On the first day of the session, the Senate approved a tax incentive package for a German pipe manufacturing company, as well as a bill that will continue the funding of workforce training programs in the state’s community and junior colleges.
The Senate approved House Bill 338, legislation that would facilitate construction of a $300 million pipe making facility in Tunica County. HB 338 would provide a $35 million incentive package created to assist Schulz GMBH in opening its first manufacturing plant in North America. The plant will employ 500 workers over the next five years, with the average wage exceeding $30,000 per employee. Likewise, the company is expected to help create and assist other businesses such as trucking, material suppliers, mechanic shops and food establishments. Tunica County, which has a 12.1 percent unemployment rate, will benefit greatly from the facility, as will other Mississippi counties.
The Senate also approved legislation that will reduce the amount of money employers currently pay into the Workforce Enhancement Training Fund, which funds job skills training at the state’s community and junior colleges. Specifically, the bill would lower the required amount of reserved state money to fund Mississippi's 15 community and junior colleges. Unless the previous required amount of 500 million dollars was lowered to 366 million as stated in the bill, state funds would not be sufficient to continue the much-needed workforce enhancement training program.
Despite an early focus on legislation regarding economic development, the primary concern facing the Senate this year is the state budget. Governor Haley Barbour has already trimmed more than $200 million from the budget; and due to declining revenue collections, more cuts are likely on the way.
The governor has also proposed dramatic changes in the state budget. Not only do his ideas seek to change the way Mississippi government operates, he has also proposed a number of dramatic actions, which include: merging various state agencies; allowing each agency director more control over his department; changes to the state retirement system; delaying for two-years all automatic teacher pay raises; relocating the School for the Blind and Deaf; and consolidating operations of community colleges while eliminating some satellite campuses. None of his proposals, though, can become law until the legislature takes some additional action. Debate on these issues, and others, will be intense and time-consuming.
Last week, there were 321 bills filed in the Senate. Debate on some of those bills could begin in as early as next week.
In other news, an emotional press conference was held Monday in Jackson to present Nathan's Law -- the Nathaniel Key School Bus Safety Act. After meetings with state prosecutors, judges, school officials and law enforcement officers; Nathan's parents, Andy and Lori Key, were instrumental in helping us research and draft one of the most comprehensive school bus safety bills in the nation.
The Keys are wonderful people, and it was my honor to work with them on the bill. I look forward to seeing it become law. The bill was formally introduced in the Senate chamber on Tuesday afternoon.
Obviously, no act of legislation will completely eliminate all criminal activity, particularly reckless and grossly negligent behavior such as intentionally passing a stopped school bus. But I am confident that Nathan's Law will make a positive difference in our state by deterring potential lawbreakers. With the new law introduced, we must now turn our attention to making sure the proposed bill becomes statutory law. Support for the bill in the Senate is strong. I will keep you informed as the bill moves through the legislative process. Moreover, I will fight to maintain the structural integrity of the proposed law, in addition to advocating for even more enhanced and aggressive penalties for those who dare violate its provisions.
In the interim, please know that I appreciate your prayers and support. If I can ever assist or help you in any way, feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.