House leaves; Senate back today; local bills OK’d|[8/26/06]
Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 26, 2006
JACKSON – The Mississippi House on Friday ended its part of a special session, leaving senators to either accept or reject proposals to help opposite ends of the state.
Senators are to return to the Capitol early today.
Both houses of the legislature passed bills submitted by Vicksburg and Warren County.
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But still in limbo is the session’s marquee issue: A $173 million incentive package for Riverbend Crossing, an upscale residential and entertainment development planned for DeSoto County near Memphis.
Also unresolved is a proposed grant program to help local coast governments whose tax bases eroded in Hurricane Katrina.
Although the House departure appeared firm, there is a chance senators could force their colleagues back to the Capitol next week. The state constitution says one chamber cannot leave for longer than three days if the other is still working. Sundays don’t count.
Despite unfinished business for other areas of the state, both the Senate and House passed bills granting the City of Vicksburg the authority to add standards for the design of new buildings and contributing $2,500 to the Warren County Board of Supervisors for the local social-service agency Central Mississippi Prevention Services.
The bills are awaiting the signature of Gov. Haley Barbour, which could come Monday, said Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg.
The city’s request for more authority in zoning was in anticipation of its adopting design standards on new construction in the future, City Planner Wayne Mansfield said.
“This is something we’ve been working on for a while,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.
Similar bills had failed to pass the past two years because of technicalities in the language, Chaney said.
If signed by Barbour, the authorization would go into effect ahead of the city’s proposed $2 million-$3 million urban renewal plan for the Oak Street corridor from Washington Street west to the Mississippi River and Yazoo Diversion Canal between roughly Veto Street and the Washington Street bridge near DiamondJacks Casino, formerly the Isle of Capri. That project is expected to be part of the push for a $10-$12 million bond issue encompassing several other projects this fall, which officials have said will target the aesthetics of existing homes and businesses in the zone.
Though no new buildings are part of the urban renewal plan, Leyens has called the project a marketing effort to attract business and said some developers have expressed interest in the area.
“There’s been some question as to the legality of a municipality adopting zoning enforcement,” said Mansfield. “Now, if there is a challenge to it, it would be a challenge to state law and not local ordinance.”
The other bill for Warren County, introduced in the House by Reps. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, and Chester Masterson, R-Vicksburg, and in the Senate by Chaney, will fund the county’s $2,500 payment to CMPS “for the purpose of enhancing its program curriculum designed to assist at-risk youth in Warren County.”
If signed by Barbour, the money will go to providing scholarships for kindergarten-through-10th-graders who participate in the agency’s annual summer leadership camp. This past summer’s camp was held at All Saints’ Episcopal School on Confederate Avenue, where about one-third of attendees were on scholarship, said CMPS Executive Director Joe Johnson.
The bill was modeled after bills authorizing design standards for buildings in Holly Springs and Madison passed by the legislature in recent years, Chaney said.
A plan to provide state grants to coast cities and counties could face trouble.
The House and Senate approved different proposals to provide up to $3 million to any local government that has lost at least 25 percent of its tax revenues since Katrina – Hancock County and the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and Long Beach.
No bill can go to the governor unless both chambers agree on identical language.
A House bill included a plan to provide homeowner grants of up to $50,000 to people in the six southernmost counties – Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone and George. People would be eligible regardless of whether they had homeowner’s insurance or flood insurance before Katrina. It passed 90-22.
The plan was proposed by Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, a likely candidate for lieutenant governor in 2007.
“This is about helping rebuild the Gulf Coast,” Franks said. “It’s been a year. People still don’t have a home.”
Only a governor can set the agenda for a special session, and Gov. Haley Barbour did not include the homeowner grants.
Barbour said Mississippi doesn’t need to spend state tax dollars for home repair or reconstruction because federal money already is going into such a program.
“We don’t need to do it right now,” Barbour said.