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Legislature completes fifth week, two special sessions

Clay MansellBy District 56 Representative Clay Mansell

 

At press time, the Mississippi Legislature has completed its fifth week of the 2024 Legislative Session.

Despite winter weather across much of Mississippi during our third week, the Legislature continued to meet throughout the week and held a special session on Thursday, January 18 – a meeting of the legislature outside the parameters of a normal session, for which the governor decides the subject and matters that will be considered. Usually, a special session takes place when the Legislature is not already in session. However, this special session was dedicated to a major economic development project.

A $1.9 billion corporate capital investment, the second largest in state history, will bring approximately 2,000 jobs to Marshall County. The project, a joint venture of Accelera by Cummins, Inc., Daimler Trucks & Buses and PACCAR, includes a plant that will build batteries for electric commercial vehicles, and it will be located north of Byhalia at the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park on a 500-acre plot.

The average salary for the jobs is expected to be $66,000, and the total payroll is expected to be the largest payroll commitment of a major project in state history.

Marshall County will donate the land, valued at $12.7 million. The 2020 Census said Marshall County’s population was 33,755. MDA estimated an additional 707 jobs will be created once operational, leading to contributions of $4.98 million in local taxes and $12 million in state taxes.

The entire 2,707 jobs will have an overall annual economic impact on the area of $587.4 million.

During the fourth week of session, the governor called a second special session, also dedicated to a major economic development project: Amazon Web Services (AWS), which will bring a $10 billion corporate capital investment – the largest in state history – and an estimated 1,000 jobs to Mississippi. The project will include hyperscale data center complexes in two Madison County industrial parks, one near the Nissan plant, and one near I-220 in Ridgeland.

This investment by AWS, an Amazon.com, Inc. company, is the single largest capital investment in Mississippi history and is four times the size of the previous largest economic development project.

The operation will start in 2025 with 268 employees, including 112 direct employees. By 2034, Amazon will reach 1,000 employees, of which 371 will be direct employees of the company earning $70,000 salaries, with 629 contract employees earning 125-percent of the average state salary or greater, for an average wage of $66,000.

Governor Reeves said the Amazon data centers should be up and running by 2027, with some construction already beginning; and he also has said that, over the next three years, the company could require between 6,000 and 7,000 construction workers in order to complete the facilities at the two sites. He further indicated that number could end up being closer to 15,000.

The House also took up a resolution which would restore the ballot initiative process in Mississippi. The new process would require signatures of eight percent of registered voters for a measure to be placed on the ballot. Citizens would not be able to make changes to the state constitution, abortion laws, the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) or any local or special laws. The Legislature would also have the power to place an amended version of the initiative on the ballot.

These exceptions were the source of debate on the House floor. Opponents argued that the stipulations were limiting citizens’ voices and their chance to participate in direct democracy, while proponents of the resolution said that this was still giving power back to the voters. After two amendments were tabled, the resolution passed by a vote of 80-40 and has been sent to the Senate. The previous ballot initiative was struck down in May 2021 by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Because it is early in the session, committees are just starting to meet, as bills are still being drafted, so floor action has been light. Bills must be passed out of committee before they are considered by the entire House. The deadline for bill introduction is Monday, February 19, and the deadline for bills to be out of committee is Tuesday, March 5. Despite most work still happening in committees, two bills reached the House floor.

House Bill 539 would allow presumptive eligibility for prenatal care under Medicaid for pregnant women whose household incomes are 194% below the federal poverty line. These women could receive care for sixty days while the Mississippi Division of Medicaid is reviewing their applications. The bill passed the House by a vote of 117-5.

Online sports betting would become legal in Mississippi under House Bill 774, or the Mississippi Mobile Sports Wagering Act. The bill would require online sportsbooks like BetMGM, FanDuel or DraftKings to partner with an existing casino in Mississippi. This would ensure that money is staying at brick-and-mortar locations. In-person sports betting at physical casinos is currently legal. An amendment was added to specify that the revenue collected by the State would go towards the Emergency Road and Bridge Repair FundThe bill passed the House by a vote of 98-14.

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