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Lobbyists anticipate major issues, growing intensity through session

Local lobbyists recently interviewed by the Mississippi Business Journal see a busy 2008 legislative session that may begin slowly but will increase in intensity as committee assignments are made and statewide elected officials are installed. It’s anticipated that education, including workforce training, will continue to be a major issue for all segments of business and industry along with a look at restructuring the tax code as it relates to the tax on groceries and tobacco products. A continued look at how the Legislature can help the coastal counties rebuild from Hurricane Katrina is also expected.

The 2008 legislative session started January 8.

Dennis W. Miller doesn’t think the new statewide office holders will have any impact on business issues, although he notes there was significant discussion throughout the campaign season about some sort of tax reform by those running for office.

“What that reform might be is unknown, but the governor wants it studied,” he said. “I don’t think the session will start at a real fast pace because the new lieutenant governor is sworn in on the 10th and the governor on January 17, but it will pick up.”

Cooperation, please

Al Sage is hoping for cooperation among legislators and other office holders. “Everything is open to members to introduce bills,” he said. “I expect a lot of attention to be given to the tax study against the backdrop of the cigarette and grocery taxes. There will be a lot of discussion and it will be real interesting.”

Education is always in the forefront and these three seasoned lobbyists don’t expect 2008 to be any different. “There seems to be more agreement that education should be dealt with fairly at all levels and the way it deserves,” Miller said. “I think all parties will give some extra attention to getting the new members of the Legislature on track.”

He thinks numerous areas of education will be addressed, and hopes the state’s high dropout rate will be part of the discussions. “The leadership of both houses realizes it’s a big problem,” he said.

Sage points out that fully funding the state’s basic education program is always an issue, but that amount does not include teacher pay raises and funding for textbook purchases.

“I wonder if we will have a formula that takes in all the needs of education?” he says.

He represents an association of textbook publishers who are interested in education funding, and represents beer distributors who hope to see legislation passed dealing with the theft of stainless steel beer kegs. He also predicts some type of legislation dealing with mortgage banking issues.

Business court
system ‘might help’

Hayes Dent notes that newly elected Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann wants to develop a new court for resolution of business issues. “His team will be working on that,” he said. “Typically, businesses are not interested in another layer of government, but with the courts jammed the way they are, it might help. It will be done with the express intent of helping businesses dispose of matters more quickly and will be a fairly significant policy directive.”

As for the study of the tax structure, Dent says his clients and all other businesses get nervous when discussions about taxes come before the Legislature.

He also foresees a bill that will push for instant reporting of crime to make it easier for the media to find out about crime patterns. “The press alerts the public, and we don’t want law enforcement to hide behind investigations as a reason for not releasing information,” he said. “There is model legislation from around the country that we can use for this bill.”

Is there a legislative issue you’re following closely in the 2008 session? Let us know about. Send the details to editor Jim Laird at jim.laird@msbusiness.com or call (601) 364-1018.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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