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MS Legislature Expected to Approve Land-Based Casinos

Mon October 10, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Maybelle G. Cagle



A bill allowing casinos to move 800 ft. from the water on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was held up Oct. 4 by Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Gordon until senators consider a second bill relating to casinos’ tideland leases.

The action came in the sixth day of a special session relating to issues involving Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in September.

On Oct. 3, senators voted to allow casinos within 800 ft. of the water, allowing many to reopen in existing hotels or rebuild on land. House members had approved the bill Sept. 30. The new legislation updates a 1990 law allowing gambling only on barges along the Mississippi River and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The new measure would not apply to riverside casinos located in other Mississippi towns like Vicksburg, Tunica and Greenville.

Gov. Haley Barbour’s press secretary, Pete Smith, said the governor “looks forward to completing the process and signing the bill.” Barbour had earlier announced he backed the bill, HB 45, and planned to sign it as soon as possible.

“I’m not trying to kill gaming. I’m just trying to make sure we don’t give a real free ride on taxes,” said Gordon.

Nine casinos are built on state land and pay the tidelands leases. HB 44, the lease bill, ties the casinos’ tidelands leases to annual increases in the consumer price index. The leases bring about $7.5 million to the state annually.

C.J. “Buddy” Edens, executive director of the Association of Builders and Contractors in Mississippi and Perry Nations, executive director of the Associated General Contractors (AGC), said they supported legislation that allowed coast casinos to move inland.

“We think it’s necessary to allow them to relocate. Some other options could have been considered, but a surefire method is to move the casinos farther inland,” said Edens.

Nations said the “most significant thing” in the special session is the casino bill. “We’re 100 percent for that. It starts people back to work. We’re talking about months not years.”

Statewide Building Code Examined

Both associations support SCR 503, a concurrent resolution, creating a study committee to look at a statewide building code to meet federal requirements and insurance standards.

“It’s going to require some study. For some people, it’s an easy adjustment. For other people, it’s more difficult,” said Edens.

He said there is time for the committee outlined in the resolution to draft a report by December 2005 because “the rebuilding won’t start for the next six months.”

A lack of understanding and knowledge of what building codes mean and what they do is probably the reason a resolution rather than legislation was introduced, said Nations.

He added, “A lot of people in smaller, rural areas are not comfortable with adopting a statewide building code.”

The code would be modeled after the International Building Code, according to Edens and Nations.

“We sent a proposal to the governor asking him to make building codes part of the call for the special session. We thought we had pretty good support, but the governor wants to face it in the regular session that begins in January,” said Nations.

As specified in SCR 503, a study committee on a statewide building code would be created. It would establish minimum standards for construction to respond to federal requirements for the Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after a natural disaster including tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricane.

The code would address concerns from national insurers who are not renewing property insurance, because of a lack of building standards in many areas of the state and it would also promote the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Committee members would include:

• the executive director of the state board of architecture

• the executive director of the State Board of Public Contractors

• the executive director of the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors

• the Dean of the Mississippi State University School of Architecture.

• the Dean of the Mississippi State University School of Engineering.

• the executive director of the Bureau of Building, Grounds and Real Property Management of the Department of Finance and Administration

• the State Fire Marshal.

• the Mississippi Commissioner of Insurance

• the executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

• one member of the Mississippi State Senate appointed by the lieutenant governor

• one member of the Mississippi House appointed by the Speaker of the House.

• two citizen members appointed by the governor.

Committee members will develop a report to the legislature and the governor to be delivered no later than Dec. 1, 2005.

At a minimum, the report is to address the following:

• a survey of other states to determine the types of statewide building codes and enforcement systems, which are in place and which are successful.

• an investigation of existing model codes such as the Standard Building Code, International Building Code and the NFPA Life Safety Code to determine what is appropriate for Mississippi

• a survey of the laws of other states and jurisdictions, including professional standards of care for architects, engineers, fabricators, contractors and builders, regarding minimal construction standards.

• a determination of the capacity of existing agencies, including municipal and county building officials, which now handle administrative and enforcement issues to administer a statewide building code, or the necessity of creating new agencies to administer such a code

• a recommendation regarding permit fee structures or other enforcement means that would offset implementation costs.

• a recommendation regarding the exemption of successful established building codes in local jurisdictions

• any recommended legislation to implement the recommendations of the committee.

Both associations had supported a “Good Samaritan Act” to protect construction volunteers from liability, while working in the aftermath of a disaster like Katrina. Nations said it looks like the only way such legislation will pass is nationally by Congress. An AGC program, “Plan Bulldozer,” which helped after such emergencies, had to be dissolved, because of liability issues, added Nations.

The AGC and ABC hope Barbour’s office can help them obtain federal and state funds to train additional construction labor. Nations said the training will give unemployed people “the chance to be more productive” and aid in the rebuilding efforts following Katrina. CEG