Federal Judge Overturns HB 1523

U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves blocked House Bill 1523 from going into effect following the state legislature’s passage during the 2016 Legislative Session. Under the bill, businesses would have been allowed to deny services based on sincerely held religious beliefs without facing reciprocity from the state. Individuals would still be able to bring suit against such businesses but the state would remain neutral.

Judge Reeves’ injunction asserts that the law violates the U.S. Constitution in two places:

  1. The First Amendment by “establish[ing] an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others,” and
  2. The Fourteenth Amendment by explicitly favoring “anti-LGBTG religious beliefs” and providing adherents to those beliefs a special right to discriminate that is not available to others.

Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood believes the federal court ruling was clear and does not expect to appeal. No other officials’ comments were available.

This is not the first time Judge Reeves has ruled on religious freedom issues. In July 2015, he issued a court order to prevent Rankin County School District (RCSD) from including any religious activities at school sponsored events. After receiving a $7,500 fine after failing to satisfactorily comply with the court order, the RCSD prevented the Brandon High School Band from playing “How Great Thou Art” during a halftime show fearing that such an act would violate the court order and subject the district to additional fines.

Although born in Texas, Reeves grew up in Yazoo City and was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi by President Obama in 2010.

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Register Now for the 2015 General Election

The November 3rd General Election will decide all state-wide offices, county-wide offices, state legislators, and proposed state constitutional amendments.

The week of September 28th is the last week to register for the 2015 General Election. See your county’s Circuit Clerk to register or visit Register & Vote! for more information.

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Investor, Gulfport plan Creosote Road Extension

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) held a public hearing regarding wetland fill and mitigations for a planned 1,300 acre project that includes extending Creosote Road from West of the Premium Outlets to Canal Road. A 30-day public notice was published June 2nd and a public hearing was conducted July 25th.

Creosote Road Extension

Overview of the Creosote Road extension to Canal Road and the associated development south of I-10

Per the public notice, USACE had determined that the development would not not impact threatened or endangered species or cultural or historic resources in the permit area but they still sought feedback from the federal and state officials and the general public. Of significant general concern at the hearing was the impact to the Turkey Creek Watershed and the Forest Heights and North Gulfport neighborhoods that are known to flood during heaving rains and high water events.

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Lt. Gov. proposes alternative tax cut plan

The House and the Senate have passed competing tax cut proposals:

  • The Senate passed  SB 2839 that would eliminate the corporate franchise tax over 10 years and provide breaks for small businesses and eliminate the 3% bracket on personal income taxes.
  • The House passed HB 1629 bill eliminating the personal income tax altogether within 15 years conditioned upon a 3% or better “growth trigger.”

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has offered a compromise: implement the Senate plan over 10 years and then eliminate the state’s 4 percent income tax bracket over the next 5 years for individuals and businesses with no growth triggers.

The Senate Finance Committee has passed the compromise but the Speaker of the House Philip Gunn has not yet considered it.

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AP: Mississippi House passes bill to phase out state income tax

From the Associated Press, “Mississippi House passes bill to phase out state income tax” by Emily Wagster Pettus

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – The Mississippi House argued two hours Wednesday before passing an election-year proposal that could become one of the biggest tax cuts in state history if it becomes law – a plan to phase out the state’s personal income tax over the next 15 years if the economy grows.

The bill passed the Republican-led House 82-32, with several Democrats voting for the bill after they criticized it and tried to change it.

However, it’s unclear whether the bill, with a price tag of $1.7 billion, will survive the Senate.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Senate’s presiding officer, is pushing a separate bill that would phase out the business franchise tax and give a more modest reduction in the income tax. It’s projected to cost $382 million.

Supporters of House Bill 1629 say eliminating Mississippi’s income tax would stimulate economic growth. Mississippi has long been one of the poorest states in the nation, and opponents of the bill say it would further weaken the state’s ability to pay for education, transportation, health care and other government services.

“It would devastate our budget,” said Rep. Jim Evans, D-Jackson, who voted against the bill.

Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, said eliminating the income tax over several years would reward people who work and pay for government.

“It’s not an overly aggressive plan at all,” Formby said.

The Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 2839, Reeves’ proposal to phase out Mississippi’s business franchise tax over 10 years and reduce some income taxes.

The two chambers will exchange bills for more work. Legislators have until late March to set a budget and pass or kill tax proposals.

The House bill was filed Monday, just two days before the deadline for the House and Senate to act on the first round of tax and budget proposals during this three-month legislative session.

During Wednesday’s debate, Democratic Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson peppered the Ways and Means Committee chairman, Republican Jeff Smith of Columbus, about whether Smith had held public hearings or consulted economic experts about the potential impact of eliminating the personal income tax. Smith said he had done neither. But Smith said letting people keep more of the money they earn could stimulate spending and boost the economy.

“Your numbers don’t work,” Brown told him.

Smith responded: “Gentleman, I told you I have not talked to economists.”

The personal income tax is one of the largest sources of revenue to pay for schools, prisons, mental health care and other state services, generating about a quarter of state tax revenue.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the House plan would trim nearly $1.4 billion in taxes in steps through 2028, pausing in any year when state revenue doesn’t grow by at least 3 percent. However, that total is based on partial collections from the 2012 calendar year, according to the state Department of Revenue. The state is projected to collect more than $1.7 billion in personal income taxes this year.

Democrats on Wednesday offered 10 amendments that were all defeated, including one that would have reduced the 7 percent tax on groceries.

Tax bills require a three-fifths majority to pass, so at least 69 votes were needed Wednesday.

Sixty-five Republicans and 18 Democrats voted for the bill, and 32 Democrats 32 voted against it.

Two Democrats voted “present,” which did not count for or against the bill. Three Democrats did not vote. One Republican and one Democrat were absent.

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House Bill introduced to end state personal income tax

In a bold proposal, Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn introduced a $1.38 billion plan to eliminate personal  income tax in Mississippi with House Bill 1629. Speaker Gun stated, “If we are going to do a tax cut, we want it to be real, substantial and make significant impact on the lives of those who are paying the tax.”

The press release provided the following key points of the bill that the House Ways and Means Committee passed February 24th:

  • 15 Year – $1,380,360,533 individual income tax elimination
  • 3% bracket eliminated by 2019
  • 4% bracket eliminated by 2022
  • 5% bracket eliminated by 2030
  • 3% revenue growth required
  • Mississippi family that makes $30,000 a year – $1,350 Raise
  • Mississippi family that makes $50,000 a year – $2,350 Raise
  • Mississippi family that makes $70,000 a year – $3,350 Raise

The Senate has approved Senate Bill 2839, a $382 million tax-cut proposal that phases out the business franchise tax and the personal income tax on the first $5,000 of taxable income.

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Speaker Gunn seeking to phase-out personal income tax

The Sun Herald posted AP Newsbreak: Gunn to seek phaseout of personal income tax by Jeff Amy:

JACKSON, MISS. — In a game of escalating tax-cut proposals, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, will propose the biggest so far: a $1.7 billion phaseout of Mississippi’s state personal income tax over more than a decade, a top legislator said late Monday.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, confirmed Monday that he plans to bring forward the proposal in his committee Tuesday. Continue reading

Sen. McCain action targets U.S. shipbuilders

The U.S. Senate passed the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act 29 Jan 2015 but only after language was removed that would repeal the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. The Merchant Marine Act, also known as the Jones Act, is a law that protects U.S. shipbuilding and merchant mariners by requiring “that all goods shipped between waterborne ports of the United States be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by Americans.”

Sen. John McCain, who attempted to add the repeal of the Jones Act to the bill, stated the following in a press release:

I have long advocated for a full repeal of The Jones Act, an antiquated law that has for too long hindered free trade, made U.S. industry less competitive and raised prices for American consumers,” said Senator John McCain. “The amendment I am introducing again today would eliminate this unnecessary, protectionist restriction. According to the Congressional Research Service, it costs $6 per barrel to move crude from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast United States on a Jones Act tanker, while a foreign-flag tanker can take that same crude to a refinery in Canada for $2 per barrel – taking money directly out of the pockets of American consumers. I hope my colleagues will join in this important effort to repeal this archaic legislation to spur job creation and promote free trade

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft told Politico, “McCain’s amendment would result in the outsourcing of U.S. shipbuilding to foreign nations,” putting “our entire U.S. fleet in jeopardy.”

Tony Munoz, editor-in-chief of The Maritime Executive, stated, “Lifting the Jones Act would open U.S. markets to foreign competition and might decrease prices for consumers, but at what cost?” and added “McCain’s laissez-faire sentiments would actually destroy U.S. jobs, lower personal income, devastate U.S. vessel-operating companies and obliterate American shipbuilders, never mind the national security impact.”

Repeal of the Jones Act may favor free trade but would be expected to decimate the shipbuilding industry on the Gulf Coast and across the country. Having supported Sen. Thad Cochran’s 2014 re-election campaign, McCain may have expected extra support on the amendment which was soundly rejected.

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Mississippi’s love/hate relationship with “free” money

E.J. Dionne, writing for the Washington Post, identifies Mississippi’s personality disorder with respect to federal funding.  As a “conservative” state, Mississippi rejects federal waste, unbalanced budgets, and pork.  At the same time, the state benefits from, if not relies upon, federal money.

The U.S. Senate primary race between Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel is forcing the issue.  Cochran has made a name for himself as a master appropriator and is in line to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee should the Republican Party take the Senate in November.  McDaniel has fashioned himself a warrior against federal debt, excessive spending, and pork and has won the support of a host of Tea Party groups advocating the same.

According to Mississippi State’s Marty Wiseman, “Our anti-Washington politics has been to make sure that we got as much of it here as we could.  You’ve got the tea party excited that they’ve corralled a big spender, but he was bringing it back to Mississippi. That’s the paradox of all paradoxes.”

Democrat Party Chairman Ricky Cole is quoted, “If Mississippi did what the tea party claims they want . . . we would become a Third World country, quickly.  We depend on the federal government to help us build our highways. We depend on the federal government to fund our hospitals, our health-care system. We depend on the federal government to help us educate our students on every level.”

Dionne identifies the apparent victor in this battle:  “Yes, Childers could run as a Thad Cochran Democrat — except he wouldn’t be saddled with the need to appease an ideology that has to pretend federal spending doesn’t benefit anybody, least of all the people of Mississippi.”

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WXXV25 | Gulfport City Council Approves Indoor Shooting Range

WXXV reports that the Gulfport City Council Approves Indoor Shooting Range.  The necessary zoning changes were approved that will accommodate construction of the facility on Seaway Road near The Dock restaurant.  David Comstock proposed the project, expects to invest $4-5 Million, and open the range in about 9 months.

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