Auditor we published a report which looked into the process of paying attorney fees. The report clearly states the Attorney General did not have the authority to enter into such an agreement, because he may only pay private attorneys out of contingency funds in his budget or from other funds appropriated to the office of the Attorney General by the Legislature. I appreciate the work of State Auditor Stacey Pickering in the recovery of these public funds.”

I have a message into Hood’s spokesperson. If/when I get a response, I’ll post it.

SECOND UPDATE: Hood’s statement, in its entirety:

“These opinions by the Supreme Court simply give us direction on how to pay the attorneys that worked on these cases and in future cases. 

“We will implement and follow the law created by the Court.  In this ruling, the Court does not call into question the “validity of the Retention agreement” or the right to the attorneys being paid.  It simply says that the lawyers in these cases could not be paid directly from the defendants, and that money must flow through a state account first. In fact, the Court reiterated the Attorney General’s ability to hire good lawyers to bring important suits on behalf of Mississippi, such as with these cases. 

“The defendants made a claim in Circuit Court that they had negotiated a fee that was $3 million less than that to which they were entitled under the uncontested terms of the contract. On remand, the state will be exposed to payment of that additional $3 million.”


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.

Trade organization: U.S. craft beer exports soared in 2011

April 27th, 2012 No comments

Numbers from the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association show that American craft beer exports nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011.

Last year, craft beer makers in the U.S. exported  more than 110,000 barrels, up 86 percent from 2010.

Exports have gone up all nine years the BA has collected data.

That’s important to Mississippi, what with our new raised alcohol-by-weight law taking effect July 1. (Legislation Gov. Phil Bryant signed in early April will raise the cap from 5 percent ABW to 8 percent ABW.) The state’s lone existing brewery, Lazy Magnolia in Hancock County, told the Mississippi Business Journal last year an 8 percent ABW law would bump their revenues an estimated 25 percent annually.

And in the Jackson area, the folks at Lucky Town Brewery have just completed gathering seed money to begin brewing their beer on a small scale with the hopes of eventually opening a full-blown brewery. The hope is that microbreweries will begin to take hold in some of the state’s more touristy areas — the Coast, the Delta and the college towns.

This is a good example of a small business-driven market that has a lot of growing left to do. Mississippi seems to have jumped into the game in the nick of time.

For the full report from the BA, click here.

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.