1998 Regular Session
By: Representative Holland
House Bill 1280
AN ACT TO CREATE AN ARBITRATION BOARD FOR THE PURPOSE OF HEARING A PRODUCER'S COMPLAINT AGAINST A COTTON OR RICE DEALER FOR THE FAILURE TO PAY THE PRODUCER IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONTRACT; TO PROVIDE THAT THE BOARD MEMBERS SHALL BE APPOINTED BY THE COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. For purposes of this act, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings ascribed in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
(a) "Dealer" means any person engaged in the business of buying cotton or rice from producers thereof.
(b) "Producer" means any person engaged in the business of harvesting cotton or rice for sale.
(c) "Commissioner" means the "Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce.
(d) "Department" means the Department of Agriculture and Commerce.
SECTION 2. If a dealer failS or refuseS to make payment to a producer for cotton or rice purchased when such payment is requested by the producer and the request is made within the time specified for payment in the contract between the parties, the producer may notify the commissioner in writing, by certified mail, of such failure within the time specified by contract or ten (10) days thereafter. The commissioner shall appoint an arbitration board to receive complaints, conduct investigations and issue findings and recommendations.
SECTION 3. (1) The Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce shall appoint an arbitration board composed of four (4) members and four (4) alternate members, with one (1) member and one (1) alternate to be appointed upon the recommendation of the American Cotton Shippers Association and one (1) member and one (1) alternate to be appointed upon the recommendation of the USA Rice Council. Each of these members and their alternates shall be doing business in the State of Mississippi. Two (2) members, one (1) a producer of cotton and one a producer of rice, shall be appointed by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. The original board shall be appointed as follows: one (1) member for a term of one (1) year, one (1) member for a term of two (2) years, one (1) member for a term of three (3) years, and one (1) member for a term of four (4) years. All subsequent terms shall be for five (5) years. Each year the respective recommending organizations shall submit member recommendations not less than thirty (30) days before the expiration day of an expiring term. Each alternate shall serve only in the absence of the member for whom he is an alternate. The Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce or his representative shall be a member of the board and shall act as chairman. In his absence, the commissioner may appoint his representative or any other member of the board as chairman. It shall be the duty of the chairman to call the board into session, to conduct all meetings and deliberations and to direct all other activities of the board. The commissioner shall also appoint a secretary from the membership of the board. It shall be the duty of the secretary to keep accurate and correct records of all meetings and deliberations and perform such other duties for the board as directed by the chairman.
(2) The purpose of the arbitration board is to assist producers and dealers in determining the validity of a producer's claim that a dealer has failed to pay him in accordance with the contract between the parties.
(3) (a) When the department refers to the arbitration board any complaint made by a producer against a dealer, the board shall make a full and complete investigation of the matters complained of and, at the conclusion of the investigation, report its findings and make its recommendations of cost damages and file the findings and recommendation with the department. Board findings and recommendations may be admissible as evidence in a court of law.
(b) In conducting its investigation, the arbitration board or any member or members shall be authorized to examine the producer's records regarding the sale of his cotton or rice, to examine the dealer's financial records and to hold informal hearings at a time and place designated by the chairman upon reasonable notice to the producer and dealer.
(c) Any investigation made by less than the entire membership of the board shall be made by authority of a written directive by the chairman and such investigation shall be summarized in writing and considered by the board in its findings and in making its recommendations.
(d) If the board determines that an informal hearing should be conducted to allow each party an opportunity to present his respective side of the dispute, attorneys may be present at the hearings to confer with their clients. However, no attorney may participate directly in the proceedings. The board may alternatively make its decision based only on documents submitted by the parties.
(4) The members of the board shall receive no compensation for the performance of their duties but shall be reimbursed for travel expenses in the manner and amount provided in Section 25-3-41.
(5) (a) Any producer who is damaged by the failure of a dealer to timely honor a contract between the parties may file a sworn complaint against such dealer alleging damages sustained. A filing fee of One Hundred Dollars ($100.00) shall be paid to the department with each complaint filed. The fee shall be recovered from the dealer upon the recommendation of the arbitration board.
(b) Within ten (10) days after receipt of a copy of the complaint, the dealer shall file with the department his answer to the complaint and serve a copy of the answer on the producer by certified mail. If no answer is filed, the arbitration board may proceed in accordance with this section.
(c) The department shall refer the complaint and answer thereto to the arbitration board for investigation and findings and recommendations. Findings and recommendations may be made on the majority vote of the arbitration board, and the department shall transmit them to the producer by certified mail. Findings and recommendations of the board are not binding on the parties.
(d) The producer and dealer shall give written notice to the department of the acceptance or rejection of the arbitration board's recommended terms of settlement within thirty (30) calendar days from the date such recommended terms of settlement are issued by the arbitration board.
SECTION 4. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 1998.