Neighborhoods and downtown at the top of lawmakers’ priority list for 2019 legislative session
If District 64 Rep. Bill Denny has his way, the state will allocate more money for improvements in the Capitol Complex Improvement District, or CCID.
The 2019 legislative session began Tuesday, and Denny is again planning to introduce a measure that would increase the annual allocation going to the CCID.
“I went in for $22 million and got $11 million,” he said. “I don’t think I can realistically get $22 million, but maybe I can inch it up every session.”
The state established the CCID in 2017 as a way to help Jackson cover public improvements and security needs within it.
The district was set up to help Jackson cover costs for providing roads, water and sewer services to state-owned buildings, which do not generate property tax revenues for the city.
Denny, who authored the 2017 legislation, asked that $22 million be set aside for the district each year. However, the final bill included an $11 million allocation once the CCID is fully implemented.
Under the current statute, the state will allocate $3.2 million for the district in its first fiscal year, $7 million for its second, and $11 million from year three onward.
Denny also will be introducing legislation to reform voting and criminal justice laws.
Among measures, the Northeast Jackson and Madison County representative backs no-fault early voting and online voter registration. He also backs studying giving the vote back to non-violent criminal offenders.
In 2018, Denny co-authored a measure to create a “voter enfranchisement joint legislative study committee” to study restoring the right to vote to certain nonviolent convicted felons.
The bill was also backed by Rep(s). Kathy Sykes, Kabir Karriem and Cheikh Taylor.
The measure passed the House on a 114-7 vote but died on the calendar in the Senate.
“The reason it was written was so we can talk about it – to get a conversation going on it and hopefully get it into law,” he said. “I will be putting all of my voting (reform) bills back in this year.”
Denny’s bills to allow for no-fault early voting and online voter registration died in the House.
With previous early voting bills, residents would be able to cast ballots up to 14 days prior to a scheduled election, no questions asked. Residents would still have to show voter I.D. to vote and would have to vote at their respective circuit clerks’ office.
Right now, individuals may vote by absentee ballot prior to an election, as long as they meet one of 14 criteria established by state law.
Current criteria include allowances if voters are serving in the military, will be out of the country on election days, or are a student, teacher or administrator and unable to return to their home precinct to vote in a scheduled election.
Online voter registration would allow residents to register to vote via the Web. To prevent fraud, those residents still would be required to vote in person and show a state-issued I.D.
Denny also is focusing on criminal justice reform, in particular, at ways to reduce prison costs.
Among steps, the lawmaker wants to look at providing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, such as individuals who have been convicted of felony drug charges.
“The cost is eating us up taking care of those prisoners when there could be other options,” he said.
Alternatives could include long-term house arrest, court-mandated rehabilitation or court-mandated education, rather than prison. “I’m sure there are lots of things we can do, and I want to see what other states have done to be successful,” he said.
Finally, Denny will spend much of the 2019 session focusing on redistricting. Census figures won’t be completed until 2020 or 2021, but the lawmaker is planning to begin working on new district lines based on numbers submitted by county governments.
District 25 Sen. Walter Michel is looking forward to the 2019 legislative session with similar priorities as last year.
These priorities include community improvement districts, obtaining funds owed through fines, and education funding.
One of his main concerns is the creation of neighborhood improvement districts.
A community improvement district allows neighborhoods to tax themselves for projects such as beautification, landscaping, infrastructure and security.
“All five members of the senate that represent the Jackson area have worked on a neighborhood improvement district bill. We’ve worked really hard on that,” Michel said. “Our priority is to get some kind of neighborhood improvement district, a lot like the Fondren improvement district, but on a neighborhood scale.”
Another of his goals is to see Madison, Ridgeland and Jackson collect on unpaid fines through income tax returns.
Half would go to the state, and the other half would go to the municipality where the fine was issued.
Most of the past due fines are from traffic violations.
Michel said the city of Ridgeland has between $6 and $7 million in unpaid fines, and Madison has approximately $1 million.
Those figures are not available for Jackson.
“I also want to work with fellow committee members to balance state budget,” Michel said.
He said the state will put additional money into the Public Employees Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS).
“That’s an additional $75 million they’re requiring the state to pay,” he said.
Michel added that $25 million will come from cities, counties and school districts.
Teacher pay raise will also be a big priority for Michel.
The main successes of 2018 came from the summer special session, Michel said.
He said legislation providing $200 million per year annuity in roads and bridge program and funding for the Reunion Interchange were both wins in the 2018 session.
“I believe (the interchange) will help alleviate traffic off 463 and Gluckstadt Road,” Michel said.
Another important outcome from the 2018 summer special session was the diversion of internet sales tax to municipalities.
This allows for the municipalities to receive a portion of internet sales tax.
“We’ve corrected that and going forward it will provide a steady stream of revenue for Madison, Ridgeland and Jackson,” Michel said.
“By the spring we will start working on it,” he said.