Landmark tobacco lawsuit settled 25 years ago — what happened to money?


Landmark tobacco lawsuit settled 25 years ago — what happened to money?

If Mississippi’s political leaders had stuck to their plan, the would now have a of more than $4 billion earning about $320 million annually to spend on , based on projections made in 1999.

But, as often is pointed out, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Such is the case with the health care trust fund that was created in 1999 with the money from the state’s settlement with the tobacco companies of a landmark to collect government funds spent treating smoking-related illnesses.

The settlement funds have been delivered to Mississippi as promised, but the promise of a trust fund was broken long ago.

The lawsuit, which originated in Mississippi, turned into a $365 billion national settlement that was announced by then- Mike Moore and others on June 20, 1997 – 25 years ago.

The lawsuit guaranteed Mississippi $4 billion over 25-years with annual payments of $100 million or more, based on a formula, continuing forever.

“The money is good, but the most important thing is when you look at kids smoking, it was 27% then and it is now less than 4%. We have done a lot of wonderful things in the last 25 years,” said Moore who resides in Madison County near Jackson and remains active in groups combatting cigarette use. “Adult smoking was around 30% and it is now 12%.”

He said lung disease has been cut in half and the prevalence of other diseases associated with smoking also is down. The lawsuit placed restrictions on the cigarette-makers advertising to young people and played a key role in campaigns that have led to significant reductions in tobacco use.

Moore concedes that he is disappointed that the trust fund was fleeting.

“It breaks my heart,” Moore said recently.

Slowly at first, state leaders began removing funds from the trust fund to fill budget holes. In 2005, legislation was passed to take $240 million from the trust fund to plug a deficit. At first the Democratic-led House rejected the proposal, touting instead an increase in the cigarette tax – at 18 cents a pack one of the nation’s lowest – to plug the hole. But Republican Gov. Haley Barbour resisted the tax proposal.

In the end, the House agreed to the raid as long as there was a commitment to replenish the trust fund. Each year legislators and Barbour balked at making the repayments to the trust fund while at the same time removing more money to fill other holes.

When Barbour took office in 2004 there was more than $630 million in the fund. When he left office, the fund contained $50 million.

Eventually, the repealed the trust fund.

The erosion and eventual elimination of the trust fund was bipartisan. It began to a limited degree under Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and accelerated under Barbour. Both Republican and Democrats in the Legislature at the very least acquiesced in the trust fund withdrawals.

Still, it could be argued that the funds were used for important purposes – primarily to evade Medicaid cuts. But it is at least worth pointing out that many of the same political leaders who participated in the trust fund raids have passed tax cuts in recent years that will total more than $1 billion annually when fully enacted. Could some of those funds have gone to restoring the trust fund?

The lawsuit was concocted by Clarksdale attorney Mike Lewis upon visiting a friend – a chronic smoker suffering from cancer. He took the idea of suing the cigarette companies to recoup public funds spent treating smoking-related illnesses to Moore. The AG brought into the discussions Richard Scruggs, a nationally recognized attorney from , Moore’s hometown.

The lawsuit advanced the template of the state contracting with private attorneys. If the state prevailed, the private attorneys won big. If they did not, they received nothing. And the caveat was that the private attorneys had to use their own money. Legislative leaders made it clear Moore should not expend any state funds on the tobacco lawsuit that they viewed as a pipe dream.

“Scruggs spent every penny he had,” Moore said. “If it had not worked out, he would have had nothing left. It turned out the other way. But that is not what people were predicting.”

Of course, years later Scruggs was convicted in federal court in a judicial bribery scheme involving a lawsuit where some of the attorneys involved in the case were bickering about their share of funds from the settlement.

Some have argued that the judicial bribery tainted the lawsuit.

Moore conceded Scruggs made a mistake, but the lawsuit has been good for the state and nation – even though it did not result in a health care trust fund for Mississippi.

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

Abortion to remain divisive issue in states, courts

184 views – USA TODAY – 2022-06-24 10:55:46

<a href="" class="st_tag internal_tag " rel="tag" title="Posts tagged with Roe v. Wade">Roe v. Wade</a>: <a href="" class="st_tag internal_tag " rel="tag" title="Posts tagged with abortion">Abortion</a> to remain divisive issue in states, courts

After Friday’s ruling, states will have more leeway to draw lines between the interests of the pregnant person and the fetus. The question now is: Where do conservative states go from here?

  • Experts predict new laws and new lawsuits across the country.
  • Professor: “There’s this…

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Welfare scandal: New asked for help before arrests


‘Whipping child’: Nancy New asked highest officials for help before arrests in welfare scandal

In the days and weeks leading up to their arrests in early 2020, Nancy New and her son Zach New sought help from Mississippi’s highest officials to stop what they described as their persecution.

Private text messages obtained by Mississippi Today show the reacting with a combination of hubris, a sense of betrayal and even confusion over their plight. 

The News had been in charge of spending tens of millions of federal welfare dollars in Mississippi, but the didn’t hire their nonprofit to provide tangible resources to the poor. Instead, it was to a private referral center, while the state would use the nonprofit as its piggy bank for projects it couldn’t find funding for elsewhere. 

In many cases, these programs occurred out in the open. The welfare agency’s partnership with a Christian ministry run by WWE wrestlers was written into plans shared with the federal government. A $5 million lease agreement that paid for construction of a new volleyball stadium under the guise that people in poverty would attend courses at the facility was included in board meeting minutes and approved by the Institutes of Higher Learning and the ’s office. And Nancy New’s financing of a private pharmaceutical firm was explained in text messages that retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre sent to the state’s highest official, then-Gov. Phil Bryant.

That could help explain why the News seemed surprised to find themselves the subject of a probe that officials eventually called the largest public embezzlement bust in state history. In Nancy New’s many roles, she was often carrying out the vision of Gov. Bryant and his wife, Deborah Bryant. 

In her panic to shut down the investigation, Nancy New secured a meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, according to the text messages and a source with knowledge of the meeting. She seemed to hope that the federal prosecutor could provide her information about the probe. 

“It has passed [sic] time to turn the other cheek,” Nancy New wrote to her two sons the evening of Jan. 25, 2020. “First, though, we have [to] make it through this and get this stopped, get cleared of their harassment, etc. then we will go after them all. It will obviously take a lot of money and time but we may need to go on and file once we find out what Mike Hurst says.”

These never-before-published text messages shed light on the incredulous attitudes of the defendants and their last attempts to save themselves before the scandal broke. After Mississippi Today’s “The Backchannel” series published in April, the News pleaded guilty to several counts including bribery, fraud, wire fraud and racketeering under a favorable plea deal that allows them to avoid any time in state prison as long as they cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Still, the pleas were a massive fall for a family that had been so politically connected. 

Nancy New was such a close friend to Deborah Bryant that on the same day she plotted with her sons to “go after” her detractors, she lent some of her clothes to the First Lady to try on. Nancy New arranged delivery of the items to the house of the governor’s daughter, Katie Bryant Snell, in text messages with her son Zach New days before their arrests. In explaining the messages, Bryant’s public relations consultant told Mississippi Today that Deborah Bryant had told Nancy New she was getting ready for a trip and had nothing to wear. Close enough to share clothes, it’s unclear what the Bryant family may have discussed with the News about the ongoing investigation. Zach New and Bryant’s son-in-law Stephen Snell were also included in a friendly group message where the men mostly discussed sports.

At that time, the News were aware they were being investigated. They knew their nonprofit’s finances were in disarray. But they didn’t know they were about to be accused of embezzling more than $4 million in federal welfare dollars to use for their private school company and to make investments in Favre’s pharmaceutical venture called Prevacus.

Then-U.S. Attorney Hurst didn’t know it either, because even though the scandal involved federal funds and eventual charges of racketeering – which usually signals the kind of organized that the FBI investigates – the Office of the State Auditor made the initial arrests before involving the federal authorities. The auditor’s office carried out the preceding eight-month investigation on its own and turned to a local district attorney to indict.

The auditor who initially investigated the welfare case, Shad White, is a Bryant appointee and former campaign manager with higher political aspirations.

While the auditor was closing in on the News, Bryant was preparing to accept shares in Prevacus, according to text messages Mississippi Today first reported, the company to which Nancy New had illegally funneled welfare funds.

Hours after leaving office in mid-January 2020, Bryant promised to “get on it hard” in making connections for Prevacus. Within weeks, Bryant officially joined the consulting firm his daughter and former chief of staff Joey Songy recently formed.

Right up until the arrests, Bryant was consulting Prevacus and helping it secure an important investor who was one of the new firm’s clients.

The texts also show Favre had told Bryant that Prevacus was working with welfare officials and receiving funds from Mississippi. Bryant backed out of the deal after the New arrests.  

Prosecutors say the investigation is ongoing, but three years after it began, they have yet to publicly scrutinize the former governor’s deal with Prevacus. 

Though dozens of people received money they shouldn’t have, and dozens more played some role in funneling the money away from the poor, the auditor’s office and District Attorney’s Office selected six people to charge criminally. Neither state nor federal authorities have arrested anyone else related to the scheme.

“Doug, Families First and we, are truly being railroaded,” Nancy New sent in a message in late January to Doug Davis, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith’s chief of staff.

In 2016, Mississippi Department of Human Services selected Nancy New’s nonprofit, Mississippi Community Education Center, and another nonprofit called Family Resource Center of North Mississippi to head up the rapid expansion of an anti-poverty program called Families First for Mississippi. With that came a cash flow of tens of millions of dollars in grant funds that they would use to carry out official state plans under then-welfare director John Davis, appointed by Phil Bryant. 

This included funding religious initiatives and rallies featuring famous athletes who were earning millions of dollars from the welfare department. Despite being included in official state plans shared with the federal government, these programs are now considered central to the biggest welfare spending scandal in state history. The money came from a ‘90s-era federal welfare program with lax oversight and a reputation for being a slush fund. Soon, the spending spun out of control.

In mid-2019, John Davis’ deputy Jacob Black and other employees gathered information about how John Davis was paying retired WWE wrestler Brett DiBiase for work he didn’t conduct and possibly double dipping the welfare department for a program run by Teddy DiBiase Jr. 

Black himself was instrumental in creating many of the questionable grants and the auditor recently served him a civil demand to repay the state $3 million. But Black was also the original source of the tip that Shad White has credited with toppling the scheme. Black took the tip to Bryant, who took the information to Shad White, according to MDHS officials, Bryant staffers and other sources. 

Shad White has maintained that Bryant was the whistleblower of the scandal, crediting the former governor for toppling the scheme.

Within a few months, the auditor’s examination of John Davis’ welfare spending led them to the New nonprofit. The auditor raided Mississippi Community Education Center’s offices in October 2019 and the Mississippi Department of Human Services restricted funding to the nonprofit, jeopardizing vendors who were relying on their reimbursement.

“Our lives and office have been turned upside down for over 3 months now and we deserve answers,” Nancy New’s other son, Jess New, local attorney and director of the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board, said in a text.

While he was never included in criminal charges, Jess New had his hand in business operations at the nonprofit and other MDHS offshoots John Davis was attempting to create, according to a recently filed lawsuit. The civil , filed by MDHS, seeks $2.6 million in damages from Jess New, which is included as part of the $19.4 million the suit is asking from his mother. 

In early January 2020, the owner of Prevacus received a subpoena from the auditor’s office for documents related to the stock he offered the News in exchange for their grant funding, according to text messages and documents Mississippi Today obtained. On Jan. 15, 2020, Gov. Tate Reeves took office. 

In the next few weeks, the News scrambled to get information about the investigation and why they weren’t receiving payment from MDHS. They thought Phil Bryant and his newly appointed welfare director, Christopher Freeze, made the call to freeze their nonprofit’s funding before he left office. 

“PB and CF made the decision to freeze the money. Definitely looks like the organization and lord knows who else will be charged for something… idea what,” Jess New wrote on Jan. 25, 2020.

“Geez all the hard work just to be thrown under the bus,” Zach New responded.

Jess New told his brother that Christie Webb, the operator of the Family Resource Center, the other nonprofit that was spending welfare money wildly, had reached out to ask Congressman Trent to release their funding from MDHS.

Kelly’s representative Susan Parker told Mississippi Today in a statement that his office has “no knowledge of what happened between the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Family Resource Center beyond published reports.”

“After discovering there was an ongoing investigation into the Family Resource center, our office refrained from getting involved in this issue,” she wrote.

The north Mississippi nonprofit has since lost its MDHS funding altogether.

The News had also reached out to Brad White, who was heading up Reeves’ transition as his chief of staff. Zach asked his brother, “BW against us?”

“No he’s just in the middle,” Jess New responded. “They know it’s a f’ed up situation and PB’s the issue.”

Brad White told Mississippi Today that, to the best of his recollection, two groups reached out to the Reeves transition team, including people on behalf of judges who were using some of the funds to help children in the court system. The two nonprofits who ran Families First, Nancy New and Webb’s nonprofits, had been at odds with each other in the last year. The two nonprofits were also responsible for the programmatic side of a judicial initiative called Family First, which aimed to revamp the state’s foster care system by providing more preventative services. The initiative, headed up by Deborah Bryant, crumbled during the investigation.

“I know enough about things from my time at the auditor’s office that you don’t get involved in anything remotely involved with an investigation,” Brad White said. “I think it was like, ‘I wish you the best, and there’s nothing I can do.’”

Brad White said both the New contingent and the judges wanted help in unfreezing their funds, but that he told them the transition team could not help with that and that the new administration would follow any recommendations or guidance from the state auditor’s office on the case.

The News were left speculating what exactly they were in trouble for, who was against them and why their funding was cut off.

“Because we’re being investigated is why. We need someone to investigate the investigators and this BS investigation,” Jess New texted his mother on Jan. 26, 2020. “It’s a witch hunt and blatant harassment.”

In the following days, Nancy New took her associate David Kelly, a consultant for Oxford-based low-income real estate developer Chartre Consulting, to meet with Hurst. 

New’s organization had promised to provide classes and resource referrals to the residents of Chartre’s properties. The partnership allowed New’s nonprofit to increase the headcount of people served through Families First, but the program struggled to persuade residents to truly participate, Chartre Consulting owner Clarence Chapman told Mississippi Today. The services amounted to Families First hosting events where they gave away free hot dogs.

“It didn’t penetrate as much as we would have liked, but that’s just the nature of our residents and that income level. But they (Nancy New’s nonprofit) worked hard to get participation and I wish they’d still have this underway where it could benefit our residents,” Chapman said.

He sees the News as victims of Bryant and Davis’ vague plan to turn the state’s welfare system into a resource referral network instead of providing direct aid.

“It’s a shame the way the regulations are written to let the governor use the money like that and then poor Nancy, who was a very respectable person, has been abused by the system,” he continued. “She got way over her head and didn’t realize what she was dealing with and is the whipping child for a bunch of different reasons here and it’s destroyed her health and her finances. And it’s sad, because she’s a good person … She appears to be used as a conduit to spread money and do what others wanted done with it who had the authority to do that.”

Someone with knowledge of the meeting said that Hurst, two assistant U.S. attorneys and an FBI agent met with Nancy New and David Kelly, and New’s attorney attended by phone. David Kelly initially agreed to an interview with Mississippi Today and then stopped responding to calls and messages.

If Nancy New chose to meet with Hurst in an attempt to avoid prosecution, it didn’t work. Instead, it tipped off federal authorities to White’s investigation and caused them to reach out to the auditor for more information. 

Then, Jess New got some new information.

“Don’t think PB suspended our funds….I’ll explain later,” he texted on Feb. 3, 2020, the day before a Hinds County grand jury handed down the indictments, referring to Phil Bryant. “Still may not hurt to reach out to him for any help.”

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

MDOC and deputy commissioners now decide method of execution


New law gives MDOC commissioner choice in how people are executed

Mississippi is set to become the first where prison officials can choose how a person sentenced to is executed. 

Starting July 1, the Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain and two deputy commissioners will decide the method of execution for incarcerated people: lethal injection, gas chamber, electrocution or firing squad.

“This statute throws it all into the hands of the Mississippi Department of Corrections without guidance and restrictions,” said Ngozi Ndulue, deputy director of the Death Penalty Information Center. 

Twenty-seven states have the death penalty. Ndulue said most use lethal injection as the primary execution method and some have backup execution methods if lethal injection isn’t available. 

Cain has witnessed several executions as the former warden of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison and Mississippi’s most recent execution as the corrections commissioner. 

“The courts are the ones who decide the penalties for , not MDOC,” he said in a Friday statement. “We just hold the keys. When the court orders me, I am required by Mississippi statute to carry out the sentence.”

The law does not specify how MDOC officials are supposed to decide what execution method to select. 

Ndulue said this can lead to decisions being made in an “internal, non-transparent way.” There are considerations, including whether lethal injection drugs are available and there are protocols and training of how to use other forms of execution, she said. 

Mississippi is also a state that has a lot of secrecy about its execution protocols and how it obtains lethal injection drugs, she said. 

“This is something the public doesn’t have a lot of insight into,” Ndulue said. “What is actually going on?”

MDOC officials will have this new responsibility through House Bill 1479 proposed by Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth. He chairs the Judiciary B Committee and is vice chair of the Judiciary En Banc Committee. 

Bain said the governor and ’s offices asked for the legislation to be filed because the state was having difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs to carry out death sentences. 

The previous version of the law, passed in 2017, said if lethal injection was not possible due to unavailable drugs or a legal challenge, an incarcerated person could be put to death by gas chamber. Electrocution was the next option if lethal gas was unavailable and the last alternate was execution by firing squad. 

Lethal injection remains Mississippi’s preferred form of execution, according to legislation. 

“We put language in the final draft saying it is our policy, as the , that lethal injection be chosen,” Bain said. “That gives (the commissioner) the idea that we want lethal injection and that should be the way to do it.”

Within seven days of receiving a warrant of execution from the , the MDOC commissioner must inform the prisoner of the method in writing. 

Ndulue said the law could lead to last minute legal action about executions. For Mississippi’s most recent execution, there was less than 30 days between the execution being issued and being carried out. 

States have argued they need backup methods of execution because of challenges of obtaining lethal injection drugs, she said. 

Ndulue said some drug manufacturers have objected to their drugs being used for executions. Some states have resorted to getting lethal injection drugs from overseas or going to compounding pharmacies to have the drugs made, she said. 

Lethal injection has also been called into question through legal action. 

An ongoing federal civil filed in 2015 on behalf of three people serving on death row in Mississippi argues the state’s lethal injection protocol violates their right to due process and violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. 

Mississippi and other states have used a mix of three drugs including an anesthetic during executions. 

The lawsuit claims compounded or mixed drugs could be “counterfeit, expired, contaminated and/or sub-potent” and could result in prisoners being conscious throughout their execution and subjected to “a tortuous death by suffocation and cardiac arrest.” 

The bill that goes into effect next month specifies the lethal injection drugs used in execution must be “a substance or substance in a lethal quantity” rather than one containing an anesthetic, paralytic agent and potassium chloride, as the 2017 version of the law laid out. 

From the early 1800s to 1940, all Mississippi executions were by hanging, according to MDOC. Execution by electrocution took place from 1940 to 1952, followed by the use of a portable electric chair moved from county to county. Lethal gas executions took place between 1954 and 1984. 

Mississippi carried out 35 gas chamber executions between 1955 and 1989, according to MDOC. 

Between 2002 and 2022, 18 people were executed by lethal injection in the state, according to MDOC.  

All executions are performed at the at Parchman, which is where death row is. 

For women, executions happen in a facility designated by the MDOC commissioner, according to state law. The one woman serving on death row is at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. 

Mississippi’s most recent execution was that of David Neal Cox on Nov. 17, 2021. 

He was convicted on multiple charges, including the murder of his estranged wife, Kim Cox, and the sexual assault of his then-underage stepdaughter in front of his dying wife in 2010 in Union County. 

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

HBCU settlement approved for more funds


Mississippi not done spending historic settlement for HBCUs

Mississippi still has money left to spend from the 2002 settlement that was supposed to desegregate the ’s public universities, according to the budget presentation at the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees meeting Thursday. 

The settlement stems from Ayers v. Fordice, a 1975 class-action that alleged the state of Mississippi was systemically underfunding Mississippi’s three historically Black universities, Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University. 

After nearly thirty years of litigation, the state and the private plaintiffs, led by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, settled in 2002. Mississippi agreed to pay the three HBCUs about $417 million in additional funding over the next 20 years for capital improvements, endowments, and summer school programs. 

That money was projected to out at the end of this month, but on Thursday, the IHL board members approved the additional allocation of funding, about $1.6 million, that the universities had not spent. IHL also allocated another $3 million in interest from an endowment that the settlement created, which the board will allocate in perpetuity. 

It is not clear why the funds are unspent; IHL did not respond by press time.

Ever since the lawsuit was settled, many advocates have maintained the payout was not enough to bring the HBCUs to a level playing field with Mississippi’s predominantly white institutions. Alvin Chambliss, the attorney who brought the lawsuit, didn’t want to settle, but the state of Mississippi cut a deal over his objections. 

Chambliss’s sentiment is echoed today by many HBCU alumni, faculty and administrators. They point out that as the HBCUs were receiving the settlement funds, state lawmakers were making deep cuts to funding for higher education. To make up for the loss, the HBCUs had to use the settlement funds as yet another appropriation, rather than a way to catch up to the PWIs. 

The wind down of the Ayers settlement this year comes as all eight universities are seeing an increase in state appropriations. This is mainly due to funds from the , John Pearce, IHL’s associate commissioner of finance, told the trustees on Thursday. 

This session, lawmakers allocated the universities about $176 million in capital funds to make infrastructure improvements and repairs, a 1,230% increase on capital funds appropriated last year. 

“There’ll be a lot of investment that’ll be able to be made in the capital operations of the institutions,” Pearce said. 

All eight universities are also seeing more revenue from tuition, according to IHL’s fiscal year 2023 budget. Every university but Jackson State has increased tuition the last two years, while Jackson State has seen increased enrollment. 

The tuition revenues represent “a real increase in the ongoing operations of the institutions,” Pearce said, adding that “this is all a strong increase.” 

Pearce added that this still doesn’t change the decades-long trend of state appropriations making up a decreasing share of the universities’ budgets. 

“Just for context, even though we improved year over year, we still have a change in the long-term funding of the university system away from the state of Mississippi and toward tuition,” he said. 

Excluding Ayers funding, the three HBCUs are seeing some of the biggest budget increases this year. After the University of Mississippi, which will see about an 8% budget increase, Alcorn State and Valley State will have the next highest increases at around 7%.

Jackson State is receiving the largest share of unspent funds and endowment income, according to an email from IHL Spokesperson Caron Blanton. Jackson State is receiving about $3 million, Valley State is receiving $1.3 million, and Alcorn State is getting about $300,000. 

Most of those funds are from an endowment created by the settlement. The settlement stipulated the universities could not control the income from the endowments until they reached at least 10% “other-race” enrollment. Until then, the income had to be spent on advertising and scholarships for “other race,” meaning white students. An ad hoc committee under IHL would be in charge of the endowment income for each HBCU until the university reached the enrollment requirement. 

Jackson State and Alcorn State met the enrollment requirement, but Valley State never has been able to, so the IHL committee still oversees its endowment income. 

As for the private endowment, the IHL board was supposed to raise $35 million that the HBCUs could also receive once they met the enrollment requirements. To date, it has only raised $1 million. The settlement contained a provision specifying that the board didn’t have to raise all the funds in order to meet its obligations. 

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

Lawsuit challenges Mississippi private schools grant program

252 views – Associated Press – 2022-06-16 08:15:19

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is violating its own constitution by directing $10 million in pandemic relief money to private schools, according to a filed Wednesday by a parents’ group that supports .

The lawsuit challenges the Independent Schools Infrastructure Grant Program.

In April, the passed and Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed two bills. One creates the…

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ACLU sues over $10 million allocated to private schools


‘Taxpayers’ money shouldn’t go to those schools’: ACLU sues state over $10 million allocated to private schools

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Wednesday that they are suing to stop the from giving $10 million in pandemic relief funds to private schools, as they say it violates the state Constitution. 

The passed the bills appropriating this money at the end of the 2022 session in early April, a move that frustrated some advocates and legislators. The money comes from the (ARPA), which gave the Mississippi Legislature $1.8 billion to spend on pandemic response, government services, and infrastructure improvements to water, sewer, and broadband. 

The bills also allocated $10 million to private colleges and universities for similar purposes, but those dollars are not challenged in this suit. 

The claims that since the Mississippi Constitution prohibits the expenditure of any public funds for private schools, the money allocated earlier this session is unconstitutional and asks for the court to block the state from enforcing the laws, which take effect July 1. 

Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Chair John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, told his colleagues who were opposed to the bills that the private schools had been impacted by and needed help to improve their infrastructure with the federal funds.

“We want to make sure they have some ability to improve their conditions,” he said.

During the lengthy debate of the legislation, though, no one brought up constitutionality.

Section 208, the portion of the Mississippi Constitution in question, reads: 

“No religious or other sect or sects shall ever control any part of the school or other educational funds of this state; nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.” 

Mississippi Today also questioned the legality of this spending in April. 

READ MORE: Lawmakers spent public money on private schools. Does it violate the Mississippi Constitution?

“Educational funding that comes from taxpayer money should be used for that are open to everyone, free of charge,” said Rob McDuff, a attorney who is also working on this case. ”That’s why the Mississippi Constitution says that public money can only be spent on public schools and not private schools. If people want to pay money to send their children to private schools, that’s their business, but the taxpayers’ money shouldn’t go to those schools — it should go to the public schools that are open to everyone.” 

The ACLU is suing on behalf of Parents for Public Schools, a Jackson-based nonprofit. Becky Glover, a policy analyst with Parents for Public Schools, called the bills passed earlier this year a “clear violation” of the state Constitution. 

“The state and its taxpayers need to be responsible stewards of our public schools,” Glover said. “The Mississippi taxpayers are doing their part financially and legally to support public schools, but they need and deserve to count on the state to do its part too. The bottom line is, public money should stay with public schools.” 

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

Rep. Thompson’s unadopted redistricting plan could have cost Rep. Guest his seat


Rep. Thompson’s unadopted redistricting plan could have cost Rep. Guest his seat

If the chapter of the NAACP and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson had gotten their way, little known Naval pilot Michael Cassidy of Meridian could be the Republican nominee for the 3rd District U.S. House seat right now — or at least much closer to being the nominee.

Cassidy won more votes in the three-candidate field during last week’s Republican primary election than did incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, but did not garner the majority of the vote needed to avoid a runoff. The runoff will be June 28.

While Cassidy won the most votes districtwide, Guest, a resident of Rankin County, defeated Cassidy in the metro Jackson counties of Hinds, Madison and Rankin. During congressional redistricting earlier this year, Thompson, the lone Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation, and the state chapter of the NAACP proposed the portion of in the 3rd District and some of south Madison County in the 3rd District be moved to Thompson’s 2nd District.

The must redraw congressional districts every 10 years based on the U.S. Census to ensure the population of each district is evenly distributed. If state lawmakers had accepted the proposal of Thompson and the NAACP, it would have placed Guest perilously close to losing outright to Cassidy in last week’s Republican primary.

Of course, if Hinds and a portion of Madison County had been from the 3rd District, additional people would have had to be added from other areas to make up for the population loss. So it is difficult to say with certainty what the final impact on the election results would have been if all of Hinds and a portion of Madison had been moved from the 3rd District to the 2nd District.

Most likely, the reconfiguration of the 3rd District under the NAACP/Thompson plan still would have resulted in a runoff, but Cassidy would have been closer to avoiding a runoff and would have made life even more uncomfortable for Guest.

At any rate, Guest finds himself in the unenviable position of being an incumbent facing a runoff election. Conventional wisdom is that if an incumbent cannot capture a majority vote in the first election, it will be difficult to do so in a runoff. But the 2014 Senate election in Mississippi proves that it is not an impossible task for an incumbent.

In the 2014 campaign for the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi, little known state Sen. Chris McDaniel garnered 49.5% of the vote and was less than 3,500 votes short of capturing a majority and upending longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican primary.

After that near upset, much of the Republican establishment went to work in support of Cochran, who was considered an icon in Mississippi politics. In addition, many believed Cochran’s seniority in Washington was too valuable for the state to lose.

Normally in runoff elections, the total number of people is significantly less than in the first election. But in the Cochran/McDaniel runoff, almost 65,000 more people voted than in the first election. With the large number of additional people coming to the polls, Cochran retained the seat with 51% of the vote.

At the time, McDaniel complained and even filed a , claiming people who normally vote Democratic came to the polls to cast a ballot for Cochran in the runoff. Many of these people, he said, were from the city of Jackson or most likely African Americans who normally vote Democratic.

Indeed, anecdotal evidence did indicate that many Black , who normally do vote Democratic, weighed all options and decided that they would prefer Cochran over McDaniel, a conservative firebrand, so they went to the polls to vote for the incumbent in the runoff.

McDaniel complained that such a practice is not fair. But in reality, under Mississippi law, people who did not vote in the first primary election can cast a ballot in the runoff.

This past Tuesday, about 50,000 people voted in the 3rd District Republican primary. In the 2018 Republican primary when Guest first was elected, 65,207 people voted.

For the June 28 runoff, Guest and much of the Republican establishment will be looking to find some of those people who voted in 2018 but did not in 2022 to come out and vote for Guest.

In the 2014 Senate runoff, Cochran and his forces found many of those new voters for the runoff in metro Jackson. More than likely, Guest also will be looking hard in metro Jackson for new voters.

But if Thompson and the NAACP had prevailed with their redistricting plan, there would be fewer votes for Guest to pick up in metro Jackson.

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

Co-owner of Biloxi Shuckers suing team president

152 views – Janae Jordan – 2022-06-03 17:21:10

Tim Bennett, a co-owner of the Shuckers Minor League baseball team, is suing the president of the Shuckers organization for non-payment of money owed, citing racial discrimination as the reason.

Bennett owns Overtime Sports, a management company, and he is a co-owner of the Shuckers franchise. Bennett is suing his former business partner and Shuckers president Ken Young.

The says Young has a contract to pay…

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Prominent 2020 election denier aiding congressional campaign


Prominent 2020 election denier is aiding Mississippi congressional campaign

Michael Cassidy, a Republican seeking to unseat incumbent Rep. Michael Guest in Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District in the June 7 primary, has aligned himself with one of the nation’s most outspoken advocates of overthrowing the 2020 presidential election.

Matt Braynard, who has received broad national attention for his radical views on the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 Capitol attack that ensued, has received more than $13,000 as a consultant to the Cassidy campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission website.

Braynard, who worked about five months for the Donald Trump presidential campaign in 2016 before being fired, has been one of the principal proponents of the myth that if all the legal votes were counted in 2020, Trump would still be president of the United States.

And Braynard, according to multiple national reports, has profited handsomely from that position, with one national outlet describing his work as: “Forrest Gumping his way through the post-election Trump universe.”

His presence in Mississippi highlight the fact that for many Republican primary voters, the 2020 election is still an issue. Most of the congressional candidates who will be on the ballot in Tuesday’s Republican primary in Mississippi have also embraced, to some extent, the claim that voter irregularities or outright fraud cost Trump the election.

All three Republican incumbents — Guest in the 3rd District, Trent of the 1st District, Steven Palazzo of the 4th — voted to not certify the 2020 presidential election in several key swing states, as did U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Mississippi’s senior U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker was the only Mississippi congressional Republican who voted to certify the election in every .

Guest, who Cassidy seeks to unseat, was the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation to vote in favor of creating the commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — an attempt to stop the congressional vote certifying the presidential election. Guest, a former prosecutor in central Mississippi, said he voted to create the commission at the request of U.S. Capitol .

Cassidy, on his campaign website, has sharply criticized Guest’s vote for the Jan. 6 commission. Guest is considered a heavy favorite in Tuesday’s primary that also includes Republican Griffin.

Braynard has been active in defending many of the people arrested in the Jan. 6 riots, saying they were engaged only in peaceful protests.

He has been a paid consultant testifying on instances of alleged voter irregularities. Based on testimony, he was paid $150,000 to testify in Wisconsin about the 2020 presidential election and $40,000 for similar testimony in Arizona. Records indicate he also testified post-election in other key swing states — Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Braynard’s data was cited in the infamous filed by embattled Texas Ken Paxton’s attempting to throw out millions of votes in the swing states. The lawsuit, which maintained with no evidence that Biden had “less that one in a quadrillion” chance of winning several states, was joined by Lynn Fitch and numerous Mississippi politicians. It was promptly dismissed by a federal judge.

The Texas Bar Association is currently investigating Paxton related to his filing of the lawsuit.

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

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