Gov. Phil Bryant called the 2012 legislative session "the most business-friendly in Mississippi history."

Now the organization keeping score of business friendly votes - BIPEC (Business and Industry Political Education Committee) - is releasing their annual Legislator "Jobs" Report Card highlighting how state House and Senate members voted on ten measures identified by the group as impacting job creation and economic development: inventory tax (two bills), regulation review, liability protection for agritourism, home builder insurance and licensure, workers' compensation reform, Attorney General Sunshine Act, landowner lawsuit protection act and healthcare industry zone creation.

In the House, 62 members earned an "A" rating - all Republicans except Jason White of West. "A" is a BIPEC "Business Champion. A mixture of Republicans and Democrats earned "B" (3) and "C" (9) scores. But all 20 "D" and 27 "F" scores were Democrats. Other than White, Jody Steverson of Ripley and Bennet Malone of Carthage received the highest marks in the Democratic caucus with "B" ratings. The lowest rated Republicans received "C" scores: Mark Baker of Brandon (the Republican Majority Leader) and John T. "Trey" Lamar III of Senatobia.

In the Senate, 29 Republicans earned "A" as well as one Democrat, Nickey Browning of Pontotoc. Five members scored a "B" (2 Republicans, 3 Democrats). All the "C" and "D" scores went to Democrats and the only "F" grade went to Democrat Debbie Dawkins of Pass Christian. Other than Browning, the top Senate Democrat scores went to Haskins Montgomery of Bay Springs, Steve Hale of Senatobia and J.P. Wilemon, Jr. of Belmont all of whom earned a "B." The lowest Republican scores, also the "B" category, went to Briggs Hopson III of Vicksburg and Chris McDaniel of Ellisville.

The scores show a business friendly legislature with 51 percent of House members and 60 percent of the Senate earning "Business Champion" status. However nearly 39 percent of House members scored "below average" or "failing business support" in contrast to only 14 percent of the Senate. The scores could be reflective of a more business friendly leadership with Republican Philip Gunn as Speaker of the House instead of Democrat Billy McCoy. Combined with conservative efforts by Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, all votes scored by BIPEC in 2012 were on bill supported by the business community. In past years, legislators were praised for votes against bills opposed by BIPEC.

BIPEC uses this information, according to the score card, to "identify legislative candidates who understood needs and concerns of employers...these employers are the people who take risks to create jobs, stimulate our economy and give back to communities...BIPEC's performance evaluation is a measuring stick used to determine each legislator's business philosophy, attitude and effectiveness in supporting growth of jobs in Mississippi. Over 50 business and professional leaders participate in the rating process... A great deal of effort is made to ensure that the votes chosen represent a broach cross-section of employer-related issues. Votes impact operating costs and restriction of management choices are viewed as very important."

Van White, President of BIPEC, explained, "Our members spend their time creating products and providing services, growing the economy, employing Mississippi workers and operating their businesses during these trying times. These job creators are the risk takers. Their respective trade/professional associations do a great job representing their interests, but they also want to know which legislators are helping them succeed and which legislators are road blocks to job creation and business growth. We have members in every corner of the state and they use the 'Jobs' Report Card to know if their local legislator is being responsive to business needs, or maybe whether they should recruit a challenger from their area."

BIPEC plays an influential role in Mississippi business politics, along with groups like Mississippi Manufacturers Association and other trade associations. Last year, each of BIPEC's recommended Mississippi Supreme Court candidates won. Improve Mississippi Political Action Committee (IMPAC) - the political campaign sister of BIPEC - spent nearly $400,000 on the Supreme Court races through independent expenditures according to campaign finance reports filed with the Mississippi Secretary of State. In 2011, IMPAC recruited, provided training and resources and supported the efforts of a wave of challenger candidates (and pro-business incumbents) ultimately resulting in the Republican take-over of the House of Representatives.

While pro-business Democrats receive high scores, and Republicans who vote in opposition to BIPEC's preferred bills get lower grades, the organization is often portrayed by Democrats as a partisan or pro-Republican group. Unfortunately for Democrats, most of their members in past years receiving high scores have subsequently switched to the GOP. This year is no different. The only Democrat to earn an "A" grade - Jason White of West - switched to the Republican Party in December of last year and begins this session as a Republican. But Democrats certainly can't blame that on BIPEC.

Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.