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Subcontractor law a little-known coup for state, Hopson says

Published 10:34 am Thursday, July 17, 2014

A new law on the books in Mississippi that protects subcontractors outshined higher-profile issues like education and health care in terms of importance to the state’s economy, state Sen. Briggs Hopson III said Wednesday.

Speaking to the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce, Hopson called the legislation that rewrote state law on liens for both commercial and residential projects “the most important non-budget related piece of legislation that was passed,” adding “not a lot of people know about it.”

Senate Bill 2622 says anyone wanting to file a lien to be paid for work face strict filing deadlines and be licensed by the Mississippi State Board of Contractors. Claims to liens may be lost if subcontractors fail to send a written notice to the contractor within 30 days after the first delivery of labor to a property.

On residential projects, people looking to claim a lien must give the owner a pre-lien notice at least 10 days before filing a claim of lien. Penalties for not paying a subcontractor after securing a waiver and release of lien without good cause is three times the amount on the face of the waiver and release.

Hopson said the bill, of which he was the principal author, was spurred by the courts. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Mississippi’s previous “stop notice” law, ruling it was unconstitutional.

“It gives them some protection that they’ll be paid,” he said, referring to subcontractors, adding the bill prompted Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to hold meetings on the bill before the Judiciary A Committee that Hopson chairs. “There are horror stories that I could go through that we heard at the committee meeting.”

On other fronts, Hopson said he hoped pay raises for teachers lifts not only salaries but also the performance of school districts themselves. Lawmakers agreed to increase pay $2,500 over the next two years. The plan includes a $1,500 raise July 1 and a $1,000 raise starting in fiscal 2015. Teachers also will get their yearly step raise of at least $495. Those with advanced degrees get larger annual raises.

Merit payments start in 2016-17 and are tied to school ratings. Teachers at A-rated schools will get $100 per child, as will any at those whose schools move up one grade level on state evaluations. Those at B-rated schools will get $75 per child.

“It’ll be up to principals and teachers how they want to use those funds,” said Hopson, who is also the attorney for the Vicksburg Warren School District. The 8,500-student district rated a D in last year’s evaluations.

The raises will cost $60 million in the first year and an additional $40 million in the second year, while the merit pay plan will cost $24 million along current school ratings, according to estimates after this past year’s legislative session.