News and Announcements
Historic Williams Chapel site of Oct. 7 Freedom Rally
Historic Williams Chapel Church in Ruleville will once again ring withsounds of freedom on Saturday, Oct. 7 with a recreation of a 1960s mass meeting in conjunction with the celebration of Fannie Lou Hamer’s 100th birthday.
Williams Chapel made history in the 1960s as the first location in Sunflower County of mass meetings for minority voting rights when organizers with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) could find no other location in the county to host them due to fears of reprisal by the staunchly and aggressively segregationist white power structure. It is where Mrs. Hamer assumed her leadership role that eventually brought her to international prominence as a human rights activist and which was a grass-roots catalyst for the creation of the modern Democratic Party.
The event, sponsored by the Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee, will start at 2 p.m. at the church, located on the southeast corner of Langdon and O.B. Streets. Although its primary focus will be for the education of young people, the public is invited to the free event. It will feature freedom songs led by the youth group Young Steppers of Indianola.
Leading the rally will be Charles McLaurin of Indianola, SNCC’s Sunflower County Field Director who organized the Freedom Movement in the 1960s in Sunflower County. Other veterans of the movement also may attend.
David Rushing, chairman of the Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee, said the event is being hosted with the cooperation of the Mississippi Young Democratsand the Fannie Lou Hamer Garden and Museum Foundation. He said while it is sponsored by Democrats for the benefit of young political activists, it is open to anyone.
“It will not be a partisan political rally but a celebration of political freedom and a chance for young people of voting age to hear the wisdom of veterans who risked everything, even their lives, for the right to vote,” Rushing said. “Though we hope to recreate the spirit of the original rallies, this is not the re-enactment of a historical event because it’s not about history — it is about the future because the ideal of inclusive democracy and equal rights under the law remain under threat. Despite the progress we have seen, the struggle is not over.”
As part of the celebration, the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum located at 710 Byron St. in Ruleville Byron Street (one block east of Williams Chapel) will open at noon on Saturday, Oct. 7 so visitors can learn more about the life of Mrs. Hamer and the history of the local movement. Visitors also may drop by the adjacent Fannie Lou Hamer Gravesite and Memorial Garden.
The meeting will be a subsidiary event of the Fannie Lou Hamer Centennial Celebration set for Friday, Oct. 6 with activities scheduled to start at 10 a.m. at the Memorial Garden and a commemorative program starting at noon at the nearby Hamer Complex. For more information about this centennial event, call 662-588-1556 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
“I would like to thank the Hamer committee for allowing us to tag along with their important event, but special thanks go to the congregation of Williams Chapel for allowing us to use their historic church for this celebration,” Rushing said.
Ruleville sets Oct 6 Hamer Centennial
House Democratic end-of-session report
From our Democratic House Caucus
The 2017 Legislative session came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday, March 29, leaving a number of items on the table, including the funding bills for the Attorney General’s Office and the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The House stood firm in our resolve that the AGO would not be hampered from seeking justice from corporate bad actors who hurt Mississippians. Behind closed doors, offending language had been inserted into the agency appropriation bill that caused the bill to violate House rules. We offered the Senate a solution, but it was not accepted. House leadership chose to let the amended bill die on the calendar. The Senate added several hundred million in “pet” projects to the MDOT funding bill, so the House sent it back for further conference to remove those expenditures. Rather than accept these changes, the Senate chose to let the MDOT appropriation die.
The failure to agree on these two bills means that the Legislature will likely be called in for special session to address them. Some of us are hopeful that the special session will also include an opportunity for us to effectively address the issue of a lottery as a potential source of income for the state.
Much of the news over the last weeks of the session centered around budget cuts and reductions in appropriations for the coming fiscal year. In the end, the Governor had cut about $171 million from state agency budgets for FY2017. Legislative leadership subsequently cut about the same amount from the appropriation budgets for FY2018. Almost immediately, agencies began announcing employee firings.
The state is in a budget crisis. Legislative Republicans have termed this reduction in revenue and the ensuing budget cuts and employee firings a good thing because they campaigned on the promise of reducing the size of state government. Our position is that government provides vital services to MIssissippians. The ability to provide public safety, access to health care, a good public education, good roads and bridges, protections against natural disaster and other vital services are the essential components of a civilized society. While tax cuts can be good, they need to be targeted, and should result in promised job creation. Mississippi’s corporate tax cuts are not producing jobs.
Despite the dismal economic outlook and drastic budget cuts, Democrats did some good this session.
We voted in support of significant reforms in campaign finance reporting – candidates will no longer be allowed to take home their campaign war chests, nor will they be able to spend campaign donations on personal items. We approved an “omnibus” election reform measure that will clean up language in the current statutes and better conform the laws to modern technological capabilities.
House Bill 926 allows the University of Mississippi Medical Center to partner with health providers in the rural areas of the state to benefit citizens whose access to healthcare is under threat due to hospital closings.
House Bill 1089, the Rivers McGraw Act, establishes a pilot program for mental health courts to direct individuals to proper treatment rather than keep them in jails. The goal of the law is to help individuals seek help for addiction and other issues. It is named after a young man who took his own life, rather than face consequences of another DUI.
We supported House Bill 1226, the Capitol Complex bill, which diverts 2 percent of Jackson's state sales taxes to infrastructure improvement in the area near the Capitol. The measure is designed to help Jackson fix aged and crumbling roads and infrastructure in the downtown area, heavily occupied by state government, with structures mostly exempt from property taxes. Jackson provides critical services including fire and police in the area. The Capitol Complex area includes the Capitol and surrounding government buildings as well as property around the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Jackson State University.
We concurred with Senate Bill 2680 which adds domestic violence as a grounds for divorce. This effort had stalled in the House and was revived as a direct result of citizen outcry. As we have noted before, our colleagues pay attention when Mississippians speak. We also passed a measure that provides for victims of sexual assault to be protected from contact by their perpetrators through a protective order which will last for two years after the assailant has served his or her sentence.
Another measure that passed during the session is a funding bill for a Trooper school. The lack of officers on the road had risen to emergency level. This should help fill the ranks of those who patrol our highways.
We also effectively blocked an effort to put the departments of Health, Mental Health and Rehabilitative Services under the control of the governor rather than the professional boards that now oversee them. Likewise, we stopped a push to “reduce the footprint of government” by removing most state employees from civil service protections, which would have resulted in mass firings.
We also managed to defeat an effort to open the door to taxpayer-funded education vouchers to be carried over state lines. With a measurable percentage of public school students trying to cope with the debilitating effects of dyslexia, we believe that the best solution to the issue is that necessary services should be offered in every school district.
The issue of a new school funding formula remained an elusive topic during the session because planning sessions were held behind closed doors, and rank-and-file members were only provided rumors as to the content of the EdBuild report. It is allegedly under preparation for roll out at a yet-to-be-determined time. The mystery and secrecy surrounding a subject as important as how we will fund our public education system is symptomatic of the manner in which legislative business has been conducted in Mississippi since 2012.
As Democrats, we will continue to urge greater involvement of all members in the process and will work in bipartisan fashion to solve Mississippi’s big problems.
Posted April 8, 2017
Senate end-of-session report
From our State Democratic Senate Caucus
The Legislature adjourned a few days early with unfinished business, and we expect to be called back before the July 1 start of the 2018 Fiscal Year.
Because the House and Senate could not reach agreement, we were unable to appropriate budgets for both the Department of Transportation and the Attorney General’s Office. The House had proposed an amendment to the MDOT bill that contained language prescribing a certain portion of voluntary internet sales tax to be diverted for road and bridge construction, repair and maintenance – rejecting the original conference report, which the Senate had approved. The Senate rejected the change and recommitted it to the conference committee where it died. There was a dispute about the constitutionality of the proposed internet tax revenue. The State Aid road program appropriation also died.
The Attorney General’s appropriation bill, which had undergone a $4.5 million overall budget cut from its previous allocation, was amended to contain language that would have imposed restrictions complicating the agency’s ability to litigate on behalf of the State. Although the House removed the language, the Senate had no mechanism to reconsider the measure, and the appropriation bill died.
Both of these items must be attended to prior to the start of the new fiscal year, and we anticipate that they will be the subjects of any special session call of the Governor.
During the session, we made some significant changes in campaign and election matters. Senate Bill 2689 restricts political campaign spending, prohibits personal use of campaign funds, and stops the practice of elected officials leaving office with any surplus campaign funds. Credit card expenditures will be detailed. The Ethics Commission will have oversight of this process.
We passed an “omnibus” election code reform bill in House Bill 467. The purpose of this measure is to rewrite language in the election statutes to better describe and define election functions and to conform election functions with current technological capabilities. The measure addresses everything from state through municipal election systems. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann had pushed for these changes for a number of sessions. The changes are based on recommendations put forth by a 2014 Secretary of State’s study group.
One change of note is that municipal primary elections will be held in April, rather than May, beginning with the 2021 elections, and the qualifying deadline will be 30 days earlier. This year, municipal primaries will be held May 2, and the qualifying deadline was March 3.
The continued push for online voter registration and early voting allowances failed.
We supported House Bill 1226, or the Capitol Complex Bill, which diverts 2 percent of Jackson’s state sales tax revenue to infrastructure improvement in the area of Jackson that surrounds the Capitol, the University of Mississippi Medical Center and Jackson State University. That diversion will increase to 6 percent by 2020. Most capital cities have similar statutes. When a city’s prime real estate is occupied by government buildings, the city loses tax revenue from the properties.. With the passage of this bill, Jackson will receive help in making sure that the “Seat of Government” is welcoming, attractive and user-friendly. The Department of Finance and Administration will administer the program.
We also passed House Bill 926, which allows the UMMC to form profitable agreements with hospitals and other service providers around the state. With the difficulties being faced by so many rural hospitals, the infusion of a system such as UMMC should help shore up healthcare for those in outlying areas. Our smaller hospitals are suffering from major losses in great part because reimbursements for those who cannot pay their bills are drying up without the Medicaid expansion offered through the Affordable Care Act, yet stubbornly rejected by the Governor and legislative leadership.
The Division of Medicaid was, once again, the subject of fraud and misuse allegations, with the final result being House Bill 1090. This measure proports to provide protection against Medicaid, SNAP and TANF fraud by requiring the Division of Medicaid and Department of Human Services to contract with private companies for the purpose of looking into allegations of fraud. Arguments against this measure pointed out that the Division of Medicaid and the Attorney General’s Office both already employ investigators whose job is to investigate, report and prosecute this type of fraudulent behavior. Despite sound arguments against the measure, advocating Senators pushed it forward, and private contracts will be awarded.
Public safety, crime and violence were addressed in numerous bills. Senate Bill 2680 adds domestic violence as grounds for divorce after a very high-profile effort to revive it from an apparent death in the House. We passed a bill that will fund a trooper school during the fall. This measure was one of the more urgent situations before us. The number of troopers on the roads has dwindled dramatically. We also passed a measure that will increase penalties for crimes against an officer, firefighter or emergency responder in the line of duty if the act is committed due to the victim’s profession.
Victims of rape or sexual assault will be protected for two years from contact by their attackers who have completed their sentences, thanks to House Bill 1356. The Senate also passed measures that require examination of a DUI offender’s previous record before sentencing, and expanded the allowable methods of state execution to include the gas chamber, electrocution and firing squad.
While no new education funding formula was presented to us for action during the regular session, we have been assured that select legislators are aware of the plans thus far. We did fund K-12 public education at a $37 million cut from the current year, although a push to provide $20 million to schools which are rated as A or B was fully funded. Community colleges and universities also suffered similar cuts – we anticipate sharp increases in tuition and other costs of college as the result.
We cannot overemphasize the coming severe effects of dramatic budget cuts that were put in place this year. One legislative leader referred to the budget cuts as “campaign promises” to reduce the size of government. We do know that agencies are making plans to lay off hundreds of state employees – from all levels of government. The lack of state revenues to fund essential services is the direct result of the millions of dollars of corporate tax giveaways that have been underway since 2012. There was bipartisan support to postpone another big corporate tax giveaway slated for next year, but to no avail. When everything is enacted, we can expect a revenue reduction of over $410 million per year.
We are in a budget crisis, and, unfortunately, nothing was enacted during the recent session that will stop it.
You can review the legislative session at www.legislature.ms.gov, where you can read the bills that passed (Bills Not Dead), and review the daily action reports. Video archives of floor debates on specific bills are available from the Mississippi College School of Law on their website under Library/Legislative History Project.
Important April meeting set
The Sunflower Democratic Executive Committee will hold its regular meeting on Saturday, April 1, at the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum on Byron Street starting at 10 a.m. sharp. The agenda will cover very important items concerning the May 2, Primary Election in Ruleville, so a quorum is essential. The chair requests all members of the Election Committee to attend for a brief meeting afterwards.
The chair again apologizes for holding so many consecutive meetings in the north end, but he feels it essential in light of the primaries being held in Ruleville. He will revert to rotated meetings immediately afterwards.
Posted March 25, 2017
House Caucus Summary Report for the week of March 20
From our House Democratic Caucus
Last week, House floor activity centered around recognizing notable Mississippians – from championship football teams to physicians in practice for five decades.
In general, things were relatively quiet on the surface -- that is until veteran lawmaker Steve Holland of Plantersville took to the well on Friday morning to announce that he would be retiring after this term due to a diagnosis of dementia.
Having served honorably and expertly since 1984, The Gentleman from Lee will leave a void in the House that will be difficult to fill. And, it probably never will be filled so colorfully again. As his colleagues, we count it an honor to have served during a time when Steve Holland was in the House. We will miss his waving flag, his "Oh Beautiful…" at the opening of every session, but, most importantly, we will miss his keen passion for his fellow Mississippians.
Last Friday afternoon legislators were presented with a revenue figures $175 million less than anticipated for the FY2017-2018 appropriation. The current state budget will be cut by an additional $20 million at a minimum, with potentially more to come. The governor also transferred $39 million from the Rainy Day fund.
Add that development to agency budgets already operating under extreme reductions, and it should now be clear even to the most causal observer that Mississippi has a bona fide fiscal crisis on our hands.
Our caucus recognizes that these numbers are more than just figures on a page, or some arbitrary notion of “reducing government’s footprint.” The state’s budget figures represent real human beings whose lives are being adversely impacted by political theory in the form of corporate giveaways that slashed revenues.
Next year’s appropriation is set at the current reduced fiscal year amount, reflecting an anticipated “zero” growth in the economy. Additionally, a very large revenue reduction due to corporate tax cuts will affect next year’s budget, and will amount to a reduction of over $410 million annually when fully implemented.
The idea of reducing income to the point that essential state services cannot be delivered is irresponsible, in our opinion. And, we note that there is a wise old saying that “Insanity is repeatedly to do the same things and expect different results.” The idea that corporate tax cuts and giveaways will bring more jobs and a stronger economy for Mississippi is absolutely refuted by the many rankings that show Mississippi is on the bottom of most measures of quality of life for our citizens. All we’ve seen as a result of this determination to cut revenues are real Mississippians suffering from the results of decisions made by a few at the Capitol.
We pushed last week for a suspension of the rules so that we could postpone the corporate income tax and franchise tax cuts that begin implementation next year.
While the Governor was busy signing bills, conference committees were meeting to work on budget items. Deadlines for these matters come at the first of the final week, and so members stayed over the “Conference Weekend” to attend to them. Once a bill is out of conference, it must go to both the House and Senate for a vote before being sent to the Governor for his signature.
Among the bills signed into law last week by the Governor were measures that enhanced penalties for killing an officer, firefighter or first responder during the line of duty (HB 645); a bill revising provisions for schools’ bullying prevention programs (HB 263); revisions to Youth Court custody orders (HB 652); an act requiring public bodies to post special meeting notices on their web sites (HB 1116); enhanced penalties on those who would interfere with the Witness Protection Program (HB 1367); and, a measure authorizing savings accounts for first-time homeowners (HB1601).
We anticipate that the Legislature will go home sine die at some point in the coming week, although it is officially scheduled for April 2. If we can go home earlier, it will mean a savings to the taxpayers, and they certainly need it.
Go to www.legislature.ms.gov to check action on various pieces of legislation, see our schedules, and what’s on the calendar for floor debate. You may email all of the Representatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted March 27, 2017
Senate Caucus Summary Report for the week of March 20
From our Senate Democratic Caucus
The State’s fiscal crisis continued to dominate discussions at the Capitol last week.
On Friday, another $20 million in cuts to the current budget were announced. This brings the total budget reduction to about $175 million for the year. There does not appear to be much hope for an improved economic outlook as the recommendation from the Legislative Budget Office was to plan for the coming year at a level flat with the FY2017 final figures. This indicates that there may be zero growth in the economy.
We continue to believe there is a need to revisit the planned corporate tax giveaway that will be coming in its first installment next year. We have attempted to pass a resolution requiring that the tax giveaways be held back until a brighter economic picture emerges for the State. Whenever the ship is sinking, it is wise to find ways to plug the holes, and this is a gaping hole in the hull of the Ship of State. Again, we offer our help to the leadership to try to address this crisis.
Whenever budget cuts occur, those who suffer are more than just line items. Some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable citizens are no longer able to access services that may mean their very lives. It is no secret that Mississippi, like many other states, is in the throes of a major opioid addiction epidemic. Both young and old people are being lost, and families are grieving. That’s why so many of us are urging the restoration of funding to services provided by the State Department of Mental Health.
Attorney General Jim Hood delivered $34.4 million gained by the state through litigation. He requested that a portion of that money be devoted to mental health programs that have been severely impacted by the budget. We think this would be a wise course of action. At this writing, there is no indication that his request will be honored.
We moved through the annual “Conference Weekend” during which time conference committee appointees meet to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of various measures, and a number of deadlines are met. Importantly, this is also how and when the final budget numbers are determined. We expect to go home sine die before the actual scheduled end date of April 2.
The Governor signed a number of bills into law last week. Among those was Senate Bill 2689, which restricts political campaign expense spending and prohibits personal use of campaign funds. The Ethics Commission will oversee enforcement of the measure.
Senate Bill 2373 ensures that elementary students will be required to learn cursive writing. Senate Bill 2013 revises the maximum amount of funding boards of supervisors of counties meeting certain criteria may give to fire departments. Senate Bill 2724 would require all vehicle passengers to wear seat belts.
The Senate will be deliberating conference report bills and other matters in the chamber throughout the week. You can go to www.legislature.ms.gov and check the Senate schedule to see when the Senate convenes. You may also watch live floor action by clicking on Live Web Cast. Email all Senators at email@example.com.
Posted March 27, 2017
Chilling Health Care letter to Sen. Stone
From our State Democratic Caucus
Senator Bill Stone, Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, received the letter below from the Mississippi State Department of Health outining a chilling scenario of what will happen to their services, and the citizens who need them, if the current budget crisis continues.
March 21, 2017
Dear Senator Stone,
This letter is in response to your request for information about Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) funding and direction. The following information is largely about State General Fund appropriations, with one paragraph about other state support.
First I will clarify the direction of the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), an agency that touches all our lives every day. Yes, the agency is changing to better meet the needs of Mississippi, to prevent disease and death, such as SIDS deaths and other occurrences that impact our infants, and to assure our neighborhoods support healthy living, moving more towards prevention in communities. However, these measures are funded by Federal grants and Medicaid reimbursement. This has nothing to do with our need for continued state general funds to support ongoing infectious disease prevention, clinical, laboratory and regulatory services.
We use general funds for syphilis care and follow-up, as there are no Federal funds to support this activity and no insurance pays for it (http://www.kswo.com/story/34695601/syphilis-rates- rising-for-newborn-babies).
We use general funds to treat every tuberculosis (TB) case in the state, and to find and test all their contacts. TB is a disease that is spread through the air and flourishes without public health interventions (http://www.fox26houston.com/news/114681695-story).
General funds supply the required match for Federal HIV care and services and surveillance, Early Intervention services, Maternal and Child Health programs, and Breast and Cervical Cancer Programs, to name a few.
We use general funds to support regulatory activities for which the fees do not cover the cost, such as restaurant inspections and onsite wastewatersystems (forwhich approval is often required for a house loan). The proposed state fund cuts would increase wait times for these services by at least a month.
We use general funds to support our clinics, to serve those who would not otherwise be able to receive care. Without the clinic employees, the health department has fewer people and less capacity to respond to disasters. Before, during and after a disaster, MSDH assures the safety of the Mississippi residents in health care – such as those in nursing homes and those receiving dialysis, and assures the safety of our restaurants, drinking water, day care centers, hospitals and nursing homes when the disaster is past and we are all recovering (http://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/resources/4778.pdf pp. 7-8).
We use general funds to address infectious disease outbreaks which require clinic employees for response, and the next outbreak is only one state away (http://www.fox5atlanta.com/health/223982969-story).
Part of the discussion during this Legislative Session has included savings generated by the agency through the passage of 2016 SB 2362. This bill did save MSDH about $900 thousand in state general funds that could have been paid to other agencies, and can be used to offset cuts proposed this session. Another $1.6 million was saved in Federal funds that the agency is unable to use since an expenditure cannot be shown to the federal program and, therefore, the funds cannot be drawn down from the federal program. The rest of the savings were largely in fees from Medicaid earnings by MSDH clinics, of which ¾ are Federal dollars and are used to offset program cost and are not available for general fund purposes. The money saved in Federal and Medicaid dollars cannot be used to cover the core public health needs paid for by general fund dollars.
Also, a clarification is needed regarding the proposed state support provided to the agency, $57,543,289. About half of these funds are considered support but are provided through the Health Care Expendable funds and Tobacco Control funds ($29,704,885) which largely have specifically defined purposes and are not included in the reduced general funds to the agency. The remaining proposed general fund appropriation ($27,838,404) provides support for the services discussed above and are the ones reduced by the legislature in the appropriation bill (HB 1511).
The MSDH proposed state general fund appropriation of $27.8 million is a 23% decrease from the appropriation for FY 2017 and a 16% cut from the appropriation for FY 2017 after the cuts that occurred throughout the year. An additional $9.7 million for the Trauma Care System, the Emergency Medical Services Operating Fund and the Domestic Violence Program payments are now intended to be paid out of the MSDH General Funds and not available to operate the agency. The net effect is $18.1 million left for MSDH operations. This is an almost 50% cut from the original appropriation of $36 million for FY 2017 and a 45% cut from the FY 2017 appropriation after the cuts that have occurred throughout the year.
Fortunately, there is a $2 million proposed increase in the Health Care Expendable Fund (Section 3, HB 1511) possibly available for agency use. Additional funding in the amount of $5 million will make a tremendous difference in our ability to continue to serve the citizens and businesses of the state in an efficient and effective manner. The inability to find additional funding will result in drastic and immediate changes in necessary services provided by the agency.
Thank you so much for your time and attention. Please call me if you have questions about the MSDH appropriation bill or the use of state general funds.
Mary Currier, MD, MPH State Health Officer
Posted March 25, 2017
Official Democratic Municipal Slates Approved
On Monday, March 13, the Elections Committee of the Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee met to take care of unresolved issues concerning the May 2 Democratic Primary in Ruleville. As a result, the official list of Ruleville Democratic Candidates has been approved, which is listed below.
Only Ruleville, will have a primary election because there are contested elections on the ballot. Democratic candidates in Doddsville and Drew do not face any primary opposition, while candidates in Sunflower, Moorhead and Inverness chose to run on non-partisan tickets. Indianola's elections will be held in November and December.
Democrats elected in the primary election will face independent opponents, if any, in the June 6 General Elections
Here is the list of official Democratic candidates in the upcoming municipal elections:
- Shirley Edwards
- Tommy C. Boykin
- Eddie L. Childs Sr.
- Bora Colter Benford
- Ontario L. Ford
- Carrie Kenyana Nash
- Dorothy Jean Robinson
- Evans Wilson
- Tony “Bam” Foster
- Marvin Hawkins
- Clarence Powell
- Angela S. Groves
- Butch Jenkins
- Mike “Jones” Ingram
- Billy Marlow
Ruleville Municipal Democratic Executive Committee (at-large and both unopposed)
- Janet Harmon
- Steven Holtz
- Gail L. Riddick
- Don Brown
- David Ruffin
For Alderman (all at-large)
- Hazael Barney
- Charles Martin
Posted March 5, 2017, updated March 8, 2017, updated March 13, 2017
Senate Democratic Caucus Summary Report for the week of March 6
From the We are in the waning days of the 2017 regular session. The Senate is in the process of considering and debating House measures. If we don’t move on a measure, it dies. If we amend a measure, then it goes back to the House where they could concur or invite conference. If we accept the measure as it was sent, then it goes to the Governor for his signature. We hope that few bills will meet their deaths on the calendar when the deadline comes.
Youth-related issues have been brought up often during the session. We passed House Bill 1213, which authorizes youth courts to use volunteer court-appointed special advocates in abuse and neglect cases. We also passed House Bill 652 which allows the Department of Public Safety to use federal background checks in matters involving youth court custody. House Bill 240 creates laws specifically designed to convict gang members and those who intentionally involve youth in organized criminal behavior – it’s a step above the old “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” idea.
We passed House Bill 996 that would allow the over-the-counter purchase of opioid antagonist drugs like Naloxone that counter the effects of a drug overdose on opioid substances such as heroin, which have increased in recent months throughout the country. It would allow first responders to have immediate access to the life-saving substance. It could possibly allow family members of persons who have addictions to obtain it. Mississippi, like the rest of the nation, is having a serious drug addiction/overdose problem, with many dying without this help.
We passed House Bill 1089, “The Rivers McGraw Act,” so that the State would use mental health courts in combination with drug courts to direct individuals to treatment or counseling rather than keep them in jail. Additionally, parents of individuals younger than 21 will be called when their child has been arrested for an alcohol or drug-related crime.
We also revisited domestic violence as a grounds for divorce issue, and we believe it is a better product than before. Unfortunately, the way the current law is written has allowed for numerous instances where victims of domestic violence could not divorce on those grounds because there was no eye-witness to the violence. A victim’s testimony wasn’t enough. This effort has seen wide support throughout the State, and we are hopeful that it, or something like it, will become law this year.
House Bill 492 revises provisions of the Long-Term Care Facilities Ombudsman Act to comply with new federal regulations. We believe that Mississippians who must relay on these institutions to offer them a good quality of life expect the State to make sure that all safety and care regulations are followed.
We are looking forward to welcoming Mississippi educators, students, family members and advocates to the Capitol on March 16, when they will be asking for “A Seat at the Table.” Like so many of us, these individuals have been left out of discussions and decisions related to education funding. It is always helpful when constituents take the time to come to their Capitol to voice their concerns.
There is a bill introduced in the Senate that has level funding of the MAEP, based on the current formula and with last year’s appropriation. This is a place holder, since no one has seen the leadership’s proposed funding scheme to date. This central piece is necessary to produce the state’s budget, and it was necessary to include at least this much so that the final budget amounts could be timely set.
Please go to our web site at www.legislature.ms.gov to review the daily actions of the chambers under Legislation/Daily Action Reports. You can check the Schedule/Senate Schedule to see when we convene and have committee meetings. Additionally, you can click on the Live Web Cast to watch us in action during floor debate. The Mississippi College School of Law has archived video of floor debates on specific bills. Go to their website at www.law.mc.edu and click on Library/Legislative History Project to view the videos.
Posted March 13, 2017
STATE’S BUDGET CRISIS A REALITY
HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS SUMMARY REPORT FOR THE WEEK OF MARCH 6
The Mississippi Legislative House Democratic Caucus joins our Senate colleagues in our concern for the condition of the state’s budget. We have recently had the opportunity to look at the facts and figures surrounding this crisis, and are issuing a joint statement calling on Legislative leadership to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of our members to help solve the impending budget collapse.
This is a serious threat that will touch each and every Mississippian. Vital government services are at risk, from public safety to education, and it will take all of us working together to protect the citizens from the potential damage of bad decision-making.
The joint statement says, in part:
“A looming crisis is threatening to run Mississippi off the same fiscal cliff that has claimed Kansas and Louisiana, with others likely poised on the edge. Like in the other states, Mississippi’s fiscal crisis is caused by budgeting decisions based on political ideology, rather than sound financial management principles.
“Since 2012, Mississippi’s Republican legislative leadership has been granting tax cuts to favored programs, creating a drop of billions in anticipated revenue for the state over time. Measures passed last year in fulfillment of campaign promises will yield another estimated $427 million in annual revenue shortfalls when fully implemented…
“What is the best course of action for the State under these circumstances? A wise person once said, ‘In an abundance of counselors, there is victory.’ (Proverbs 11:14). That advice has held true for thousands of years. The Mississippi Legislative Democratic Caucuses request the opportunity to help improve Mississippi’s dismal fiscal outlook. We know that it will take all of us working together to make up for the bad decisions that have brought us to this point. We stand ready to help.”
Our members have a number of documents, produced by the relevant agencies, that quantify the problem. Armed with this knowledge, we are determined that the people of Mississippi should be made aware of the state’s fiscal crisis.
We are very late in the session with no substantive action having been taken on the budget crisis. It is time for action, and we are taking it.
The House is currently involved in floor debate on Senate financial bills. We understand that the Senate has introduced a “place holder” MAEP funding bill at level funding from last year, which is still millions short of what is required.
In other House action this week, on Monday, the House passed Senate Bill 2680, which clarifies alternative relatives that may care for a child who is being abused or neglected. We adopted an amendment regarding a current divorce statute, making it easier for someone experiencing domestic violence to receive a divorce. The amendment says divorce would be allowed for people experiencing abusive physical conduct, either threatened or attempted, or abusive non-physical conduct including threats, intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse. The measure also allows for a victim to serve as the witness of the abuse. The bill passed unopposed.
Another attempt to provide money for roads and bridges passed in the form of Senate Bill 2939. Legislators offered an amendment to the tax bill that would provide $50 million in bonds for bridge repairs and allocate use tax to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, counties and municipalities for infrastructure repair. The bill also states that in the event sales tax, referred to as “use tax” from out-of-state sellers, becomes federal law or the state experiences revenue growth, a certain percentage will be set aside for road and bridge improvements. The bill passed by a majority vote of 109-7.
Please go to our web site at www.legislature.ms.gov to review the daily actions of the chambers under Legislation/Daily Action Reports. You can check the Schedule/House Schedule to see when we convene and have committee meetings. Additionally, you can click on the Live Web Cast to watch us in action during floor debate. The Mississippi College School of Law has archived video of floor debates on specific bills. Go to their website at www.law.mc.edu and click on Library/Legislative History Project to view the videos.
Posted March 13, 2017
LEGISLATORS BOLT FROM REPUBLICAN PARTY
From our State Headquarters
Whether it is fear of the party label, trying to trick the voters, or just sticking a finger up to check the ‘political winds,’ a couple of Republican Mississippi House members went rogue last week and qualified outside the party banner in their quests for city office.
Republican House leadership team member Toby Barker of Hattiesburg dumped the Republican Party moniker and qualified for mayor…. wait for it… as an Independent. After voting to steal a legislative seat from his neighbor, former Rep. Bo Eaton (D-Taylorsville) to give the Republicans a supermajority, it looks like enough is enough for Barker. However, he cannot hide from helping steer the financial ‘ship of state’ into the rocks and then just say it was all a bad mistake and qualify as an Independent. No, Barker will have to defend his record of poor leadership on fiscal matters, education, and healthcare while hoping the voters won't believe he will push the city into the same budget abyss he has helped put our state in.
It didn’t take Republican Rep. Shane Barnett long to jump ship either. Barnett, an 'I'll do whatever you say House leadership' vote, ditched the Republican banner to head back home to Waynesboro to qualify for Alderman at Large… you guessed it… as an Independent. Whether it's trying to hold two political offices at once (that’s right, he can receive two paychecks from the taxpayers) or just fear of this Republican leadership’s poor public policy decisions weighted around his neck, Barnett is taking the option of running for the hills.
The race for a hometown political office, where folks know you best, is proven by these two that Republican policies don’t sell well when locals are upset over tax increases, lack of state funds sent back home to fill street potholes growing like sinkholes, all while shuttering schools, healthcare, and mental facilities.
When breadwinners are afraid if they lose their job today, they cannot find one tomorrow and parents cannot see a job in the future for their high school or college graduate near home, it is no wonder these two are trying to flee their failed policies as Republicans in Jackson.
Hold them accountable. They are just playing the oldest game of Republican politics, - fool ‘em when you can.
Posted March 10. 2017
The Tide is Turning
From Our State Chair, Bobby Moak
Democrats are more than ecstatic tonight after qualifying for municipal elections closed at 5:00 today as we look set to continue our winning streak in city halls in every corner of the state. Many former independent mayors and city council members have now qualified under the Democratic banner.
Oxford will elect its next mayor, Robyn Tannehill, by acclamation along with returning Democrats to five of the seven city council seats. The lone Republican incumbent faces a Democratic challenger.
In DeSoto County, long considered a Republican stronghold, a dozen Democrats qualified in five municipalities. This has been nearly unheard of lately.
Throughout the state, younger generations of our rising leaders have qualified to carry the Democratic message that local city politicians have betrayed our trust by going along with Republican Party policies instead of that which is best for our towns and state.
Democrats know that when we elect local city officers, we depend on them to do more than just fill potholes. We expect them to stand up for us, work with state government to keep our taxes low by recovering our tax dollars for local projects. That has not been happening. There is no game plan our local and state Republican leaders have developed, and it is past time to work toward keeping our taxes low and creating the jobs we need.
Our Democratic candidates know that if the breadwinner loses his or her job today, the likelihood of finding a new job tomorrow is very difficult - if not unlikely. They know their high school or college graduate will have to go somewhere else to find a good job.
Our trust has been broken by local Republican politicians, and Democrats will formulate and execute a plan and work together for real results. That is why there is such a surge of Democrats answering the call for stronger cities and a better state for us all.
Posted March 5
News from the Mississippi Senate Democratic Caucus
SENATE SUMMARY REPORT FOR THE WEEK OF FEBRUARY 20
The Senate Finance and Appropriation committees continued their work to make sure that the “money” bills were out to the floor for a vote by the February 23 deadline. Just the day before, Governor Bryant announced the third budget cut for this fiscal year, and this time funding for education was part of the cut.
He went on record the next day as supporting and encouraging passage of a lottery to help regain the state’s financial footing. We continue to support the idea of reigning in the recent corporate tax giveaways to help plug the budget hole.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary A Committee allowed House Bill 555 to die, and at this writing it appears there is no intent of bringing it out before the February 28 deadline for committee action. This measure was an ill-advised attempt to interfere in the Attorney General’s representation of the state in civil law suits. Over his tenure, the current Attorney General has brought in over $3 billion on behalf of Mississippians from wrongdoers. It appears that the current system is working just fine.
We passed Senate Bill 2428 that would exclude from gross income, earnings that have already been taxed in another state. Some of our workers who are traveling to neighboring states to work were being hit twice for taxes. This fix should stop that liability.
We approved the appointment of Margaret Melinda McGrath of Clinton as Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. This lady has inherited serious problems with deficit bridges and crumbling state-aid roads that have been addressed in a band-aid fashion. Currently, there are thousands of certifiably dangerous bridges lurking under the roadways of our state. Citizens are traveling every day without the knowledge that their lives may be in danger.
Currently, there is nothing on the horizon that was sponsored in the Senate that would address this threatening issue. The House, on the other hand, passed HB 480, which requires sales tax to be collected on internet sales, with a portion of that assigned to roads and bridges. Additionally, the House passed HB 1732, which provides $50 million for bridge repair. If these bills proceed unaltered, they should provide for about $175 million in revenue to address the bridge problem. That is about $2 million short. Clearly, this is an issue that must be addressed. We hope that it does not take a tragedy like a school bus plunging down through a rotted bridge to get our attention focused on this very serious threat to citizens’ safety.
Our Caucus called for measures to address this situation early-on in the session. Let’s hope these two vehicles from the House will provide the means to begin the process.
Next week, the Senate will be concentrating on meeting the February 28 committee deadline to consider general and constitutional measures sent to us by the House.
Please visit www.legislature.ms.gov and click on “Legislators/Senators” to find the contact information for your Senator. You may email all senators at firstname.lastname@example.org if there is an issue you want the entire Senate to know about. As always, you are welcome to come to your Capitol and see your government at work during the session.
Posted Feb. 28, 2017
News from the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus
REPORT FROM THE HOUSE DEMOCRATS FOR THE WEEK OF FEBRUARY 20, 2017
Last week, the House primarily worked through bills that had been passed out of the Ways and Means Committee. While these measures are mostly addressed with little controversy, the fact that we continue to propose bond bills despite a slumping level of revenue did cause some to question the wisdom of various bills.
However, the fact that much important infrastructure work has gone undone generated a willingness to issue bonds for construction to try to stave off further damage.
For example, the House passed House Bill 1732 which contains $50 million in bonds to repair bridges. Experts have told us it would take about $350 million, per year, for about ten years to adequately address the very dangerous condition of thousands of deficit bridges across Mississippi. We realize that $50 million then is only a drop in the bucket, as they say. You may recall that the House also passed HB 480 early during the session. This measure levies sales tax for internet sales, with a portion of the funds going toward road and bridge repairs. The Speaker announced recently that a request had been made of MDOT to issue a report on how that agency can save $50 million, for the purpose of rerouting those monies to bridge repair.
Our caucus announced at the start of this session that road and bridge maintenance repair was at the top of our agenda. While we have not achieved the full target goal of funding for a comprehensive program, the fact that these two bills are in existence and have been sent to the Senate give us hope that more funding will eventually come during this session.
However, even with the internet tax bill, the bond bill and MDOT savings, we will still be about $100 million short of the $350 or so million it would take for just the first year to address the bridge problem.
MDOT reports that over 1,000 state-aid bridges are in serious need of repair. The problems are not always visible to motorists – it is the underpinning structure that is in trouble. The only time the danger is evident is when a bridge actually collapses. We are hoping that it won’t tak a tragedy to generate the full support this program needs.
The Mississippi Development Authority Bond Bill, House Bill 1731, details the amount of bond money that will be given to MDA programs. One section of the bill provides money for the ACE Fund, which provides grants to local economic development entities to help expand businesses. Other sections of the bill provide money that could be distributed in grants to counties and municipalities to improve infrastructure, enhance local facilities and improve marketability of public property for economic development. This measure was supported by a large majority of Caucus members.
The House also passed House Bill 1598, which will provide a state income tax credit to venison processors in the amount of 50 percent of the production cost of processing venison donated by hunters for the Mississippi Hunter’s Harvest Program. The program, which is part of the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, provides donated venison meat to less fortunate Mississippi families as a low-fat, dependable source of protein. Hunters and processors can learn more about how to be a part of the program at mswildlife.org. This measure passed 119-0.
House Committees are now reviewing Senate bills for consideration and potential amendment. It is not unusual for the House Committee to remove all Senate language and insert our original language. If it passes the House in that format, it will likely lead to a conference committee decision. The Senate observes the same process.
To watch live House floor debate, check the House Schedule at www.legislature.ms.gov and click on Live Webcast at the announced time. You may email the Representatives in bulk at email@example.com.
Posted Feb. 28, 2017
This is the launch of the webpage endorsed by the Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee. We hope this will be an invaluable tool in communications between the committee and our many supporters.
Thanks to the committee and others supporting me in this task. It will be a re-learning period for me in the area of web management, so please excuse a hiccup or two until I get it all settled down! Special thanks go to our committee members who were and still are active in the struggle whose example encouraged me to choose the overall theme of this site.
Thanks also to Charles McLaurin, a prime mentor of mine, for expediting the use of the Tracy Sugarman art and other images so closely linked to the history of our local efforts.
Chair and Web Manager
Posted Feb. 16, 2017