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Speaker Gunn listens to residents’ ‘ideas’ Wednesday

JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn listens to issues and concerns of Natchez residents during the 10-city “Mississippi Solutions: An Ideas Tour,” which stopped at the Natchez Convention Center Wednesday night.
JUSTIN SELLERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn listens to issues and concerns of Natchez residents during the 10-city “Mississippi Solutions: An Ideas Tour,” which stopped at the Natchez Convention Center Wednesday night.

NATCHEZ — Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn and other legislators brought the House to the people Wednesday evening in Natchez.

Gunn, R-Clinton, brought his 10-city “Mississippi Solutions — An Ideas Tour” to approximately 35 people at the Natchez Convention Center.

The town-hall style meetings tour is geared toward hearing from the people of Mississippi, Gunn said.

“Not everybody can take time to drive to Jackson to meet with the governor or their representative,” he said. “So our plan was … when we’re not in session … let’s take the House to the people. We’re trying to make ourselves accessible to you.”

Gunn heard comments from residents on a variety of issues from gun laws to economic development.

Natchez Convention Center and Natchez Grand Hotel Manager Walter Tipton asked the legislature consider lowering the minimum investment amount for tourism-related developments that would be eligible for tax breaks.

Tipton said he knows several individuals that would like to take advantage of the tax breaks, but the $10 million threshold is too steep for them.

Tipton said, for example, a bed-and-breakfast owner might want to make a multi-million addition to their property in the form of a spa or some other amenity. If the minimum investment was lower, Tipton said, it could mean economic development opportunities for Natchez.

“You would do a great deal to create jobs, particularly in this area,” he said.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ thanked Gunn and Reps. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, and Sam Mims, R-McComb, who were also in attendance, for their continued support of Tuscaloosa Marine Shale oil exploration efforts.

Russ especially thanked the legislators for the passage of a severance tax break, which Russ said should be the third- or fourth-largest tax receipt for the state. Russ also asked the legislators to keep the TMS exploration at the forefront of their minds in the event future legislation is needed.

Natchez Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Eric Robinson asked Gunn to take a look at what limitations could be placed on “monopolistic” insurance companies, particularly Blue Cross Blue Shield, to prevent ramifications from alleged actions by BCBS that have resulted in a lawsuit.

Natchez Community Hospital and nine other Mississippi hospitals owned by Health Management Associates filed a lawsuit against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi alleging the insurer wrongfully reduced inpatient payments for medical services rendered to patients.

The lawsuit alleges Blue Cross Blue Shield breached its contracts with the hospitals by failing to pay the hospitals according to those contracts. The hospitals also contend Blue Cross Blue Shield acted in bad faith by making payment changes in its policy manual instead of attempting to negotiate those payment changes.

The lawsuit seeks to recover approximately $13 million in alleged underpayments plus declaratory relief preventing the insurance company from unilaterally changing the terms of its contracts with hospitals.

The alleged actions by BCBS, Robinson said, have a negative impact on the economy, limit access to health care and could result in the closing of hospitals.

McComb resident and Mississippi State Firearm Owners Association President Doug Bowser asked for the simplification and possible consolidation of laws pertaining to enhanced carry permits.

Bowser said if a person carrying a gun has a enhanced carry permit and walks into an establishment with a no-gun sign, they are not guilty of statute 97-37-1 but are guilty of statutes 97-17-97 and 97-17-93, both of which are trespassing laws.

Bowser said all regulations pertaining to carrying guns should be located in one statute to eliminate confusion among gun owners.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown invited Gunn to an open forum on Nov. 14 in Natchez about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The forum will dispel fact and fiction related to the law, Brown said, and will feature speakers from insurance companies, hospitals and the state and federal government. Brown also invited Gunn to return to Natchez in 2016 for the city’s tricentennial celebration.

Hansel & Gretel Day Care Center officials asked for the elimination of the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ eChildcare program that would require parents who receive government assistance for child-care costs to scan their fingerprints when picking up and dropping off their children at daycares.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens issued a ruling in August that prohibited DHS from implementing the program. The DHS program was challenged in a lawsuit by Delores Suel, owner of Prep Company Tutorial School in Jackson.

Natchez resident William Coman asked Gunn about the status of Mississippi’s voter identification law. Gunn said that the law, which would require voters to show photo identification at polls, is on track to be implemented.

Gunn thanked the residents for their comments and pointed out one of the beauties of American democracy is people can gather in open forums to exchange ideas.

Gunn heads to Laurel and Pascagoula today for the final stops on the tour.