Saturday, March 19, 2016

Mississippi News Notes: Week Ending 03.19.16

The Secretary of State's Office is shutting down a cancer charity on the Coast.

A news release from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said his office has ordered Ocean Springs-based MS Gulf Coast Bluebird Cancer Retreat to stop soliciting donations. He said his office found several violations of state law, including failing to provide exam records and failing to notify Hosemann's office of changes in the organization.
"According to the documents filed with the Secretary of State's office, MS Gulf Coast Bluebird is an adult cancer camp; however, its expenses include personal expenses, auto expenses, food purchases which appeared to be personal, personal clothing and cash withdrawals with no documentation which violates (state law)," the release from Hosemann said. "Additionally, MS Gulf Coast Bluebird failed to produce any records showing that it conducted any board meetings in 2014 and also failed to produce a copy of an agreement outlining the terms and services for which it owed any payment to Gloria Skillestad, executive director of MS Gulf Coast Bluebird." Read more here:

A gas tax hike hasn't been a popular solution for infrastructure problems in years past. But it's being tossed around as an option again this year. The House and Senate Transportation Chairmen spoke at a Mississippi Economic Council event earlier this month.

"We cannot afford to kick this can down the road again," explained Senator Willie Simmons. "Have to do something."
The challenge is to make a gas tax hike an easier pill to swallow for the politicians.
"We need to ensure the public that these new dollars will be focus on the problem," added Rep. Charles Busby.

State capitols are often referred to as “the people’s house,” but legislatures frequently put up no-trespassing signs by exempting themselves from public-records laws.

That tendency was apparent when the Associated Press sought emails and daily schedules of legislative leaders in all 50 states. The request was met with more denials than approvals.
Some lawmakers claimed “legislative immunity” from the public-records laws that apply to most state and local officials. Others said secrecy was essential to the deliberative process of making laws. And some feared that releasing the records could invade the privacy of citizens, creating a “chilling effect” on the right of people to petition their government. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn responded with a denial letter asserting his emails and calendars were his personal property, not subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act and protected “under the doctrine of legislative immunity” dating back hundreds of years to English common law.

The Mississippi Center for Justice is keeping tabs on jobs created with almost $1 billion the federal government granted after Hurricane Katrina.

It's hard to tell just how successful job creation has been because the Mississippi Development Authority stops tracking the jobs once quotas are met and the projects are closed out.
The Sun Herald reports Ryan Ezelle, a Mississippi native and second-year law student from the University of Virginia, came up with some interesting statistics on Katrina job retention and creation.
Taxpayers have so far spent about $81,658 per job for the 7,394 jobs created or retained, although the cost would be higher if MDA reported how many jobs failed to pan out in the long-term.

Monday, the Poplarville School Board discussed Senate Bill 2500, which intends to consolidate nine school districts within the state, one of those being the Lumberton School District into Poplarville’s.

Senate Bill 2500 would dissolve the Lumberton School District, which has 585 students and merge it with Poplarville and Lamar County School Districts, the release stated.
On March 2, Mississippi’s Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves announced the bill will soon head to the House for consideration.
“Consolidating districts is about putting more money in the classroom and less in the office,” Reeves said in the release.

The Biloxi City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to settle a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU claiming the city was running a modern-day “debtor’s prison” by jailing people who could not afford to pay fines in traffic and misdemeanor cases.

he lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Gulfport in October 2015. Defendants named in the suit included the city, Police Chief John Miller, City Judge James Steele and Judicial Correction Services, a for-profit company that handled fine collections for the city prior to Mayor FoFo Gilich taking office.
As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to adopt “sweeping reforms” to protect the rights of people who cannot afford to pay fines for minor offenses:
  • Private probation companies will not be used to collect fines and fees after June 1, 2016.
  • A full-time public defender has been hired to represent indigent people charged with nonpayment.
  • No additional fees will be imposed on people who enter payment plans or are required to perform community service.
  • A "bench card" detailing municipal court procedures will be used to protect constitutional rights in the fine/fee collections process. The card explains how the municipal court will conduct additional ability-to-pay hearings and lists the legal alternatives to jail.
  • "The biggest change that the city court is making is to guarantee indigent defendants will have a public defender and receive follow-up hearings on ability to pay if the defendant fails to comply with the sentence,” said Gilich. “We will continue these and other court reforms that we had already begun making since I became mayor 10 months ago.”

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves has set a Mar. 21 deadline for briefs by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who's defending the state, and Carlos Moore, a private attorney who sued the state seeking to have the flag declared an unconstitutional vestige of slavery.

In his scheduling order filed late Monday, Reeves also told Moore to stop making "false or misleading public statements," such as saying that African-Americans could be entitled to reparations if the flag is found unconstitutional or that Reeves will change the flag because he is African-American. Moore made both statements last week during a rally at the Capitol.

Many were in tears after the Alcorn County School Board on Monday night voted 3-2 to close two elementary schools at the end of the school year.

Closing Glendale and Rienzi elementary schools and merging them with other schools could save the district $889,000 a year, Superintendent Larry Mitchell said.
That is money, Mitchell said, that could go toward the school district’s debt and maintenance problems.
Throughout the debate over whether to close the schools or keep them open, parents have said that their children thrive in the small school environments.

It sounds like if you breathe air, you’re going to be taxed. Let’s look at the government as a whole. How do we get rid of the waste–a double agency here, whatever there–what can we cut to save money.” --Sen Michael Watson on a proposed gas tax to help pay for state infrastructure

A House committee shot down an attempt Tuesday to create a study committee to look at a regional commission to oversee the Jackson-Evers International Airport and instead passed a Senate bill to establish a regional authority over the airport.

"The time has come to make a change," said House Judiciary A Chairman Mark Baker, R-Brandon.
But state Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, asked "Why doesn't Rankin County builds its own regional airport instead of trying to take one?"
A plan to add context to a Confederate soldier statue at the University of Mississippi is a failure because a proposed plaque does not mention slavery as the central issue in the Civil War, the campus NAACP says.
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter announced Friday that construction had started for a stand to hold the plaque and could be finished by the end of the month on the Oxford campus.
However, the campus NAACP said Monday that the university’s proposed language “woefully fails its students, faculty and staff when it does not acknowledge the true history of the Confederacy.”

“How the legislature conducts itself plays significantly into our ability to write and pass the laws our citizens deserve.

We are grateful for cooperation with the Republican House Leadership in working with us to focus on what is best for Mississippians.” House Caucus leader David Baria said in a statement. Other elements of the agreement include official recognition of the House Minority Caucus, office space and staff and a commitment to regular meetings between majority and minority leadership. - See more at:

Some highlights of the Senate's budget bills and proposals, which face a Wednesday deadline to pass the full Senate, include:

New state numbers show taxes collected on retails sales in January were down in more than 60 percent of 92 towns across northeast Mississippi.

Experts say it’s not unusual for January. It’s happened in five of the last 10 years.
The January numbers included declines in retail centers such as Tupelo, Amory, Fulton, Louisville and Pontotoc. However, Columbus, Oxford, Starkville, New Albany and West Point all saw increases.
In fact, Columbus, Oxford and New Albany are leading the region since last fall with year-to-year increases of almost 10 percent.

Democratic Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport is stepping into a new leadership role as chairwoman of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus.

#African-American colleagues from the House and Senate elected her last week, and she says she wants to bring more attention to public education, health care and economic development.
#"I want to reorganize and structure the caucus so that we can be more effective, show more presence and represent African-Americans in our state more effectively," Williams-Barnes, 46, told The Associated Press.

AP: Small towns could borrow money from the state to revitalize historic downtown areas under a bill passed Tuesday by the House.

The Mississippi Main Street Investment Act, House Bill 1598, passed Tuesday and moves to the Senate. Mississippi Development Authority would establish a program to make loans to cities with 15,000 or fewer residents. Each applicant must submit a revitalization plan approved by more half the property owners in a designated area.

In the wake of Governor Bryant's declaration of Confederate Heritage Month, the NAACP of Mississippi has created a petition calling for "Union Army Appreciation Month."

"It is time for Governor Bryant to honor those brave White and Black men and women of Mississippi who fought for what they believed in, who fought for their freedom, who fought for their country and the preservation of the Union, who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and the promise of equality it held. Governor Bryant should proclaim the month of May UNION ARMY APPRECIATION MONTH and finally give those brave soldiers the honor and acknowledgement they deserve." the petition reads.

The U.S. Air Force is committed to fully manning the reactivated 815th Airlift Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, the Air Force Reserve chief told a Senate subcommittee Thursday.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a press release he brought up the manpower issue at an appropriations subcommittee hearing to review the budget request for the National Guard and Reserve for the 2017 fiscal year.

Small towns could soon borrow money from the state to re-vitalize historic downtown areas under a bill passed by the State House Of Representatives.

The proposed plan would have the Mississippi Development Authority establish a program to make loans to cities with 15,000 or fewer residents.

Some lawmakers want to kill a Mississippi program that subsidizes shopping centers.

Senators adopted an amendment to Senate Bill 2922 Wednesday that would end the subsidy, which reimburses up to 30 percent of development costs by giving sales taxes to developers.
Lawmakers closed the "cultural retail" program to new applications, but three proposed malls — one each in D'Iberville, Flowood and Ridgeland — applied before the deadline and could get about $175 million.

Opponents are still heaping scorn on an empty vessel of a transportation funding package, but the bill remains alive after Mississippi senators passed it.

Senate Bill 2921 ( which needed 60 percent of votes, passed 34-13 Wednesday. It now moves to the House for more work, but it’s unlikely details would be fully fleshed out until after House and Senate negotiators meet toward the end of the session.
The measure could be rewritten to include tax and fee increases or borrowing. Proponents say Mississippi needs to spend hundreds of millions more annually on roads and bridges to keep them from deteriorating.

A Senate committee has passed a bill that would allow places of worship to designate people with concealed carry permits as security and make acting within that capacity a legal defense against charges that they violated the law.

It would also make another change to the Mississippi gun law. This bill would expand how people carry concealed weapons to include holsters and sheaths. Opponents to the bill say it would put more guns on the street, endangering Mississippians. The full Senate gets the measure next.

A state lawmaker’s response to an email from a Gulfport woman is causing a stir on social media.

Becky Guidry posted the exchange with State Rep. Karl Oliver that included the Winona lawmaker telling Guidry he’d like to see her leave Mississippi and return to her native Illinois.
Guidry emailed Oliver about Senate Bill 2858, or the “Taxpayer Pay Raise Act,” which would phase out some income taxes and eliminate the corporate franchise tax. The senate has passed the bill.
In her email, Guidry took lawmakers to task writing “it is irresponsible of our leadership to suggest eliminating income and corporate franchise taxes when revenue and projections are already down, budgets for various services are being cut across the board and funding for public education and other critical services such as child care, foster care and roads/bridges are underfunded.”

A bill that would raise the qualifying fees to run for political office has passed a Mississippi House committee.

Senate Bill 2167 would require independent candidates to start paying qualifying fees and increase the fees party candidates already pay.
Candidates for governor would pay $1,000, up from the current $500. Candidates for state senator and state representative would pay $250, up from the current $15. Independent candidates would pay the Secretary of State’s office and party candidates would pay their party.

The Mississippi Board of Education is moving forward with a statewide policy that for the first time regulates when students can be physically restrained or placed in private spaces because of behavior problems.

The board had proposed a policy last year, but pulled it back for more consideration after objections that it didn’t do enough to curb abuses against students.
The board approved the policy Thursday, and the public can comment for the next 30 days. The board must vote again before enacting it.

Some Mississippi schools have received flawed Common Core practice tests. The statewide math tests are to assess students' knowledge of Mississippi Common Core-linked standards.

This is the first year schools are supposed to use the tests that were produced by Questar Assessment Inc. after Mississippi PARCC consortium last year.
Mississippi pulled out of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) consortium following increasing pressure from state officials and lawmakers.