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Feds take over Jackson water after failures at the local and state level

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Feds take over Jackson water after failures at the local and state level

Tate Reeves, during his nearly 19 years in elective office, has subscribed to the theory that a good defense is best achieved through a bold offense.

His default setting is offense.

On the day last that an order was made public detailing the takeover by the U.S. Department of Justice of the Jackson System, the governor went to social to proclaim victory. But it was not clear who was keeping score other than Reeves.

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“It is excellent news for anyone who cares about the people of Jackson that the (Chokwe Antar Lumumba) will no longer be overseeing the city's water system,” the governor said on social media. “It is out of the city's control and will now be overseen by a federal court.”

The beleaguered water system, which has been beset for years with boil water notices and the loss of water pressure, also is out of the control of the state of Mississippi. And, of course, the state of Mississippi is ultimately the responsibility of Gov. Jonathan Tate Reeves.

Make no mistake about it – President Joe Biden's Department of Justice is taking over the Jackson water system because both the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi have been unable or unwilling to fix it.

Perhaps the governor should send Biden, whom he often goes on offense against, a thank you note for taking over the problem. After all, the governor made it clear he did not want to deal with the problem.

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“It is a great day to be in Hattiesburg. It's also, as always, a great day to not be in Jackson,” Reeves joked during the height of the most recent shutdown when many city had no running water. “I feel like I should take off my emergency manager director hat and leave it in the car and take off my public works director hat and leave it in the car.”

Granted, as the governor and other state officials have often said, it is primarily the responsibility of the city to adequate water to the citizens of Jackson.

But ultimately, Jackson, like any municipality in Mississippi, is a creature of the state. All municipalities in the state, from Satartia in Yazoo County with less than 50 residents to Jackson, the capital city, with about 150,000 residents, were created by acts of the Mississippi Legislature.

The Mississippi Constitution reads, “The Legislature shall pass general laws … under which and towns may be chartered and their charters amended.”

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Reeves, during his eight years as lieutenant governor presiding over the Senate, or during his three years as governor, could have advocated for legislation to deal with the Jackson water crisis that has been ongoing for years. The water crisis should not be a surprise to anyone in state government. More than once Jackson water woes resulted in portable bathrooms being parked on the grounds of the ornate Mississippi Capitol during sessions of the Legislature.

The governor and Legislature could have acted to deal with the water woes with or without the consent of officials with the city of Jackson. After all, the city, as established by the Mississippi Constitution, is a creature of the state.

And it is not as if state officials have an aversion to getting involved in the business other than water of the city of Jackson.

It was not that long ago – 2016 – that legislation originating in the Senate where Reeves presided at the time as lieutenant governor was passed and signed into law by then-Gov. Phil Bryant stripping from city officials some of the authority over the Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. Granted, a federal has been filed that is pending trying to block the legislation from being enacted.

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But that does not diminish the fact that there were steps the state could have taken earlier to deal with the issues facing the Jackson Water System.

There are multiple other examples of the governor and the Legislature meddling in the business of Jackson and of other cities across the state. Almost on a yearly basis, legislation is considered and sometimes passed to limit the cities' authority to enact gun safety laws or to limit the cities' authority to deal with undocumented immigrants as the locally elected leaders see fit.

Does saying all of this mean that there is not blame going way back among Jackson officials for the condition of the city water system?

The answer to that question most likely is no, but with the caveat that people in the highest echelons of state government who in glass houses perhaps should not throw stones.

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This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Mississippi Today

Some state politicians may be moving beyond name-calling in health care

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Riding around curvy roads in northeast Mississippi campaigning for reelection in 2007, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour unveiled to a reporter his plan to create a state exchange where individuals and businesses could shop for health insurance at a lower rate.

The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 had a feature strikingly similar to what Barbour proposed, which coincidentally already was being used in . The ACA gave states the option to piggyback off the federal exchange to create their own exchange. The federal subsidies offered through the ACA would be available to individuals insurance off the federal or a state exchange.

Barbour wanted to create a state exchange that would include features from the proposal he offered during his 2007 reelection campaign. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney also strongly supported a state exchange, saying his office would have more authority to shape a state exchange to fit the needs of . But the ACA had by then morphed into “Obamacare,” which was meant to be a derisive term, and many Mississippi legislators, and then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, were opposed to being associated with any part of the landmark national health care law touted and proposed by then-President Barack Obama.

In the end, there was no state exchange set up in Mississippi, though it could be argued that the national exchange has been a in the state. About 270,000 Mississippians currently have insurance policies purchased off the national exchange.

Yet for 13 years now, most Mississippi politicians have continually demonized “Obamacare” and anything associated with the national law.

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They blocked expansion that would health care for primarily the working poor in Mississippi, and they rejected a state-run exchange. And along the way, Medicaid expansion and Obamacare became dirty words in the minds of many Mississippi politicians.

That demonization might be ending. On the same day in the Mississippi House last week, members by an overwhelming 98-20 margin voted to expand Medicaid. Soon after that vote, House Ways and Means Chair Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, offered a bill, which passed 112-5, to create a statewide exchange.

Under the bill, Mississippians will go to the state exchange to purchase their insurance policy, but importantly, the federal subsidies still will be available. Lamar is hoping by offering state tax incentives to private insurance companies to join the exchange that there will be more choices for Mississippians shopping for health care coverage. And he is hoping that by providing tax incentives to health care providers who accept who have exchange insurance coverage, that more of them will do so.

Hello, Haley Barbour and Mike Chaney from 2012.

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During the debate of the two bills in the House, no one uttered the word Obamacare. And in general, fewer and fewer Mississippi politicians are saying Obamacare in a derisive manner, though many go out of the way not to say the phrase Medicaid expansion when they are talking about — gulp — expanding Medicaid.

One politician, of course, continues to proudly and derisively use the term Obamacare. When arguing against expanding Medicaid, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves recently reposted a social media comment from former President Donald Trump proclaiming: “Obamacare sucks!!!”

When explaining the bill to expand Medicaid to fellow House members, Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, did not talk about Obamacare. Instead, she talked about the fact that Mississippi has many of the nation's worst health care outcomes.

Mississippi has among the highest rates of infant mortality, diabetes deaths, cardio disease — and the list goes on.

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The bottom line is Mississippians have the shortest life expectancy in the nation.

In terms of action by legislators to address those bad outcomes, she said, “‘No' is not a policy that has helped.”

Before this is over, Reeves may have to decide whether he wants to continue the demonization of Obamacare or sign into law Medicaid expansion in an effort to address those poor health care outcomes. There is a strong possibility the bill also will pass the Senate and reach his desk, where he must decide whether to sign it or veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

If so, Reeves will not be the first Mississippi governor to face some difficult decisions surrounding Medicaid.

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In 1969, then-Gov. John Bell Williams, who had voted against creating the original Medicaid program when he was in the U.S. House in 1964 and who had railed against it, called a special session to ask legislators to opt into the Medicaid program. Williams said the fact he opposed the program should not keep lawmakers from embracing a federal program that would Mississippians.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Bill to shutter most of Parchman passes first committee hurdle

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After facing initial pushback, a proposal to close most of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman passed its first hurdle in the Senate Corrections Committee Friday morning.

Senate Bill 2353 by Committee chair Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, proposes shutting down most operations at the state's oldest and most infamous prison by sending people, staff and programs to other facilities.

The vote days after the U.S. Department of Justice released a report slamming unconstitutional conditions at three Mississippi prisons. Parchman was not the focus of the , but Barnett said two years after the DOJ's initial report about Parchman, conditions there have not improved much.

“I know this bill is not the fix-all but we have to start somewhere,” he said. “… Even yesterday was too late and tomorrow will definitely be too late.”

A key point of the phase down plan is for the state to gain operation of the Tallahatchie Correctional Facility, which is located less than 10 miles away in Tutwiler and by CoreCivic.

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Earlier this , committee members asked for more information about how much it would cost for the state to gain operation of the Tutwiler prison and how that compares to the cost to repair Parchman.

On Friday, Barnett said there is not a contract or memorandum of understanding between the Department of Corrections and CoreCivic in writing yet, but the prison prison company gave an estimate of $14 million a year to lease Tallahatchie Correctional, the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the facility.

Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-, said problems with violence and gang control are present beyond Parchman and failure to address staffing won't get the prisons under control.

“Moving the inmates seven miles up the road is not going to solve our problem,” she said before the committee approved the bill.

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Barnett agreed, but added that the reason why the prisons are that way is because money hasn't been invested to make sure they are secure.

He noted that during the riots at the end of 2019 and early 2020, about 1,000 inmates were transferred from Parchman to Tallahatchie Correctional, and there were no problems.

A committee substitute version of SB 2353 passed, including a name change for Parchman. In the meeting, Barnett said he consulted with members of the Delta delegation about renaming the prison because of its current and historical negative association.

As of Friday morning, a copy of the committee substitute was not available online.

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The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is to meet Tuesday. Appropriations Chair Briggs Hopson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After on prison conditions in 2019 by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, the U.S. Department of Justice, at the urging of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and others, began an investigation into four Mississippi prisons, starting with Parchman. It concluded in April 2022 that those imprisoned at Parchman were being subjected to violence, inadequate medical care and lack of suicide prevention.

In a 60-page report released this week, the Justice Department found the state is also violating the constitutional rights of those held in the other three prisons: the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, the Correctional Institution and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Trump endorses Roger Wicker for Senate reelection 

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Former Republican endorsed U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker's bid for reelection on Thursday, likely giving the incumbent senator a major boost weeks before Mississippi's party primaries. 

“Senator Roger Wicker is a fantastic Senator for the Great of Mississippi,” Trump wrote on social . “As the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Roger is working hard to Strengthen our Military, Defend our Country, and our Veterans.”

Wicker, a 72-year-old , has represented the Magnolia State in the U.S. Senate since 2007. Before the Senate, he served several terms in the U.S. House and in the Mississippi .

He is currently the top Republican serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over matters involving the U.S. military. If the GOP gains a majority in the Senate this year, Wicker could be the first Mississippian to that committee since former U.S. Sen. John .

“We are proud to have President Trump's support for our campaign and re-election efforts,” Wicker campaign manager Jake Monssen said in a statement. “Republicans across Mississippi are excited to take back the Senate and the White House in 2024 and put an end to the radical Biden-Harris agenda.”

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Wicker will compete against state Rep. Dan Eubanks of DeSoto County and retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Ghannon Burton in the Republican primary on March 12. attorney Ty Pinkins is the only candidate who qualified in the Democratic primary. 

The winner of the Republican primary will compete against Pinkins on November 5.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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