2020 Legislative Roundup

Legislature Makes Historic Vote to Change State Flag

In a historic move, the Mississippi Legislature voted to remove the current state flag – a long-held position of the Mississippi Economic Council. As this happened late in the legislative session, it required the legislature to suspend the rules to take up the issue. A rules suspension requires a two-thirds majority and is rarely achieved on controversial issues.

Once the suspension of the rules was accomplished, it allowed the law to repeal the current state flag to pass with a simple majority in both the House and Senate. The bill also creates a commission to redesign it with the following caveats:

  • The new flag must not contain Confederate battle flag imagery;
  • The new flag must include the words "In God We Trust."

The commission must submit the new flag design by September 14, 2020, and if approved, it will be voted on in the November 3, 2020, general election. The flag must receive a majority vote to become the new state flag.

MEC thanks Governor Reeves, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, and Speaker Philip Gunn and members of the Mississippi legislature for putting Mississippi in position to realize her full potential.

Many MEC members signed on to our “It’s Time” campaign and called their individual legislators to express the importance of changing the flag. It took this support and the work of other organizations and individuals to help make this happen.

Business Liability Protection for COVID-19 Among Strongest in Nation

MEC played a significant role in the passage of the Mississippi Back-to-Business Liability Assurance and Health Care Emergency Response Liability Protection Act.

Two major components of the bill are:

  • The standard of proof is tremendous. It states, “The immunities provided in this act shall not apply where the plaintiff shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that a defendant, or any employee or agent thereof, acted with actual malice or willful, intentional misconduct.”
  • Businesses will be protected for up to one year after the end of the state of emergency.

The public guidance definition and the language on the application of that guidance to give assurance to businesses acting in good faith to protect employees and customers. The bill states if a business “attempts in good faith to follow applicable public health guidance shall be immune from suit for civil damages for any injuries or death resulting from or related to actual or alleged exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19 in the course of or through the performance or provision of its functions or services.”

The bill was also comprehensive in covering political subdivisions, educational entities, for-profit or nonprofit entities, religious organizations, or charitable organizations.

MEC helped lead a coalition of over 40 business groups pushing.

SWIB Realignment and Creation of the Office of Workforce Development

The Mississippi Office of Workforce Development was created through the signage of SB 2564.

MEC supported changes in the bill to allow the State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB) to oversee the new department. The legislation also reduces the number of SWIB board members to 31, and the Lt. Governor and Speaker will now have additional appointments. The SWIB executive committee will now have seven business representatives. The SWIB executive committee will appoint the executive director of the Office of Workforce, who is expected to also serve as executive director of SWIB. This puts Mississippi one step closer to the one-stop-shop approach MEC has been advocating for the past few years.

The legislation also gives the office of workforce development oversight control of state-sourced workforce dollars, including the Workforce Enhancement Fund and the Mississippi Works Fund. The office will work in collaboration with the State Community College Board on the distribution and purpose of those funds.

CARES Funds Provided For Workforce

A total of $55 million of the $1.2 billion of CARES Act funds will go to workforce development. Community Colleges will receive $49 million for workforce projects, and another $5 million will be allotted for on-the-job training, overseen by the four local workforce areas.

In other legislation, the CARES funds distribution also includes $50 million for K-12 connectivity, $75 million for Broadband expansion, and $176.5 million for the unemployment trust fund. In a separate bill, the legislature provided that all unspent CARES funds on Dec. 28 would be transferred to the unemployment trust fund.

Marketplace Facilitator Act Closes Loophole, Provides Money for Transportation

House Bill 379 will provide fairness for Mississippi’s small business retailers by putting them on a level playing field with other retailers across the nation. While the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2018 allowed for the collection of internet sales taxes, a loophole existed for certain businesses that do not have a location in Mississippi but use a Marketplace Facilitator platform. These platforms, such as Amazon and Wayfair, were only required to collect the tax on products they sell and not those sold from businesses using their marketplace platform. Under this law, the facilitator will now collect the tax on those sales. The Department of Revenue estimates this could be as much as an additional $50 Million in internet sales tax collection.

The bill also provides additional funding for transportation infrastructure, as $1 million per month is diverted from this portion of internet sales tax collection to the Local System Bridge Program (LSPB). These funds will go to LSBP until the “total” 5% use tax diversion approved in the special session in 2018 is fully phased in by 2022.

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