Archive for the ‘Phil Bryant’ Category

State sells land to Eastover developers

February 24th, 2012 No comments

The mixed-use development in Northeast Jackson that has been planned for several years took a giant leap Friday afternoon.

Gov. Phil Bryant’s office said in a press release that the state has sold the land where The District at Eastover will sit. It’s the site of the Old Blind School.

This jives with what developers Ted Duckworth and Breck Hines told the MBJ late last year. They hoped to close on the land the early part of this year, complete site prep and environmental work and start construction on the $110 million project by late summer or early fall.

Here’s the full release:

The former campus of the Mississippi School for the Blind in Jackson has a new owner as of today and plans are underway for a mixed-use development on 21 acres.


The land was purchased by District Land Development Company, LLC for $3.3 million, and the site’s redevelopment into “The District at Eastover” is estimated to generate 600 jobs. The project, once fully built-out, has the potential to bring in about $1.9 million annually to the city and about $4.9 million annually to the state.


“This development will bring jobs and services to our capital city,” Gov. Phil Bryant said. “This purchase puts a vacant site to use and has promise for the Jackson metro area.”


In 2010, lawmakers passed a bill that allows the Department of Finance and Administration to seek proposals from developers to build mixed-use developments as well as lease or sell land to developers. This Senate bill was approved when Bryant served as lieutenant governor.


DFA issued a request for proposals (RFP) in September 2010, and The District Land Development Company, LLC, through its manager Duckworth Realty, won the bid. Duckworth Realty is managed by Ted Duckworth and Breck Hines.


The District at Eastover will feature 500,000 square feet of retail, office, hotel, restaurants and residential space. The development will be family oriented, and it maintains the property’s natural assets, such as trees and public green spaces. Retail areas will have cafes and outdoor dining.


“We are pleased to have the opportunity to design a special development that provides our Metropolitan community a pedestrian-friendly environment to shop, dine, live and work,” said Ted Duckworth, the project developer. “The project will benefit from its successful surroundings, as it sits in one of most affluent and densely populated areas in the State.


“We began working on this project in 2006 with the desire to create a special place that further enhances the quality of life for the people of Jackson and supports the growth occurring throughout the metro area. We are excited to now take the next step in that process.”


This price of $3.3 million was based on an average of two appraisals procured by DFA. In accordance with the legislation, $1.2 million of the funds from the sale will be used to build a new storage and building maintenance facility on the grounds of the MS School for the Blind and a new residence for the superintendent of the Mississippi School for the Blind. The balance of the funds will be deposited into a special fund designated as the School for the Blind Trust Fund.


“We believe that this project will spark tremendous economic development opportunities and growth for Jackson and Mississippi,” Kevin J. Upchurch, executive director of the Department of Finance and Administration said.

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Bill proposing incremental judicial pay raises will be filed next week

January 24th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller told a meeting of the Capital Area Bar Association Tuesday that legislation to implement pay raises for trial and appellate judges will be introduced this session, probably sometime next week.

It’s the second session in a row the legislation has arrived at the Capitol. It died last year. Judges haven’t received a raise since 2003.

The measure has already gained the endorsement of a handful of major business groups, including the Mississippi Economic Council and the Gulf Coast Business Council.

Its intent is to get Mississippi judges off the bottom of the pay scale. According to the National Center for State Courts, the southeastern average for trial judge pay is $138,901. In Mississippi, trial judges are paid $104,170. Mississippi Court of Appeals judges are paid $105,050 annually; state Supreme Court judges earn $112,530. Trial and appellate court judges in Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee earn salaries that average about 30 percent more than that. Alabama tops that list, with its supreme court judges pulling in $180,839, and trial judges making $158,134.

Like it would have last year, the legislation will raise judicial salaries incrementally, starting Jan. 1, 2013, and ending on that same date in 2016. By then, associate justices on the Supreme Court would make $152,250 (up from $112,530 now). Circuit and chancery judges salaries would increase from $104,170 now, to $136,000. The bill would also require the State Personnel Board to review judicial salaries on Nov. 1, 2017, and every four years after that. The Legislature, starting in 2019, would set judicial salaries based on the recommendations of the State Personnel Board.

Increases in civil filing and appellate court docket fees would fund the raises. Civil filing fees in circuit court are currently $121. In chancery court, they’re $108. Each would increase $40. Docket fees for the Mississippi Supreme Court would double, from $100 to $200. Under that format, no money from the state’s general fund would be used.

Former ninth district circuit judge Frank Vollor joined Waller on the panel, and said he left the bench after 20 years strictly for economic reasons. He is now in private practice.

“We expect a lot out of our judges, and we need to pay them adequately,” he said.

Debate during the 2011 session included the concern some lawmakers had over the constitutionality of the bill. The state’s Constitution prohibits changes in pay for judges during their terms. Waller said that could be circumvented by giving judges additional duties. This legislation will do that, he said, by requiring members of the Supreme Court and chancery and circuit judges to promote judicial education in schools, drug courts, electronic filing and management systems developed by the Mississippi Administrative Office of Courts.

As chief justice, Waller’s pay is not tied to the section of the Constitution that prohibits changes in pay during judicial terms. The same goes for goes for members of the Court of Appeals.

“This is a small step toward capturing judicial independence,” Waller told the crowd at the Capital Club. “If we don’t capture (revenue generated by filing fees), somebody else will, and it probably won’t be the judiciary.”

Waller said in an interview after the presentation that he expects some opposition at the Capitol, but hopes the fact that user fees would fund the raises would be enough to get it to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk.

House Judiciary A Chairman Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, has already indicated he supports it. Baker’s counterpart in the Senate, Vicksburg Republican Briggs Hopson, has done the same.

“These are hard times, and I understand that,” Waller told reporters. “There’s a lot of needs. In recognition of that, we’ve chosen a funding model that won’t impact the general fund. We think that’s the fairest way to go about it.”

Bryant starts his new job reinforcing familiar themes

January 10th, 2012 No comments

Other than anecdotes about his family, there wasn’t much new in Gov. Phil Bryant’s inaugural address.

Like he has for most of the past four years, Bryant used his platform to talk economic issues: job-creation, education, the high cost of teenage pregnancy and his political pet project, performance-based budgeting.

The energy and healthcare industries, Bryant said, are two areas ripe for growth over the next decade-plus. The extraction and processing of natural gas, biofuels and clean coal can – and according to Bryant, will – help the state in its revolution from low-wage industrial haven to modern manufacturing empire.

Offering incentives for the healthcare industry, and bringing 1,000 new physicians to Mississippi by 2025, can turn the state’s metro areas and their medical corridors into burgeoning centers of medical power, Bryant said.

Having a stable of workers to fill those jobs will require a shift in thinking when it comes to public education, he said. Solutions don’t begin and end with funding, but will take redesigning curriculums to better serve students not on a college track, but headed for vocational employment, and a clearer path for charter schools to establish.

“When a Mississippian has a job, it changes absolutely everything,” Bryant said.

Bryant saved his strongest words for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which has become as much of a Mississippi hallmark as the state’s musical and literary heritage.

“It must come to an end,” he said, adding that churches and other religious organizations have to partner with public institutions in reaching that end. “We can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”

Bryant compared the cultural change that would have to happen to do that to the one that has managed to eradicate smoking in nearly every public building and gathering spot in Mississippi, including the Capitol. He noted that a lot of folks 40 years ago would have filled the place with cigarette and cigar smoke during his address.

Obviously, Bryant’s plans will be met with a great deal of resistance in the Capitol, some from within his own party, but mostly from Democrats, who just watched their long-held power and influence all but evaporate.

Bryant’s Smart Budget Act, which bases agency funding on results achieved, is wildly popular with fiscal conservatives, but not with many agency heads, who cite the difficulty in tracking those results, not to mention the ease with which those results can be manipulated.

With a Republican-led Legislature, though, its passage is likely, if not guaranteed. The same goes for Bryant’s education reforms, though it’s worth noting the funding fight is likely to be as spirited as it’s ever been.

The wild card in that notion will be just how badly new legislative leadership – Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – want to return Mississippi’s government to one in which lawmakers hold the majority of power.

Either way, the game is afoot.

Bryant mixes old, new in agency appointments

January 9th, 2012 No comments

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant filled out his list of agency appointments Monday afternoon, a few days after he named Jim Barksdale as interim head of the Mississippi Development Authority.

New faces include Mark Henry at the Department of Employment Security, Rickey Berry at Human Services and Dr. David Dzielak at Medicaid. Robert Latham will lead MEMA, though he was the agency’s executive director during Katrina, so he’s not totally new.

The rest of the state agencies kept their current leaders.

Here’s a full list:

Bureau of Narcotics: Marshall L. Fisher

Corrections: Chris Epps

MEMA: Robert Latham

Employment Security: Mark Henry

Environmental Quality: Trudy Fisher

Finance and Administration: Kevin Upchurch

Human Services: Rickey Berry

Medicaid: Dr. David Dzielak

Marine Resources: Dr. Bill Walker

Public Safety: Albert Santa Cruz

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Regulatory review legislation tries again

January 8th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi has a law on the books that is supposed to educate businesses on the effects of new rules and regulations.

An effort to strengthen that law and to establish a commission whose members would include business owners to review new rules will soon be a part of the 2012 legislative session.

According to the federal Office of Advocacy, Mississippi is one of 26 states that already have a partial regulatory flexibility statute, meaning there is already a mechanism in place to alert businesses of how new rules will impact them, and ways rules can be altered after they’re enacted.

Legislation to create a full-blown review of proposed rules before they take effect has cleared the Senate in past sessions and has been on the calendar for floor debate in the House, but has failed to advance.

“It would allow us to look and see if there’s a more flexible way to alter the rules and regulations that come out, to where the intent can still apply without inflicting a (financial) burden,” said Ron Aldridge, director of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses. The organization has spent several sessions lobbying for a review commission. “That’s what this is about, is to put into law in Mississippi a framework where small business owners can sit on a commission and give feedback to the agencies as the rules are being put into place but before they take effect. The way it works now, if they do harm on the front end, you can alter them later. By then, though, they’ve done their damage.”

Aldridge listed as an example Mississippi’s window tint law, last modified in 2005, in which the Mississippi Department of Public Safety mandated tint darker than a particular shade be inspected, and receive clearance for road use. The process is similar to the one that governs state inspection stickers for vehicles. Law enforcement agencies are allowed to have darker tint on their vehicles than civilians.

“It ended up that these places that did the inspections, it was going to cost them so much to deal with these rules it wasn’t any way they could actually do it,” Aldridge said. “The people who would have been impacted by it never got to sit down with the agency and figure out a way to make it work before the rule was passed.”

Aldridge said a number of rule-making state agencies have opposed the legislation, for the same reasons they opposed the original administrative procedures law passed in 2003 and officially put on the books in 2005. Former secretary of state Eric Clark pushed that legislation, which requires agencies to project what kind of impact new regulations might have on targeted businesses.

“But it doesn’t give any frame of reference for that,” Aldridge said. “In other words, what do they mean when they say small business. This review commission would define that, and it would make agencies more clearly state what the impact would be. Right now, all they have to do is say this has no impact, or little or minimal impact. How do they know? Unless you’ve been in that business yourself, you don’t know. Minimal impact for one person could have an entirely different meaning for another. One size does not fit all. Also, a commission will let us look at what’s already in place and see if there are any modifications to rules that have proven to be harmful that will maintain their purpose but reduce or eliminate the costs associated.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Laurel, has sponsored since 2008 legislation that would create a regulatory review commission. He said in an interview last week he plans to do the same this session.

“It’s always good to have honest feedback from business professionals and business owners. They need to know very specifically on the front end what a new rule will mean for them.”

Aldridge and McDaniel are optimistic new House leadership will be amenable to the bill’s passage. Gov. –elect Phil Bryant has already endorsed the idea, and may introduce a bill of his own, according to a press release from his office.

“I think the chances of its passage are greatly improved,” McDaniel said.

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.”

Speed sues Hosemann to keep eminent domain off ballot (Updated)

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed has sued Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, in an attempt to keep the eminent domain petition off November’s ballot.

If you’ll recall, the petition seeks to prevent the taking of private land for private development. It keeps in place the state’s authority to seize private land for public-use projects, like streets or bridges.

Nearly 120,000 people signed petitions to get the issue on the ballot. Hosemann certified the results last year.

The Mississippi Development Authority and Gov. Haley Barbour were adamantly against the notion of eliminating the state’s authority to use eminent domain for private economic development. Barbour and Gray Swoope, Speed’s successor at MDA, warned that projects like Toyota wouldn’t be in Mississippi if the law were changed.

Following a failure to change the law in the Legislature, a petition drive led by the Mississipi Farm Bureau Federation commenced, and the issue was set for the November ballot, until Thursday afternoon.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 25 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Pamela Weaver, spokesperson for Hosemann, just told Magnolia Marketplace that he would not comment beyond a statement, in which he said he intended to follow state law and place the initiative on the ballot, unless otherwise ordered by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

We’ve left a message on the cell phone of an MDA spokesperson, which wasn’t immediately returned.

For what it’s worth, Magnolia Marketplace several months ago polled the major contenders in the governor’s race — Phil Bryant, Dave Dennis, Bill Luckett, Johnny Dupree and Hudson Holliday — and they were of one mind: Eminent domain should be employed only for projects of direct public use, and that doesn’t include private economic development. Bryant, Dennis and Holliday each signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

If and when we hear something from the MDA, we’ll post it. Rest assured, though: This is going to be a fight.

UPDATE: MDA spokesperson Melissa Medley just returned our call. She said that agency would have no comment on Speed’s lawsuit since he filed it as an individual, and not in his official capacity as interim executive director of the MDA.

We just got off the phone with Speed’s assistant, who said he was out of town and wouldn’t return until Monday around lunchtime. We’ll try to catch up with him then.

Davis talks budget, redistricting at Stennis luncheon

March 7th, 2011 No comments

Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Monday he was “a little bit surprised” at Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant submitting his own redistricting plan late last week.

Davis was the speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson.

Bryant’s move came after the Senate Congressional Redistricting Committee and its chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, had earlier passed a plan of its own. Davis said the Senators would take up one of the plans when they gavel in Monday afternoon. Whether it’s Bryant’s or Newton’s is anybody’s guess.

“From speaking with some senior members of the Senate, I’ve gathered that this is the first time the process has been handled this way,” Davis said, referring to the dueling redistricting proposals.

We should note that Davis didn’t sound like he was criticizing Bryant; he was, in our view, just pointing out the unique situation the Senate finds itself in. How that shakes out should make for fascinating political theater.

On the budget side, Davis wouldn’t commit to many specific numbers, but he did say that Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have funded community colleges at the level they asked for was a good idea. “It’s entirely too early,” Davis said, to dole out money when budget-writers don’t have a crystal clear picture on what the revenue situation will be.

Each of the state’s K-12 districts can expect the same amount of funding in FY 2012 as they received in FY 2011, Davis said. “Budgeting in an election year during good times is difficult,” he said. “Budgeting in a recession and an election year and having to go through redistricting is a challenge the legislature hasn’t gone through in many, many years.”

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.”




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Judge’s healthcare ruling sets up the inevitable (updated)

December 13th, 2010 No comments

Monday morning’s ruling by a federal judge in Virginia that struck down the mandate portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is another setback for Democrats, sure.

But all the ruling does is affirm what we already knew: The U.S. Supreme Court will have final say. No matter which way the lower courts ruled in the slew of lawsuits that have challenged the healthcare reform legislation, the losing side would appeal until it reached SCOTUS.

If you’re interested, read Monday’s ruling here.

UPDATE: Gov. Haley Barbour has just released a statement about the ruling. Here it is, in full:

“The decision of the federal court in Virginia is encouraging to all of us who consider the Obamacare law unconstitutional; however, we know the case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

SECOND UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has issued his own statement. It says:

“I have believed this act to be unconstitutional from the very beginning, and that is why I filed the very first private lawsuit challenging the health care law. I commend federal Judge Henry E. Hudson in Virginia for standing up against a law that strips states and individuals of the freedom to choose health insurance.”
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