MISSISSIPPI HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
House Information Office
Contact: Mac Gordon,
HIGHLIGHTS OF 2006 LEGISLATIVE SESSION
JACKSON, Miss. – Steady growth of state revenues amid the continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina, additional help for the state's storm-ravaged areas, a new promise to fully fund the state's K-12 public education program and heavy debate on measures to protect one's self and property highlighted the 2006 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature.
Strong moves were made to give relief to state taxpayers, as the House and Senate twice sent bills to Gov. Barbour that would have reduced the tax on groceries and increased the tax on tobacco products. However, Barbour thwarted both attempts with vetoes that could not be overridden in the Senate where they originated. Override attempts constitutionally must begin in the chamber of the bill's origin.
He said the first bill proposed, SB 2310, would not have sufficiently reimbursed municipalities for their loss of tax revenue. The second bill proposed, SB 3084, also was not "revenue neutral," Barbour claimed, and he made the argument that it was unhealthy to cut the state's tax revenue, "no matter how well intentioned." He said he favored a study of the state's revenue stream before approving such a plan. Backers of the proposals vowed to bring them back before the 2007 Legislature.
Barbour also delivered another high-profile veto when he shot down a legislative plan (HB 1115) to fund the Partnership For a Healthy Mississippi, a highly-successful smoking cessation program that was the brainchild of former State Attorney General Mike Moore and had been funded through a lower state court order since 1999. The Legislature voted to appropriate $20 million annually for the program, but Barbour nixed those plans. The organization is also involved in a court fight with litigation pending before the State Supreme Court.
WHEN THE 2005 LEGISLATIVE SESSION ENDED, members were forced to return a month later to prepare a state budget for fiscal 2006. Setting a budget for fiscal 2007 did not face the same problem. With state tax revenues rising well above previous estimates and with federal funds from a host of sources arriving to help the state survive Katrina's wrath, the Legislature had a budget plan in place a full week before the session adjourned sine die.
State General Fund revenues have been strong since Katrina arrived on Mississippi's Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. Through March, revenues were $212.8 million above the estimate, with sales taxes leading the way at $137.7 million above estimates. Individual and corporate income taxes and use taxes are also up, while gaming tax collections are off the mark but that is because no Coast casinos were in operation for several months post-Katrina. However, gaming collections have since rebounded and some observers expect the gaming taxes to be near the estimate by fiscal year's end on June 30, 2006.
General Fund appropriations will account for $4.1 billion of spending in FY 2007, which is 98 percent of expected state tax revenues. The remaining 2 percent is being held back for "rainy days." The overall state budget for FY 2007 will account for $14.2 billion, including state funds, federal funds, special funds generated by state agencies through fees and funds reappropriated from the FY 2006 spending plan.
AS IS USUALLY THE CASE, K-12 public education spending drew the most attention from budget writers. The final state budget for K-12 is $2.004 billion, an increase of $122.3 million, or 5.7 percent, above the previous year. This represents 49.1 percent of all state funds spending.
The biggest discussion pertaining to K-12 spending was over how far the Legislature would go toward fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula, which determines how much state funding is allocated to the state's 152 public school districts. Since 1997 the MAEP formula has been fully funded only once and it is under-funded by $188 million this year.
Under the four-year phase-in plan approved (SB 2604), $68 million will be added to the formula next year and an additional $65 million each of the next three years, which fully funds the formula from then on. In order to fully fund the $188 million this year, budget writers said they would have been forced to cut other programs by an average of nine percent, including four-year colleges, community colleges, Medicaid and other general fund expenses.
The higher education ranks received almost $148 million more in the year ahead over the current year, with most professors and staff guaranteed a 5 percent pay increase, and overall spending for the four- and two-year universities and colleges will be 26.6 percent above the current year.
Total education spending, from K-12 through the university level, will account for 66.3 percent of all state appropriated dollars.
GENERAL STATE EMPLOYEES WILL RECEIVE a $1,500 pay increase and some even higher due to the State Personnel Board's realignment of their positions as compared to other states.
In the end, most state agencies will receive more state funding in FY 2007 than they are receiving in FY 2006. The Legislature for the first time fully funded (HB 210) the operation of the Department of Mental Health's seven crisis centers with a $14 million appropriation, helping to run the agency's overall budget to 17 percent above the previous year.
The Department of Public Health got a 21 percent increase; agriculture and economic development is up 22 percent; emergency management spending was tripled to reflect renewed hurricane preparedness; public safety will increase 23 percent, including funds for a $5,000 pay hike for troopers; corrections is up 4.3 percent; human services is up 8.4 percent; and environmental quality up 19 percent.
THROUGHOUT THE SESSION, the Legislature was given updates on how much federal money has been sent to Mississippi to help with Katrina-related expenses, not only state and local governments but for individual citizens as well.
One of the largest federal appropriations is the $3.4 billion plan to award grants to Katrina-stricken homeowners. Under the program, homeowners who lived outside the federally designated flood zone yet suffered flood damage due to the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane may be eligible to receive grants of up to $150,000. Money for the homeowners assistance grants will flow through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, managed under HUD regulations by the Mississippi Development Authority. Officials believed as many as 31,000 Mississippians may qualify for the program.
Homeowners applying for the grants must meet several criteria, including:
* The home must have been owner-occupied as of Aug. 29, 2005
* The home must be located in Jackson, Hancock, Harrison or Pearl River County.
* The home must be outside of the federally designated 100-year flood zone, yet flooded due to Katrina. .
* The owner must have had homeowners' insurance.
Grant recipients must agree to attach the following as covenants to their property.
* Maintain flood insurance on damaged residence in perpetuity.
* Rebuild or repair to applicable codes and local ordinances.
* Rebuild to newly recommended FEMA flood elevations.
* Manufactured housing (mobile homes) must comply with the Federal Manufactured Housing Code.
Several other housing programs are available to homeowners in the Katrina-affected areas, including one for low to moderate income persons and another for rental property. The Gulf Opportunity Zone (GO Zone) is also offering a program for low income families to obtain financing at lower interest rates than might be available in the regular mortgage arena.
OTHER FEDERAL MONIES COMING into the state after Katrina have included:
> $222 million in education "restart" money to help districts absorb losses to the storm.
> $80 million to help the state cope with displaced students.
> $700,000 to address the needs of homeless students.
> $95 million direct appropriation to universities and community colleges.
> $58 million to aid local and state law enforcement reestablish their agencies to pre-Katrina levels and will help replace lost or damaged equipment. The funds cannot be used for "brick and mortar." The plan does include $5.1 million for a new "trooper school."
> $128.4 million in a social services block grant for health and mental health services and for the repair and construction of health and mental health facilities. The State Veterans Nursing Homes will receive $700,000 of these funds and some will go to senior centers and adult day care centers.
> $95 million for workforce training to provide direct training in skills needed in the rebuilding effort, temporary employment for affected persons and training for new and expanded businesses.
> $2.75 billion for emergency repairs to federal highways like I-10 and U.S. 90.
> $385 million for the state's share of Medicaid services from August 2005 through June 2006. The Legislature put $285 million of this money into a fund to help pay the state's federal match for FEMA funds and the remaining $100 million went into the state Medicaid budget for FY 2007. Another portion of Medicaid funds will help the state pay the costs of uncompensated medical care. The cash-strapped University of Mississippi Medical Center will draw the lion's share of these funds.
A SPECIAL SESSION HELD SEPT. 27 - OCT. 7 of 2005 provided the setting for the Legislature's first response to Hurricane Katrina that hit the state just a month earlier. A plethora of storm-related legislation passed that session, ranging from allowing Coast casinos to move onto land within 800 feet of the water's edge, making sure the state continues to draw tidelands leases from casinos, allowing government bodies and school districts in the affected area flexibility needed to get back on their feet financially, extending the time for taxpayers affected by Hurricane Katrina to file their state income tax returns to establishing an Office of Disaster Assistance Coordination within the Governor's Office to coordinate and provide information on non-FEMA financial assistance.
THE 2006 SESSION BROUGHT FORTH another host of issues that were dealt with by the Legislature. Gov. Barbour signed many of them into law, some others died and both chambers additionally passed numerous resolutions commending groups or individuals for their assistance in helping the state rebound from the disaster. Among the bills that passed in addition to various bond issues for regional projects:
> HB 1406 adopting strict building codes in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River and Stone counties and creating a panel to study the issue and report to the Legislature, with the hope that more counties will also adopt the standards.
> SB 2943 creating the Gulf Region Water Utility Authority to help coordinate a regional approach to water and sewerage services in the six southernmost counties. The move will help Mississippi draw $600 million in federal funds for the region's redevelopment.
> HB 905 to provide additional assistant district attorneys in the affected area to be paid for with federal disaster-relief funds.
> HB 1280 providing that new titles for salvaged or damaged vehicles must be branded to reflect damages and includes a provision to fine any seller of a submerged or salvaged vehicle who does not disclose to a buyer that information.
> HB 1316 revising the penalties against home repair fraud, a result of unscrupulous builders and carpenters working to defraud persons whose homes were destroyed or damaged.
> HB 1323 to allow for the rebuilding of residences destroyed by Katrina on the same lot regardless of size.
> HB 1324 directing the Stennis Institute of Government to conduct a study of the performance of emergency first responders.
> HB 1498 authorizing state general obligation bonds to pay for damage to electric utilities caused by the storm.
> SB 2384 to continue to homestead property tax exemption for destroyed homes for two more years.
> SB 2589 to create the Hurricane Disaster Reserve Fund with $258 million in federal funds to defray the state's share of any nonfederal matching requirements for FEMA grants associated with Katrina and other disasters.
> SB 2701 authorizing certain school districts, community colleges and the University of Southern Mississippi to borrow Community Disaster Loan Program funds to cover losses of revenue as a result of Katrina.
> SB 2757 to create a comprehensive electronic court system to develop and implement a case management and electronic filing system. The system will provide for an exchange of data among courts, law enforcement agencies, children's services and public welfare agencies, and arose after Katrina destroyed numerous records related to those types of agencies, including records of sex offenders.
> SB 2868 allowing the Mississippi Coast Coliseum to use its trust funds for repairs.
> SB 2980 revising the amount of bonds that may be issued by the Mississippi Home Corporation for the purpose of providing low-interest loans to persons losing homes to the disaster.
> SB 2947 allowing the six southernmost counties and other government bodies in those counties to renegotiate loans made through the Local Governments and Rural Water Systems Improvements Revolving Loan Fund and the Local Governments and Rural Water Systems Emergency Loan Fund.
THREE KATRINA-RELATED MEASURES that drew heavy discussion during the session but failed to pass were: HB 1320 a bill that was vetoed by Gov. Barbour that would have allowed for legislative tracking of grant assistance to homeowners affected by Katrina; HB 1250 that would have established a sales tax incentive fund to make payments to groups making capital investments for tourist-oriented enterprises in the affected area; and HB 982 that would have required insurance agents to explain flood insurance coverage and verify the conversation with an insured's signature. HB 982 bill followed much controversy on the Coast where companies denied claims by customers that flood water damaged their home, even though many customers were told by the companies and the federal government, which administers the coverage, that they didn't need flood insurance.
The House of Representatives in HB 1318 also created the "Hurricane Katrina Response and Recovery Oversight Act" that would allow legislative input into how state agencies dealt with the recovery movement, but the Senate failed to act and it died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The House also attempted to put $250 million in a bond bill (SB 3080) to help devastated Coast homeowners who might not otherwise qualify for the block grant program being run by the governor. Another high-profile Katrina-related bill that died in conference was HB 1638 to develop a statewide wireless communication system that was seen as a real need after communications systems failed so miserably in the Katrina disaster.
Another failed bill was HB 849 to tighten down on price gouging in the wake of natural disasters. It had a provision giving the state attorney general the authority to monitor gasoline prices. In addition, when a local emergency is declared, then the value received for all goods and services sold within that city or county could not exceed the prices ordinarily charged for comparable goods in that jurisdiction.
HB 1615 also died and would have expanded the state's Emerging Crops Fund to include businesses and enterprises that were destroyed or damaged by the hurricane, such as poultry houses and greenhouses, most of which are located in southern Mississippi.
ON THE REVENUE-GENERATING side of state fiscal matters, the 2006 Legislature passed $382.8 million worth of state general obligation bonds to go toward the repair, renovation or construction of state-owned facilities and to fund local economic development projects.
Most counties will receive additional new voting machines as the result of a $6 million bond program (HB 562). Rail line improvement projects will get $5 million (HB 1492) and the King Edward Hotel redevelopment project will draw a $2 million loan (HB 1495). $20 million will go for economic development projects in small cities and counties, to rural areas in another fund and for a highway act (HBs 1506, 1508, 1509 and SB 2982).
Universities will be in line for more than $20 million while two-year colleges and state buildings will get $17.5 million (HB 1634). The State Department of Health will get a new $25 million laboratory (HB 1541).
The Old Capitol Building, also harmed by Katrina's wind and rain, will get $14.2 million for renovations (SB 3070) and the Department of Marine Resources will draw $30 million to replace and repair equipment and facilities (SB 3071). Capital improvements for the Department of Public Safety will cost $28.5 million (SB 3081) and $20 million will go to counties to replace and repair local bridges (SB 3086). Another $56 million payment of the state's pledge to the Northrop Grumman Shipyard was also funded from bonds (SB 2073).
Also in HB 1634, the Infinity science and tourism project at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County was awarded $6 million, while $9.3 million was bonded toward the NASA Shared Services project which Mississippi won over several other states. The Legislature awarded $15 million to the Rentech coal gasification project in Adams County that will produce 1,500 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs. An arts and entertainment center in Meridian highlighting the state's stars of music, literature and other arts will draw a long-awaited $4 million grant, while the B.B. King Museum in Indianola gets $2 million to help honor the "King of the Blues," B.B. King, who is quite possibly the world's most famous and renowned living musician. The Legislature also put $4 million in a community heritage grant fund and gave the Mississippi Museum for the Arts in Jackson $500,000.
A major economic development thrust came in HB 1034 directing the State College Board to work with leaders in the Mississippi Delta region on plans to revitalize that economically-depressed area. The mission and role of a special task force will be to set measurable, achievable and significant goals to help the Delta. The task force will conduct public hearings in the region and make recommendations regarding such goals and present findings and detailed recommendations to the Legislature.
THE SESSION BROUGHT CHANGES in numerous areas of general law, with the protection of self and property dominating the news coverage. Perhaps the ultimate protection bill becoming law was HB 123 banning smoking in most government-owned or occupied buildings, including those in cities and counties and most buildings on university and community college campuses.
The Legislature voted to provide to require the use in vehicles of seat belts by front-seat passengers (HB 409), making it a "primary offense" for non-use and allowing law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle solely for that purpose. A $25 fine may be imposed on violators.
Also passing were bills to expand a person's right to claim self-defense against intruders in their home, vehicle or place of employment (SB 2426). Under the new law, it is presumed a person acted prudently when using deadly force and is therefore immune from civil immunity. Another bill (HB 1141) allows persons to keep a firearm in their vehicle as long as the parking area is not gated or otherwise restricts the public's access. The law also provides civil immunity to public or private employers for damages resulting from or arising out of an occurrence involving the transportation, storage, possession or use of a firearm.
The Legislature also set out at the start of the session to ensure that eminent domain (HB 100) could not be used to take private property solely for commercial purposes or for tax enhancement by government bodies, but that effort died in conference committee at session's end when negotiations failed.
Another self-protection effort aligned with Katrina recovery was successful with passage of HB 1406 to require that new construction in Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River and Stone counties must meet International Building Codes or International Residential Codes standards. The bill also creates a council to adopt building codes that may be instituted by other counties on a local option basis.
A state ban on abortions enacted in the 1940s will remain intact, although the federal Roe V. Wade permitting abortions overrules the state law. Another effort this year (SB 2922) to ban most abortions failed in conference negotiation. Mississippi has one clinic whose only business is abortions.
The Legislature passed a law protecting a mother's right to breast-feed her baby (SB 2419). Lawmakers attempted but failed to establish a burn center at University Medical Center (HB 908) after the state's only burn treatment facility closed in Greenville. The House of Representatives created a Select Committee on the Future of University of Mississippi and attempted to earmark a portion of taxes for the state's only teaching hospital (and only real charity hospital, although some others also provide uncompensated care) but that also died.
ELSEWHERE ON THE PUBLIC HEALTH SCENE, the Legislature passed (HB 1221) to allow for the construction of a new nursing home facility in Hancock County after Katrina destroyed an earlier home, and to transfer 49 beds to Hancock County; passed (HB 542) to ensure pharmacists are paid promptly by pharmacy benefit management plans; voted (SB 2677) to allow some direct access to physical therapists without a prescription from a physician; voted (SB 2882) to create a kidney task force to educate medical professionals and the public about chronic kidney disease; voted (HB 229) to provide temporary transportation to a large group of end-stage kidney disease dialysis patients; and tried but failed (HB 1379) to create a "money follows the person" process allowing some would-be Medicaid nursing home residents to be able to stay at home and receive medical care.
Lawmakers also passed several measures to strengthen laws against sexual offenders. SB 2667 would further protect vulnerable adults and toughen punishment for offenders. HB 381 makes it unlawful to harbor, transport and subject other persons for forced-labor services, known as human-trafficking; and SBs 2865 and 2527 strengthen the reporting requirements of sexual offenders. SB 2527 also prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school or day-care center. On a related subject, HB 733 requires the state to notify crime victims when an offender is released or moved to another facility.
Families who want to adopt children will receive an income tax credit (HB 1549) up to $2,500 to help parents with the costs they incur while going through the adoption process. The Legislature also passed SB 2388 to increase the poll of available social workers by creating an alternative certification process that no longer will require a degree in that field of study.
Lawmakers passed HB 1693 to make it unlawful to disrupt or desecrate a military funeral or burial site.
Youthful law-breakers came in for more special attention with passage of HB 199 requiring attorneys representing offenders to undergo specialized training. It also says that youth accused of something that would not be a crime if committed by an adult cannot be locked up more than 24 hours prior to and after an initial court appearance unless the offender has violated a valid court order. The bill also seeks to enact a more efficient and humane detention system, ensuring offenders quality educational and health-care opportunities. It reinforces the idea of a system that focuses more on community-based programs, rather than programs that are incarceration-based. Mississippi has been the target of several lawsuits because of its past treatment of juvenile delinquents.
PUBLIC K-12 AND HIGHER EDUCATION ISSUES never fail to draw a substantial amount of attention during legislative sessions, and 2006 was no different.
Gov. Barbour was pleased that a package of reforms he had proposed passed the Legislature, and also noted that more than 62 percent of the state budget goes for education. He said per-student spending in the K-12 public schools had exceeded $7,000 for the first time.
Among the Barbour-linked proposals that passed in SB 2602 are: home rule allowing local school boards to adopt orders, resolutions or ordinances on district affairs, property and finances not inconsistent with state law; focus on dropout prevention with a new state position to dramatically lower the state's 40 percent dropout rate before graduation; prioritize teacher recruitment and retention, including teacher pay for performance program that rewards schools slowing the best increases in student test scores; increase pay for teachers in critical shortage areas and critical subject areas; provide for dual credit options (high school and college); authorize a "Virtual School" concept to offer courses over the Internet; and require the state to develop a wellness curriculum to include proper diet, exercise and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol.
AMONG OTHER K-12 LEGISLATION passing the 2006 session:
> HB 214 to design a curriculum for students interested in direct entry into the workforce after graduation. The course will still be rigorous and comply all federal No Child Left Behind standards.
> HB 308 requiring local school boards to make available to school-age children any textbooks on the state surplus inventory list.
> HB 318 extending a pilot project to teach the Italian language.
> HB 319 directing districts to create a health council to offer guidance on wellness.
> HB 951 requires districts to give teachers and other staff a notice of unemployment either on or before April 15 or within 10 days after the governor signs the K-12 appropriation bill, whichever is later.
> HB 1423 grants a diploma to anyone who dropped out before graduation but who has achieved the equivalent requirements for graduation that existed when the person would have graduated.
> SB 2049 extends a study on the feasibility of the charter school concept and mandates a report to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2006.
> SB 2409 expands the jurisdiction of law officers appointed by the school board to include an area within 500 feet of school property.
> SB 2071 authorizes districts affected by Katrina to borrow funds and issue notes to the federal government under the Community Disaster Loan Program, and increases the length of such from loans from 7 to 10 years. The bill also includes provisions for some high education entities to borrow funds related to the hurricane disaster.
> SB 2718 provides that the state may make civil rights and human rights education a part of the K-12 curriculum, and creates a commission to assist in the development of the course.
VEHICLES, BOTH THOSE OWNED by private citizens and government bodies, got their usual amount of attention during the session in addition to the law requiring seat-belt usage.
HB 1215 relaxed the law passed in 2005 that regulated the amount of post-factory window tinting that could be applied to vehicle windows. Under the new law, windshields must have a light transmittance of 28 percent or more, meaning the windows can be slightly darker than under the bill approved in 2005.
Ethanol, biodiesel and other alternative fuels drew heavy discussion, along with the side issue of creating a bureau of fleet management to regulate state-owned vehicles. SB 2942 creates a committee to study the potential uses of biodiesel fuel and the benefits that would go to the agriculture industry and the environment.
SB 2398 creates an agency to regulate state-owned vehicles. It would promote efficiency and economy in the purchase, lease, rental, maintenance and disposal of vehicles by state agencies. The bureau would encourage the use of fuel efficient or hybrid vehicles and when feasible the use of alternative fuels including biodiesel and ethanol. The same bill also seeks to further tighten cell phone usage by state employees and administrators.
SB 2970 creates "relevant market areas" for the sale of new automobiles in which manufacturers are required to notify all same-line dealers in a given RMA of their plans to locate a new dealer or relocate an existing dealer. It creates a system where dealers have the right to file a protest with a state commission and the manufacturer would be required to show good cause for their plans.
Volunteer firefighters were given a break on one car tag per household (HB 468) and the Legislature also voted to give motorcycle owners a break on their vehicle's tag (SB 2021), rescinding an earlier State Tax Commission ruling. SB 2332 will prevent insurance companies from charging an increased premium for reinstating a policy that was cancelled or suspended because an insured was transferred out of state for active military duty.
HB 1361 makes drag racing a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine included.
The Legislature also funded the 8th round of the ever-popular Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Program that has brought dozens of local fire protection units new trucks and other equipment.
OTHER ISSUES THAT GAINED NOTICE during the session and their outcomes were:
> HB 929 allowing state wildlife officers to request that the person who causes serious bodily injury or death to another person by use of a weapon submit to a chemical test for determining the presence of alcohol or other drugs. PASSED.
> HB 1089 that would have created a pilot project for the hunting of deer over grain. DIED.
> Several bills DIED that would have tightened restrictions on illegal immigrants.
> HB 1252 limiting the regulation of certain aspects of the telecommunications industry. PASSED.
> HB 1519 and SB 2308 further tightening the financing of political campaigns. DIED.
> SB 2511 that would have allowed some first-time drug offenders to be eligible for parole. DIED.
> SB 2689 lengthening to 10 years the vesting of public employees hired after July 1, 2006 for purposes of the Public Employees Retirement System. DIED.
> Several bills that would have expanded gaming to include a lottery and horse racing in the state DIED.
> SB 2374 to allow small loan companies to offer borrowers the opportunity to purchase auto club memberships after a loan has been approved. The membership cannot be required as a condition of receiving the loan and failure to buy it must not affect the loan decision. PASSED.
> SB 2843 to raise the weekly maximum unemployment compensation. DIED.
A proud moment in the House of Representatives came in February when it honored the return home of the state's 155th Brigade National Guard Combat Team just home from Iraq. The state's Public Television System recorded the ceremony and scheduled a late April showing on the network.
The Legislature also honored the life and achievements of the late Korean War hero Clyde Kennard, the first African-American to try to enter the University of Southern Mississippi. A proclamation was issued by Gov. Barbour saying that if Kennard were still alive, his rights would be restored. USM in 1993 dedicated a hall on the campus to Kennard's memory.
The 2007 regular session will begin Tuesday, Jan. 2.