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Mississippi Today

Senate committee leader kills felony suffrage bill without vote 

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mississippitoday.org – Taylor Vance – 2024-04-02 17:11:28

Senate Constitution Chairwoman Angela Burks Hill killed this year's substantive effort to restore rights to people convicted of nonviolent felonies by deciding not to hold a committee meeting before a Tuesday night deadline.

Hill, R-, did not conduct a single committee meeting over the last two weeks to consider any House bills that the lieutenant governor's office referred to her committee for consideration. The Pearl River County lawmaker wouldn't substantively comment on why she declined to advance any bills. 

“The constitution speaks for itself,” Hill said. 

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The drafters of Mississippi's 1890 Constitution, who first enacted the provision that strips voting rights away from certain convicted felons for life, did speak loudly at the time when they wrote the document that still governs the Magnolia

“There is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter … Mississippi's constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the n—– from ,” Mississippi Gov. James K. Vardaman said at the time.

George Melchoir of Bolivar County, a delegate to the 1890 convention, also said at the time, … “It is the manifest intention of this convention to secure to the state of Mississippi white supremacy.” 

The original disenfranchising crimes chosen at the time thought to be more likely committed by Black people.

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Under the Mississippi Constitution, people convicted of any of 10 felonies — including perjury, arson and bigamy — lose their voting rights for life. A 2009 opinion from the 's Office expanded the list of disenfranchising felonies to 22.

Mississippi is one of only a handful of states that does not automatically restore voting rights to people who complete their sentences.

About 37,900 names are on the Secretary of State's voter disenfranchisement list as of Jan. 29. The list, provided to Mississippi Today through a public records request, goes back to 1992 for felony convictions in state court. That number, however, may not be wholly accurate because no state agency tracks people once they are struck from the voter rolls. Studies commissioned by organizations in 2018 estimated between 44,000 and 50,000 Mississippians were disenfranchised.

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation last month that created an automatic process for people previously convicted of some nonviolent felony offenses to have their voting rights restored. 

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A bipartisan pair of House members told Mississippi Today on Tuesday afternoon they were disheartened to hear that Hill declined to advance their measure in committee, given that a large majority of Republicans and Democrats supported the measure.

“I think we were taking a step in the right direction to get someone who has paid their debt to society and remained on the straight and narrow for five years to get their right to vote back,” Republican Rep. Fred Shanks of Brandon said. 

Rep. Kabir Karriem, D-Columbus, has filed legislation for years to create a pathway for people convicted of nonviolent felony offenses to regain their voting rights. Even though Hill won't consider the legislation this year, Karriem said he intends to continue advocating for suffrage restoration.

“It seems like the Senate kills good legislation and passes bad legislation, so I'm not surprised,” Karriem said. “But we have to find a way to give people their rights back.” 

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Even though the suffrage bill is dead, lawmakers can still introduce individual bills to restore voting rights on behalf of citizens, but the process is burdensome. It requires two-thirds of lawmakers in both legislative chambers to vote in favor of restoring suffrage in individual cases. 

The last year did not pass any suffrage restoration bills. A person can also seek a gubernatorial pardon, though no executive pardon has been handed down since Gov. Haley Barbour's final days in office in 2011.

Hill's to kill the bill marks the latest example in a litany of efforts to reform Mississippi's felony suffrage process that have fizzled. 

Former House Judiciary B Chairman Nick Bain, a Republican from Corinth, led a proposal through the Legislature in 2022 that sought to clarify that people who have had a disenfranchising felony expunged from their criminal record would regain their voting rights. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed Bain's proposal, and the Legislature did not override the veto.

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The last time the Legislature substantively addressed felony suffrage was when the House overwhelmingly passed legislation in 2008 to restore voting rights to all Mississippians convicted of felonies, except for those convicted of murder or rape.

The 2008 legislation later died in the Senate, where Phil Bryant — who would later become governor and not pardon a single Mississippian convicted of any crime — presided as lieutenant governor.

The last time the Legislature successfully passed a bill that restored suffrage to a class of people was in the 1940s when then-Rep. William Winter of Grenada, who would later become governor, shepherded a measure through the Capitol that restored suffrage to all World War I and World War II convicted of felonies. 

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

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Mississippi Today

Business leaders urge legislators mulling Medicaid expansion to improve access to health care

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mississippitoday.org – Bobby Harrison – 2024-04-16 17:08:04

Powerful business groups are urging legislative leaders “to work together” to improve access as they negotiate whether to expand Medicaid coverage for Mississippians and by how much.

“Access to is not just about individual health, but about the well being of our entire community,” the Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi Manufacturers Association and the Business and Industry Political Education Committee said in a letter to House Speaker Jason White. “It means a healthier population, a healthier work force and an improved quality of life, all of which contribute to stronger Mississippi communities.”

White released the letter on social and said, “We appreciate the business community's to provide healthcare access to low-income Mississippians. A healthy economy is dependent on a healthy workforce.”

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The House, where White presides, has passed legislation to expand Medicaid as is under federal law to people earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level or about $20,000 per year for an individual. The Senate's proposal would expand Medicaid to those working and earning less than 100% of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 annually.

House and Senate leaders are in the of trying to hammer out their differences on the issue.

While the business groups did not explicitly endorse either plan, they did say they routinely expected state leaders to “responsibly” use federal dollars for education, and for other services.

“Let's give our hospitals and healthcare experts the same so hard-working Mississippians will benefit,” the letter leaders said.

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Under the House plan, the federal government would pay 90% of the health care costs for those covered by Medicaid expansion. Under the Senate plan, the federal government will pay about 77% of the costs, which, according to studies, means fewer Mississippians would be covered at a significantly higher cost to the state under the Senate plan.

In addition, under the House plan, the state would an additional nearly $700 million over a two-year period, which the federal government is offering to the 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid.

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

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Mississippi Today

‘A matter of life and death:’ Hundreds rally at Capitol for full Medicaid expansion 

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mississippitoday.org – Taylor Vance – 2024-04-16 16:53:27

Charles and Cheryl Penson shuffled up the steps of a bus in Tupelo at 4 a.m. on Tuesday to begin a long day's trek to the Capitol 

The reason the Pensons, both of whom are ministers, traveled over three hours to the seat of Mississippi's is they know several people in rural northeast Mississippi, including one of their own daughters, who could benefit from expanded Medicaid coverage. 

Their daughter is a businesswoman and a single mother, they said, who works hard at her job, but she could use assistance with care costs, especially to help her young child who has experienced health issues recently. 

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“I am here because I want to see what is morally right done for the people of Mississippi,” Cheryl Penson said as her husband nodded in agreement. “If you have a heart, you have to have a heart for all people.”

The husband and wife weren't alone. 

The two joined hundreds of doctors, clergy and other Mississippians from over 35 communities across the Magnolia State who shared stories of their own at a “Full Expansion Day” rally at the Capitol. They urged legislators to expand Medicaid coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Christine Dunaway of Jackson told Mississippi she attended the rally because she spent 20 years as an advocate for people living with disabilities as the former director of Living Independence for Everyone of Mississippi.

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“I worked with so many people over the years who would have benefited from Medicaid expansion — working poor people to go to work, who didn't have insurance, couldn't afford it, didn't have access to it,” Dunaway said. ” … I was born missing three limbs. My parents would have been considered middle class, but they couldn't afford prosthetics back then.”

As personal stories meshed with religious sermons the concrete steps on the front of the Capitol became like church pews when faith leaders from different religions and Christian denominations pleaded with legislators to give poor Mississippians access to health insurance.  

“As a state that is proud of its pro-life stance, it is only fitting that this Legislature now leans into the opportunity to make it possible for all Mississippians across this state to have full access to health care,” said the Rev. Reginald Buckley, pastor of Jackson's Cade Chapel M.B. Church.

But just hours earlier, some of those same ministers and participants appeared to take James' epistle of “faith without works is dead” to heart by beginning their day of advocacy in actual pews at the historic sanctuary of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson. 

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The morning service in one of the oldest Black churches in Jackson started with songs, prayers, scripture centered on civilly pressuring the 174 state lawmakers in Jackson to pass expansion.

“We thank you for collective power, but surely Lord we know that apart from your power, we can do nothing,” the Rev. Dr. C.J. Rhodes, the pastor of the church, prayed. “For it's not by power nor by might, but by your spirit, says the Lord of hosts. So breathe upon us, give us your spirit, oh God, and give us your blessings so that we can do what seems to be impossible even today.” 

The prayers of accomplishing the insurmountable, though, quickly turned into advocacy chants, the new sanctuary became the 2nd floor rotunda of the Capitol and the hymns morphed into telephone calls that flooded the voicemails of holdout legislators. 

After the morning of worship, the interdenominational group assembled signs, slapped supportive stickers on their shirts, reviewed phone-banking scripts and tweaked message to their local legislators over expansion.   

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“Jesus is the reason that I'm here,” said Brittany Caldwell, a coordinator of community engagement for Great Rivers Fellowship and Natchez resident, said. “To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a disciple in both word and action.”

The rally comes in the middle of House and Senate leaders attempting to negotiate a compromise on Medicaid expansion legislation after the two chambers passed drastically different plans earlier in the session. 

The House's expansion plan aims to expand health care coverage to upwards of 200,000 Mississippians, and accept $1 billion a year in federal money to cover it, as most other states have done.

The Senate, on the other hand, wants a more restrictive program, to expand Medicaid to cover around 40,000 people, turn down the federal money, and require proof that recipients are working at least 30 hours a week. 

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“When do we want it? Now!” Was the chant from Medicaid expansion supporters Brittany Caldwell and Gregory Divinity, during a rally at the state Capitol, Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Those at the rally made clear they support “Full expansion now,” which they frequently chanted, and not the Senate proposal, which its drafters have referred to as “expansion lite.”

Representatives of the two chambers, called conferees, have not yet met in public to haggle over a final expansion plan, and as of Tuesday evening, the Legislature's website did not list a meeting to take place later this week. 

A natural compromise is for the two chambers to agree on a  “MarketPlus Hybrid Plan,” which health policy experts with the Center for Mississippi Health Policy and the Hilltop Institute at the of Maryland, Baltimore County estimate could save the state money in the long-term. 

The hybrid plan would offer expanded Medicaid coverage through the state's managed care program for those making under 100% of the federal poverty level. For those making 100% to 138% (up to $20,000 for an individual) of poverty level, the plan would use federal money to assistance for them to buy private insurance plans through Mississippi's marketplace exchange.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has privately vowed to lawmakers that he will veto any Medicaid expansion bill that reaches his desk, putting the future of expansion in the hands of the Legislature, who can override the veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

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House Speaker Jason White, a Republican from West, previously told Mississippi Today in an interview that he believes he can hold a bipartisan group of more than 90 House members, a veto-proof majority, together in support of a compromise expansion package. 

But the coalition of support in the 52-member Senate is more fragile. The Capitol's upper chamber only passed its austere expansion plan by 36 votes, one vote shy of the two-thirds threshold needed to override a governor's veto. 

One reason the expansion debate has caused some Republican senators to oppose the proposal is it's become mired in partisan politics because of the governor's messaging and hardline conservatives derisively labeling it “Obamacare expansion.” 

But clergy at the Capitol on Tuesday said the issue rises above partisan politics. 

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The Rev. Dr. Jeff Parker, senior pastor at Southside Baptist Church in Jackson, is a self-described “Southern Baptist Republican,” who believes in the Gospel of Matthew, where it says “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” should move Christians to support expansion.

Parker recounted a conversation he had with a friend shortly before the rally who warned him he would be branded as a liberal if he spoke too forcefully in favor of the Medicaid expansion. 

“I looked at him, and I finally said this: ‘Are we reading the same Bible?'” Parker said. “I would every church in the state of Mississippi, regardless of your denominational tag, to take a long, hard look at the book of Matthew.” 

Mississippi Today reporters Bobby Harrision and Geoff Pender contributed to this report.

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Supporters from across the state gathered on the south steps of the state Capitol for a Medicaid Expansion rally, Tuesday, April 16, 2024 in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

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

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About Steve Sloan, the worst you could say is he was too nice a guy

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Steve Sloan, who died April 14, spent five seasons as football coach, winning an average of four a season.

Steve Sloan, who died April 14 at the age of 79, spent five autumns (1978-82), mostly unsuccessful, as the head football coach at Ole Miss. I covered those last two seasons as the Ole Miss beat reporter for the Clarion Ledger. Covering losing football teams is often a thankless chore. Sloan made those two seasons bearable.

My lasting memory of Sloan: He was, without question, the nicest football coach I ever encountered and one of the nicest, most decent human beings, period. Many knowledgeable football folks would tell you Steve was too nice to be a successful football coach in the dog-eat-dog Southeastern Conference, and I honestly can't write that I disagree.

Rick Cleveland

His record over five seasons in Oxford: 20 victories, 34 defeats, one tie. His 1980 team led the SEC in total offense, yet won only three games. His last two Rebel teams won a total of one SEC , the 1981 Egg Bowl.

And there's a story there. I approached Steve the Monday before the game with an idea for a story that would need his cooperation. Honestly, I didn't think he would do it. I'm not sure I've ever covered another college football coach who would have. My proposal was that he would tell me his Egg Bowl game plan, which I would not divulge in print or otherwise until after the game. My plan was to write about the game plan – and whether it worked or not – in our Egg Bowl special section afterward.

Much to my surprise, Steve said he didn't see any harm in it. Perhaps, he just didn't see where he had anything to lose. And, on Tuesday of Egg Bowl week, he gave me a detailed game plan. He did so while chewing Vitamin C tablets the way some folks chew bubble gum, trying to fight a bad cold that had bothered him for weeks. I remember telling him he looked like warmed over, and I remember him chuckling and telling me, “Well, buddy, you don't look so good yourself.”

Defensively, he said Ole Miss would play an eight-man front throughout the game. “We'll look like we're in a goal line defense when we're at midfield,” he said. “Our only is to stop the .”

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“Offensively, we know we can't run the ball on them, but we have to run it some just to keep them honest, or we'll never have time to throw,” he said. “Up front, we will double team Glen Collins ('s splendid defensive tackle). We'll use a guard and a center and if that's not enough we'll use a back in pass protection. He's that good.”

I asked him about trick plays. “We've got one pass play we got off TV the other night,” he said, describing a pass play using two running backs out of the backfield in a crossing pattern, hoping to take advantage of linebackers in pass coverage.

Everything worked. State passed only 12 times, despite the eight-man front. Ole Miss ran the ball 35 times for a meager 74 yards, but that helped quarterback John Fourcade have the time to complete 22 of 29 passes. The great Collins, double- and triple-teamed, was not in on a sack. The trick play worked to perfection for a touchdown on the Rebels' first possession.

Steve Sloan, right, with Jerry Clower, the country comedian who played football at Mississippi State.

Ole Miss, a 15-point underdog, won, 21-17. Rebel players awarded Sloan the game ball, and this was one time he earned it.

That didn't happen nearly often enough for Sloan at Ole Miss. A year later, he left for Duke, and not many Ole Miss folks were all that sad to see him go.

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Mississippi football fans of that era will well remember the enthusiasm that accompanied Sloan's arrival at Ole Miss. At the time, he was considered the best bet to be Bear Bryant's successor at Alabama, where he had been Bryant's quarterback and team captain.

He was, without question, the hottest young head coach in the business. He had won at Vanderbilt, for goodness sakes. That's right. He took the Vandy head coaching job at age 28 and in his second year he guided the Commodores to a 7-3-1 record and a Peach Bowl berth. Then it was on to Texas Tech, where he took the Red Raiders to two bowl games in three seasons, a 10-1 record and a share of the Southwest Conference championship in only his second season at Lubbock.

Then came Ole Miss, where he was then-athletic director Johnny Vaught's hand-picked choice to revive the Rebels slumping football program. The word was Bear Bryant had advised Sloan not to take the Ole Miss job, to remain in Texas until he decided to step down at Alabama. If that was indeed the case, Sloan bucked his former coach and headed to Oxford, where he was greeted as a football savior. The early returns were good. His first recruiting classes were rated among the nation's best. That recruiting never translated into victories.

What happened? Nearly half a century later, this might be an oversimplification, but here goes: Both at Vandy and at Texas Tech, Sloan's defenses were headed by a future coaching legend, a guy named Bill Parcells. Yes, that Bill Parcells, a two-time Super Bowl champion coach. And Parcells was slated to come with Sloan to become the Rebels' defensive coordinator. Never happened. The head coaching job at Force came open, and Parcells took it.

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So Sloan came to Ole Miss without Parcells, who was not only a defensive whiz but also the “bad cop” to Sloan's “good cop” at both Vandy and Texas Tech. In retrospect, Sloan's Ole Miss teams lacked the defensive grit, discipline and overall toughness of his Vanderbilt and Texas Tech teams. Even Sloan's worse Ole Miss teams could move the ball and score; they just could not stop anybody.

Had Parcells come to Ole Miss, things surely would have been different. We'll never know, but I believe had Sloan, after losing Parcells, retained Jim Carmody from Ken Cooper's Ole Miss staff, he would have won more games.

That's all conjecture at this point, but this is not: If the worst thing anybody can say about you is that you were too nice, that not all bad. In fact, that's not bad at all.

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

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