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Mississippi legislative committee deadline sorts out winners, losers

2012 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

The recent legislative committee deadline proved at least one thing: There are varying degrees of “alive” at the Capitol.

For most of the past few sessions, Derrick Surrette and officials at the Mississippi Association of Supervisors have pushed for language clarifying rules tax assessors follow when calculating ad valorem tax bills for Section 42 housing developments, or what is commonly called affordable rental housing.

>> RELATED STORY: Beer bill passes the Senate

Currently, tax assessors cannot include revenue developers get from the sale of federal tax credits, which they receive for building the housing complexes. Surrette estimates that costs counties a combined millions of dollars annually in lost tax revenue.

Ron Aldridge — Director of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses

Bills that would change the rules are, technically, alive, having been passed out of committee and placed on the calendar for debate in the House and Senate.

“Well, they’re somewhat alive,” Surrette said in an interview last week. “I’m not optimistic, but we’re still working on it. Honestly, though, I think our chances at the Capitol are slim to none.” Surrette admitted the effort’s last gasp likely resides in the hands of Hinds County Chancellor Denise Sweet-Owens, who presided over a lawsuit MAS and a few dozen cities filed against the Department of Revenue to change the tax-calculation rules for Section 42 housing developments.

Section 42 bills will likely eventually join other measures that died last week, most of them carrying a long history of short-lived stays at the Capitol. A measure that would have required nursing homes to carry a minimum of $500,000 worth of liability insurance died in each of the insurance committees, just like it has the past handful of sessions.

And though the craft and gourmet beer movement has had significant victories this session – bills have already cleared the House and Senate that would raise the alcohol content in beer from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent – there have been familiar setbacks. Bills that would have allowed breweries and distilleries to sell their products on site died.

Still kicking are all of Delbert Hosemann’s business law reform bills. The centerpiece of those are tax credits offered to companies that move their headquarters to Mississippi, and allow job-creation tax credits that would have otherwise gone unused to be passed through to employees.

The small business lobby is hopeful two issues they’ve spent several sessions pushing are close to passage. Ron Aldridge, director of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses, is optimistic a bill that would phase-out the inventory tax using tax credits over five years will clear the floors of the House and Senate.

An accounting firm is studying the impact the tax’s phase-out would have on the state’s budget.

“We think it would be a great boost to our economy as a result of it,” Aldridge said.

Revisions to Mississippi’s workers’ compensation law, another of the NFIB’s targets, also cleared committee. The law would require a worker who claims to have been injured on the job to provide medical proof the work performed caused the injury. It also allows an employer to administer drug and alcohol tests in response to a claim, if that employer has reason to believe alcohol or drug use contributed to the employee’s injury.

Mississippi’s workers’ comp law has not been overhauled since the late 1990s.

“You never know what you’re going to get with workers’ comp once it gets to the floor,” Aldridge said.

Said Surrette: “It was tough this year, with a lot of bills being double-referred (to two committees). On top of that, just the amount of new legislators who aren’t totally familiar with a lot of issues really worked against a lot of things having a chance to make it out of committee.”

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