Wind pool association benefits whole state
Negotiations between the House and the Senate on state spending for the next fiscal year and hashing out agreements on general legislation moved us closer last week to the end of the session.
The budget for FY 2008 beginning July 1 should be established by the time you read this. We were to vote on the budget for a final time Sunday, March 25.
We then began consideration of final versions of general bills – those measures which do not involve outright appropriations or the raising of revenues. These conferences were going on all this week.
More often than not, the House and Senate are able to reach an agreement, but each year there are several bills that do not survive the conference process and die because an agreement couldn’t be reached.
In the case of appropriation and revenue bills that are in conference, we must reach an agreement between the House and Senate because state government needs a budget on which to operate.
The State Senate tried once again this week to pass a bill that would cut the tax rate on groceries and increase taxes on cigarettes. That effort failed by three votes.
Here are just a few of the issues that are in conference: K-12 public school funding; charting a healthier path for state K-12 students; future direction of the State Health Department; restriction of the use of eminent domain; deer hunting over grain; the Medicaid insurance program; whether to establish a burn treatment facility at UMMC; building codes; certificates of need for health facilities; allowing public workers to get compensatory pay or time for working weekends; tourism incentives; election law changes; toll roads; and preventing candidates from seeking more than one office on any election day.
Both the House and Senate approved HB 1500 to revamp the state’s "Wind Pool Association." This makes insurance available to homeowners and businesses on the Mississippi Coast. Gov. Barbour signed the bill into law on March 22.
Under the plan, $20 million annually will be diverted for four years from the state insurance premium tax revenue to help reduce property insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses. If another Katrina-like storm hits the Coast, a surcharge on premiums will be charged to help offset reinsurance costs and to protect the wind pool’s assets. Also, insurers will get tax breaks to write property insurance in the six southernmost counties. There are currently 32,000 policies in the plan, twice the number when Katrina roared ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.
"The Mississippi Legislature has passed what, aside from the Toyota plant incentives, could be the most important economic development bill that will be passed this session, House Bill 1500 or the Wind Pool bill," said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale, who helped develop the plan.
Also this week, the House of Representatives stopped for a moment of silence and a prayer for Marine Cpl. Dustin Lee, 20, of Quitman in Clarke County, who was killed in Iraq on March 21.