Thursday, September 29, 2005

Special session deals with storm’s aftermath

Staff Writer

Mississippi lawmakers are in special session this week to discuss issues to mitigate the effects of Hurricane Katrina on local governments and communities, according to Sen. Ralph Doxey of Holly Springs.

Four issues Doxey said the legislative bodies will take up include:

  • A $25 million bond to fund low-interest loans for small businesses affected by Katrina’s devastation. Loans between $1,000 and $25,000 are being discussed.
  • The issue of land-based casinos. Doxey said the proposed legislation would only affect gulf coast casino counties. Current legislation provides for casinos to be located along bodies of water.
  • A legislative change that would allow state agencies more flexibility in how to spend their budgets this year to fit changing needs due to Katrina’s devastation.
  • A look at ways the state legislature can help cities and counties with bonded indebtedness tied to tourism and travel. Doxey said cities and counties affected by Katrina will not be bringing in the taxes they expected to collect from the hotel, motel and restaurant industries. Therefore, other arrangements will be needed to help those governments deal with the shortfall in revenues, he said.

Doxey said another special session is likely to be called after the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency have better estimates of what the two agencies can do to contribute to disaster recovery.

Rep. Kelvin Buck said he thinks the legislature, in addition to focusing on business and local government concerns, can deal with the concerns of individuals who lost homes and jobs.

“I think whatever kind of revenue we provide - state or federal dollars - should get to people who need it the most, not just business and industry,” Buck said. “Everyday working, tax paying people of the state need help, too.

“Once we get the people back on their feet and back to work that will help rebuild the state’s economy,” Buck said.

The legislature and state agencies will look at ways to cut as much of the red tape as possible to help individuals, businesses and industry receive the assistance they need, he said.

“I hope we can work with the insurance industry to assure that property owners receive their benefits and that insurance providers continue to write business in areas affected the worst by Hurricane Katrina,” Buck said.

He said small businesses in particular and businesses in general need time to pay back the loans they receive.

“I am going to introduce legislation that would defer repayment of all principal and interest for up to four years to give businesses a chance to rebuild their business base,” Buck said.

He said the deferred repayment idea stems from the same process by which college loan repayments are deferred to give graduates time to find employment.

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