Lawmakers hear from IDF, chamber board

Published 6:00 am Friday, February 15, 2002

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and IndustrialDevelopment Foundation directors are urging state lawmakers tomaintain funding for education and economic development activities,but local leaders’ efforts to sway opinion on tort reform may haveto wait another year.

At meetings Wednesday, the chamber and IDF boards unanimouslyapproved resolutions in support of education and workforce trainingfunding, funding for the Mississippi Development Authority andimplementation of “meaningful” tort reform measures. In passing theresolutions, Executive Vice-President Chandler Russ said theorganizations wanted to take a strong position in support of thelocal education, medical, business and industry communities.

“It’s an effort to let legislators know the funding prioritiesof Brookhaven and its business community,” Russ said.

Russ said many local employers have taken advantage of thestate’s work force training programs, which are facing proposalsfor cuts by up to 70 percent. According to the resolution, proposedcuts would take funding from $12.5 million this year to $3.7million next.

“It’s a program the state has that has proven to be beneficial,”Russ said.

The resolution said the training offered through state communitycolleges touches 23,000 students each year and helps them toimmediately join the work force. Russ added that retraining offeredthrough the program can be helpful in cases such as AuburnSportswear, which closed last year.

Saying a 70 percent cut would be a “death knell” to work forcetraining, Russ said the resolution asks lawmakers to maintain thecurrent year’s level of funding for the program.

Chamber resolutions also addressed proposed education cuts thatby some accounts could be as much as 15 percent. Russ said the cutscould impact local school districts by more than $2 million.

“These are funds that affect their being able to hire qualifiedand needed personnel,” said Russ, adding that adequate educationfunding in important for training the work force of tomorrow.

Another chamber resolution seeks restoration of funding for theMississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic developmentarm. Russ said a 38 percent cut has been proposed.

The state needed to continue fully funding efforts that havelead to the landing of the Nissan automotive plant and a heightenedvisibility through tourism promotion, Russ said.

“To retreat from that now would send the wrong message,” saidRuss, while also mentioning that local marketing and matching grantprograms could be affected by cuts.

The chamber boards also passed a resolution to encourage”meaningful and effective” tort reform. However, Wednesday’s actioncame one day before tort reform proposals died under a legislativedeadline.

Russ was hopeful some way could be found for the issue to berevived.

“We hope the legislature will take this up during this session,”Russ said. “It’s something we feel is vitally important to our areaand the state as a whole.”

The resolution seeks tort reform measures that address caps onpunitive damages, no liability for crimes on an individual’sproperty, liability only for an business or individual’s percentageof fault, that sellers not be held liable for selling reasonableproducts, limits on non-economic damages and limiting the joiningof lawsuits in selected counties.

Russ said Brookhaven and Lincoln County are leaders inindustrial and business growth, but the state’s negative reputationfor its legal atmosphere is a hindrance to those efforts. Theresolution said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Mississippi 50thin terms of liability systems, tort and contract litigation.

“That’s not the image Mississippi needs and wants around thecountry,” Russ said.