Each year, MFA monitors hundreds of bills introduced in the Mississippi Legislature and alerts members to legislation affecting the forestry community. While the Mississippi Legislature is in session, MFA provides members with a weekly Legislative Bulletin outlining legislative activity, particularly subject areas regarding forestry. MFA also partners with national organizations to support federal legislation and initiatives that support the interest of forestry.
In recent years MFA's lobbying efforts and members have been instrumental in the passage of significant legislation including:
2019 - The Mississippi Legislature funded certain amounts in agency and higher education budgets to provide raises for those who had not seen one in recent years. Of particular interest to the forestry community is the Mississippi Forestry Commission. The Commission's FY 20 budget provides ample funding to cover an increased contribution to the Public Employees Retirement System on behalf of its employees and a slight increase in dollars to allow the agency to complete its realignment of some positions that will provide higher salaries.
The Forestry Commission had four gubernatorial appointees approved by the Senate: Jim Luckett; Mike Mikell, Pat Thomasson and Al Hankins Jr.
Key legislation passed during the Session included HB 754, extending the harvest permit program and adding two additional qualifiers, haulers of wood pellets and bulk feed. Another major accomplishment was the passage of SB 2901, the Landowners Protection Act. The bill protects landowners from willful and intentional criminal actions of third parties on their land.
A couple of other measures of interest were also approved. HB 1329 provides that rear and front projecting loads of vehicles may extend to the length allowed be federal law. This includes vehicles transporting forest or agricultural products in their natural state. HB 1307 dealt with issues on land tax sales. The bill provides that no purchaser of land at any tax sale nor the holder of legal title under him by descent or distribution, shall have any right of action to challenge the validity of the tax sale.
2018 - A 2016 Attorney General’s Opinion had hampered the effectiveness of the Harvest Permit Act previously enacted in 1994. Legislation was drafted and introduced to remedy the situation. Senate Bill 2418 passed the Legislature and was approved by the Governor on March 27, 2018 with an effective date of July 1, 2018. This bill restores the 4,000 lb. overall tolerance on the existing 80,000 lb. limitation. The timber industry requested the clarification of the 84,000 lb. total limit that had been in place since July 1, 1994. Within that clear limitation is a revised axle tolerance of ten percent raised from the current five percent.
Governor Phil Bryant called the First Extraordinary Session of 2018 to begin on August 23. The infrastructure legislation, HB 1, was the first to clear both houses and gain the approval of the Governor. The bill helps fund road improvements for the intended parties by designating a 35% share of the use tax dollars received annually by the state. The reason for capturing these dollars is the recent internet sales tax U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to cause all out-of-state sellers to levy, collect and remit taxes to the State. The flow of these funds will be on a four-year phase-in plan. The fourth year is expected to generate about $118 million. The bill also designated any funds gained from sports betting to be deposited in the new highway fund, and finally, the bill levied an annual fee of $75 on hybrid vehicles and $150 on electric vehicles. From a bond issuance standpoint, the bill calls for $300 million to be issued and debt payments made from an existing casino roads sinking fund. An emergency fund is being created with $250 million of those dollars. A committee of nine members is set up to make recommendations on the use of the money. The Mississippi Loggers Association, Mississippi Manufacturers Association and Mississippi Economic Council are among the trade groups represented. $50 million has been designated for specific projects.
The lottery legislation hit a few bumps in the process but was approved by both chambers and was signed by the Governor. Its fiscal impact is expected to be somewhere between $60 million and $80 million directed to a special highway fund. That impact is not expected for 12-18 months due to the setup time required to appoint a board and secure a vendor to help build the system for the state. This is essentially a “paper lottery” with tickets to be sold by approved retailers.
2017 - A focus of the Government Affairs Committee and winning outcome for MFA was the passage of SB 2835, the repeal of the 1944 law known as the Forest Harvesting Act. In response to the harvesting practices of the early 1940s, the Mississippi Legislature had set requirements upon those harvesting timber as commercial harvesters. They were to leave in place a number of “seed trees” per acre. Today’s Best Management Practices and Management Plans had rendered the law obsolete, but it had remained in the Mississippi Code. Forestry Committee Chairs, Sen. Nickey Browning and Rep. Ken Morgan, guided the proposal to passage in their respective chambers. Rep. Randy Boyd handled the bill on the House floor. Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill on March 9, 2017.
Declining state revenues forced cuts to state-supported budgets for Fiscal Year 2018 across the board. Failure to collect predicted revenues in the current fiscal year was not limited to Mississippi, however, as the trend was evident in many areas of the nation. MFA supported funding requests for the Mississippi Forestry Commission and the Mississippi State University forestry units, however both entities were dealt cuts.