By Jennifer Jacob Brown
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has been making his rounds through Mississippi. He visited the Meridian Star last week to talk in an editorial board interview about a new law designed to help Meridian and other Mississippi towns become entertainment hubs, a system that he thinks could make the courts go faster, and his plans to continue pushing his agenda on Voter ID:
The Meridian Star: Tell us about the Entertainment District Act and what it could mean for Meridian.
Delbert Hosemann: I'm real hopeful that that's going to be very positive for (Meridian). I drafted the entertainment bill here... It was shepherded through the house, it came out of the senate, and the governor signed it, so it is now law in the state of Mississippi. And we are the only state in the country to have the ability to designate an entertainment district that would allow more buildings to be depreciated over five years instead of forty years (to allow for a tax break). And they would require that people that use the theater, for example, would pay a $2 fee per ticket (to reimburse the state for that tax break).
Meridian was directly targeted when I drafted this... When that bill came out, it was specifically designated with Meridian in mind, for both a downtown venue to supplement the Riley, or, if you went to Bonita Lakes and did a standalone facility. It would apply not only to a closed venue, but also an open-air venue. It applies to anything that sells a ticket. One of the real treasures you have is the Riley Center, and any other theater or open-air venue would complement that so well that we thought it would really be a strong asset for Meridian.
I'm visiting today with businessmen and women in Meridian in the hopes specifically that Meridian will be the first one to take advantage of this legislation. I have spoken with Hartley Peavey and he has agreed to put in the sound system for any such venue at cost. We've also met with other business in Mississippi to perform other parts of the construction at cost.
We're hopeful to generate a Mississippi type theater or stadium or open-air venue. Meridian was the genesis of this, and hopefully would be the first one to take advantage.
Star: Now that this has been signed into law, could the city council at their next meeting declare parts of Meridian as entertainment districts?
Hosemann: They can. It's effective July 1. The most likely event is that as soon as y'all complete your municipal elections that this will be on the list of items that the new mayor and city council would want to consider. There have been some discussions about hotels over here and complementary things. This doesn't apply to a hotel unless it's attached to the actual center.
Star: Do you mean physically attached?
Hosemann: Yes. It'd be like a convention center that has a venue.
Star: Last time we spoke, you said you wanted to get a separate business court for Mississippi businesses. Have you made any progress with that?
Hosemann: We did. We had it in legislation in the senate. It died in the senate. We will be back about next year, as part of our limited liability reform package would be a business court system.
It's a relatively small amount of money (to fund the court). In regards to state budget, for example, you're talking about $400,000 to $600,000. So we're trying to devise a way in which the business community would pay for the business court. Of course, if business cases were taken out of the normal rotation, then every court case would have a faster, speedier trial. So there are ancillary benefits that come with this business court system. Additional funds are solely to have three judges, three clerks, and three administrators. There's no bricks and mortar or anything like that.
Star: Last time we saw you also talked about the Voter ID bill, which you pushed but which died in the senate. Why do you think that bill didn't pass?
Hosemann: Some days I'd like to know myself. It came out of the house elections committee and passed the House of Representatives. In the senate, it was killed in a committee. The house bill that came out had several things in it, some of which were very unfavorable that I was opposed to. For example, same day registration, I was opposed to that part of it.
It also had an early voting provision. It would be 15 days before the election. We pushed hard to have early voting be a final vote and to remove exclusions for people who were going to be out of town - where you'd have to be out of town the entire early voting period and the day of the election (to vote with an absentee ballot).
That was one of the real attractions to early voting to me was to stop absentee ballot fraud... The absentee ballot issue of people coming in and saying I'm "out of town" on election day is being misused...This would require them, with increased penalties, to say they're going to be out of town all 16 days, the 15 day early period and election day.
Finally, we have found employments have changed. The election is held on one day that was just picked many years ago, Tuesday. But some people now work four-day workweeks, and they may work 7 to 5 or to 6 on Tuesday. So they're window to vote now is getting much, much closer. They're not out of town, but they're working ten hours of the twelve hours the polls are open. We felt we needed more flexibility in allowing people the right to vote.
All of those arguments were not sufficient to get it out of committee in the senate. They still had some concerns about early voting. We were hopeful that they would bring those concerns to the normal legislative process. Virtually every piece of legislation including the constitution is a process compromise, and we were hoping the senate would go through the process of tightening issues that they had concerns about so we could keep the dialogue going until we arrived at a deal. In the end we were unsuccessful.
Star: Are you going to try again next year?
Hosemann: Well, we're pushing for a constitutional amendment under the initiative process now... We get about 90,000 signatures from all five congressional districts in the states. Once those are done they're certified by the clerk, so Donna Jill will certify them here. Then they will come to me and I will certify them to the legislature. Then it goes to the Mississippi legislature for an alternative amendment, if any. After that then it goes on the next statewide ballot...
We're going to push that initiative for the next 90 days, and we're hopeful that we will have all five congressional districts done by then so that we can take it to the legislature...
This is a civics lesson to Mississippi to see whether or not the citizens can come and amend their constitution by citizen will. We're hopeful that the citizens will come forward and sign those petitions and put it on the ballot.