Coast lawmakers meet with business leaders ahead of regular session
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - South Mississippi business leaders have a better idea of what some of the area’s state legislators are thinking about before the regular session starts in the new year.
“We’re going to stand up for the Coast. We’re going to fight for the Coast. We want to make sure the Coast gets its fair share,” Rep. Henry Zuber from Ocean Springs said.
That’s the overall message from four Coast legislators who spoke to at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce’s Pre-Legislative Briefing at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino.
“We like to do these opportunities. We wish we had more of them,” Sen. Scott DeLano of Biloxi said. “We have a very diverse economy here in South Mississippi, and it is very difficult to make everyone happy, but also we have to make sure we listen to their concerns.”
The panel of state lawmakers stressed that they have the Coast’s interests in mind when they head back to Jackson.
“We’ve been a united front and we’ve been willing to fight when we needed to fight,” Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula said. “The future is bright, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
That unity was shown with their views on how to retain younger Mississippians by building better infrastructure, luring more competitive jobs and making it even more affordable to live in the state.
“I think we got to delete this we got to make this move and we got to delete the income tax and make it more attractive to younger people to have them move to Mississippi,” Zuber said.
Lawmakers also agreed on the importance of supporting casinos during the nationwide push for online gambling.
“We have to think of a way that doesn’t hurt our brick-and-mortar operation,” Sen. Mike Thompson of Long Beach said. “I think we have something like 85% of our casino traffic is drive-in. People come here to gamble, in part, but casino operators recognize they don’t always stay on property.”
The lawmakers also took time to talk about how they would like to spend COVID-19 relief money and other federal grants.
“It’s billions and billions of money that we have to spend. Let’s make sure we spend a majority of that money on infrastructure,” Zuber said.
Lawmakers also brought up the need to help the state’s healthcare system with many nurses and other medical workers leaving the state for better-paying jobs.
“On the nursing shortage, we’ve heard that. We need to address those things,” Wiggins said.
Other officials stressed the need to invest more into workforce development to keep Mississippi competitive on the national stage.
“It’s going to be about making Mississippi more attractive to bring in additional businesses, additional industries,” Thompson said. “We can really take advantage and leverage of this money to try to realize the best for Mississippi.”
The panel also brought up the tension surrounding Coastal Mississippi, the tri-county tourism board. Harrison County supervisors mentioned at a board meeting about possibly breaking away from the group. It came after Coastal Mississippi CEO Milton Segarra announced his resignation and three other members of the tourism board followed suit.
“If there’s going to be any changes, it will have to come from Harrison County, Hancock County and Jackson County in requests from their Boards of Supervisors for a resolution asking for whatever amendment should be revoked,” DeLano said.
The legislators also spoke about bringing up the medical marijuana issue again and how they hope the region gains more lawmakers in the house and senate after redistricting. The regular session kicks off Jan. 4.
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