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Senators keep watered-down ballot initiative bill alive, vow to improve it

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Senators keep watered-down ballot initiative bill alive, vow to improve it

Legislation to revive Mississippi’s ballot initiative process was kept alive when it was passed out of committee late Tuesday, a key deadline day.

But the proposal as written does not appear to allow voters to completely circumvent the legislative process, as is generally the goal of initiatives. It simply lets voters make suggestions to legislators, who can later choose to alter the wishes of voters.

The proposal includes confusing language that seems to say the , by a two-thirds vote, could amend the proposal that was placed on the ballot.

“We (legislators) are still the gatekeeper?” asked Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, of the proposal.

The author of the bill Sen. Tyler McCaughn, R-Newton, said under the proposal the Legislature would, indeed, be the gatekeeper.

Turner Ford continued: “What is the purpose of having an initiative process… if we can reject” the proposals offered by citizens.

“The whole point of the initiative process is to get around the Legislature,” said Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson.

READ MORE: Mississippi Supreme Court strikes down ballot initiative process

McCaughn said he understands the concerns expressed by Turner Ford and Blount and said he is willing to work with them to improve the bill as it moves through the process.

He said the key was to pass something out of committee on Tuesday, which was the deadline to pass bills out of committee in the chamber where they originated.

“I think we are to a point where we have to do something,” said McCaughn, adding voters want an initiative process. “This is a starting point.”

Blount said the proposal “needs a lot of work” as it moves through the process.

The bill then passed out of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee, which is the committee where Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann sent the proposal instead of the more traditional Constitution Committee.

The struck down the ’s ballot initiative process in 2021 because it mandated the number of signatures be gathered equally among five congressional districts as they existed in 1990. The state, though, has only four districts, losing one as a result of the 2000 census.

After the 2021 Supreme Court ruling, most of the state’s political leadership, including Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, said the Legislature would fix and revive the process.

But in the 2022 session, the proposal died when Hosemann and Accountability Chair John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, wanted to more than double the number of signatures needed to place an issue on the ballot. Under the old initiative process that was struck down by the court, it required the signatures of 12% of the voters from the last gubernatorial election, or about 100,000 signatures, to place an issue on the ballot. The Senate leaders had supported requiring about 240,000 signatures be gathered to place an issue on the ballot.

The proposal passed out of committee on Tuesday would require gathering signatures of 12% of all registered voters, or about 240,000 voters.

“This should not be an easy threshold for them to make,” said Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, of increasing the number of signatures needed to place an issue on the ballot.

The legislation also required at least 100 signatures of registered votes from each of the 82 counties and 10 signatures each from the about 300 municipalities. Blount pointed out there are municipalities in the state that have 50 residents or fewer and might not have 10 registered voters.

Blount asked why some legislators appear to be so fearful of the initiative process.

Blount said the old process was in effect for more than 30 years and “it was not out of control.” During that time, six initiatives made the ballot and three of those were approved by voters.

House Constitution Chair Fred Shanks, R-Brandon, did not pass a House proposal by Tuesday’s deadline. He said he had been working with the Senate leadership and was certain an initiative proposal would come out of the Senate to be considered by the House. But the proposal, as it stands now, would not meet the criteria of what the House supported last year.

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

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Transcript: Gov. Tate Reeves delivers 2023 State of the State address

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Transcript: Gov. Tate Reeves delivers 2023 State of the State address

Gov. Tate Reeves, a first-term Republican, delivered his annual State of the State address on Jan. 30, 2023.

Below is the transcript of Reeves’ speech, which aired live on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Editor’s note: This transcript was submitted by Reeves’ staff and has not been formatted to match Mississippi Today’s style.

WATCH: Gov. Tate Reeves’ full State of the State address.


Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Hosemann and Speaker Gunn.

To the members of the and other elected officials here tonight, thank you. Thank you for your continued partnership and thank you for the tireless work you do on behalf of our great state and her people.

I also have to take a moment to thank my beautiful wife and Mississippi’s outstanding First Lady, Elee. She’s an incredible wife, an awesome mom, and a wonderful representative for our state. I’m amazed daily by your grace and your kindness, and I’m so thankful to have you in my life every single day.

Finally and most importantly, I have to thank the three million Mississippians who have helped our state usher in an unprecedented period of economic growth, educational achievement, and freedom.

2022 was perhaps the best year in Mississippi’s history. Because, here in Mississippi and unlike in Washington, D.C., we still have the incredible capacity to work together and accomplish great things for our constituents.

The sense that our state is one big, small town binds us and it furthers a sense of optimism that we can still work together here and deliver results on behalf of our people.

The people of Mississippi are our state’s strength. It is because of your hard work that our state is primed and ready to face the challenges of tomorrow.

It is because of your work ethic and your commitment to excellence that more and more companies are choosing to do business in Mississippi and that our state’s brightest days lie in front of us.

It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your governor over the last three years. I haven’t taken it for granted for one second, and I promise you that I never will. It is truly an honor to wake up each and every day and get to work on your behalf, and I look forward to making even bigger things happen in this great state.

Now, over these years some days have been more challenging than others. But no matter what’s thrown at Mississippi, I thank God each night that I have the chance to live, work, and serve alongside of you. There is no place I would have rather weathered tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, or a global pandemic than right here in Mississippi.

But Mississippi – and I think you’ll agree too – means more than simply a place to batten down the hatches during natural disasters.

Mississippi is all of our home. Our state is filled with natural beauty and friendly people. I, like so many of y’all today, am grateful to be raised in this loving community.

I’m proud to be a Mississippian, and I’m proud of the life lessons I’ve learned from the people I’ve met along the way.

One of those people, is my hero – my dad. Now, I don’t remember the first time I met him because I was only a few minutes old. But I do remember some of the lessons he taught me, especially when it comes to the value of hard work.

My father grew up in a two-room home with five brothers and five sisters in Bogue Chitto. He started a small business in the early 70’s and spent many, many nights sweeping the dirt floors and praying for his next clients.

Like entrepreneurs across Mississippi, he spent his life growing that business. Only in America could the son of that man stand here today as the governor of this great state. It is the American Dream, and the lessons I learned from him have inspired everything that I’ve done.

I’ve tried my best to take those lessons with me over the years and incorporate them into everything that I do. I’ve leaned on them when times were good, and I’ve leaned on them when times were bad.

They’ve helped to keep me grounded and to remember what’s really important in life. They’ve helped me govern, and they’ve helped me keep perspective.

Today, it’s a cold-hard-fact that really, really good things are happening in Mississippi. And it’s my honor to stand before you today and announce that the state of our state is stronger than ever.

Our state is strong because our people and my administration are laser focused on the issues that matter to Mississippians.

As you’ve heard me say before, the way we measure success is in the wages of our workers, the success of our students, and winning the war on our values.

Mississippi is hitting the target on all three of these fronts.

First, wages. Since 2019, we’ve raised per capita personal income in Mississippi by approximately $7,000 or almost 18%. We are boosting the money that Mississippi families are bringing home – especially right now, as we combat rising inflation from wasteful spending in Washington, D.C.

This wasn’t by . We were able to accomplish this momentous feat because we never wavered from the tried and true economic and fiscally conservative principles that have set up states for growth for generations. And we were able to accomplish this despite the left’s best attempts to grow government.

Our conservative reforms and sound budget management have laid the foundation for this economic boom. It’s the policies of yesterday that have paved the pathway to today’s prosperity.

It’s led us to a $4 billion budget surplus. $4 billion!

It’s led to investing a historic amount in jobs training, and because of that we have the lowest unemployment rate in our state’s history.

It resulted in a record $6 billion in new capital investment in 2022, which is more than seven times the previous average of approximately $900 million a year before I became governor.

And it helped us finalize the largest economic development project in Mississippi history – a $2.5 billion capital investment that will create 1,000 new jobs with an average salary of almost $100,000 a year.

But we had more than just one major economic deal. That grand slam was great, but there were dozens and dozens of projects impacting every corner of our state over the last year. The fact is that thanks to our singles and our doubles, Mississippi is starting to run up the scoreboard.

Last year we announced a $2 million investment that will create 117 new upholstery jobs in New Albany.

We announced a $79 million investment that will create 21 new operations jobs in Pelahatchie.

We announced a $51 million investment that will create 41 new manufacturing jobs in Winona.

Canton, Philadelphia, Bay Springs, Columbus, Starkville, Southaven, Meridian, Calhoun, Waynesboro, Vicksburg, Olive Branch, and Corinth – just to name a few of the places that we announced investments this last year.

My friends, when it comes to setting up our people and state for more economic prosperity, we are, by every objective standard, getting the job done.

We are boosting salaries and we are expanding the tax base. And we are investing in the areas that will provide our state with the highest return – our people.

I want our state to go even further in supporting Mississippians. Our state is in the best fiscal shape we’ve ever been in, and our state is in the best financial shape in history and our residents deserve to get a bigger piece of the pie.

We can and should do more to put additional dollars into the pockets of Mississippians. We will do this, by eliminating our state’s income tax once and for all.

We can do this and we can do this without raising other taxes. You’ve heard me say this before, but I’m going to keep saying it because it’s that important: government doesn’t have anything that it doesn’t first take from somebody else.

I believe that Mississippians not politicians or the government know best how to spend their dollars. I also believe that those who have competitive advantages win.

We have a competitive advantage in our people. We need to add another competitive advantage with our tax code.

To build the best possible environment for entrepreneurs, to combat President Biden’s runaway inflation, to compete with the likes of Florida, Tennessee and Texas, to continue making it easier for Mississippians to support their families, we must eliminate Mississippi’s income tax.

That’s why last year I was so proud to sign into law the largest tax cut in Mississippi history, which returned over half a billion dollars to Mississippians.

That’s more dollars in your pocket, more dollars in your kids’ college funds, more dollars put toward buying a home or retirement, and more dollars for you to spend on your priorities. Not politicians’ pet projects.

I’m proud of what we accomplished. But I’m even more fired up to keep the tax cuts coming. You have my word that as long as I’m governor, I’m going to continue relentlessly fighting for permanent, long-term tax relief that lets you keep more of your own hard-earned money.

But Mississippi isn’t just witnessing historic achievements in our state’s . We’re also seeing it in classrooms across our state.

A little over a week ago we announced – for the third time since I’ve been governor – that Mississippi’s high school graduation rate hit an all-time high and continues to be better than the national average.

And like our state’s economic growth, our education improvements didn’t happen by accident.

Our state’s stellar report card didn’t just appear out of thin air.

Mississippi insisted on getting kids back into school when other blue states stayed closed, and now we have the best education numbers in our state’s history!

The year Philip Gunn and I first presided over a State of the State in 2012, Mississippi was dead last in fourth grade math. Now, we’re above the national average at Number 23.

That means that over the last ten years since we passed education reform, Mississippi surpassed half the states in the nation.

We’ve gone from needs improvement to most improved.

We’ve led the nation in fourth grade reading and fourth grade math gains.

And students from all walks of life are finding more success in Mississippi. In 2003, Mississippi was among the worst performers when it came to test scores for Black students. Today we’re fifth in the entire nation when it comes to fourth grade reading test scores for Black students. Fifth in the entire nation!

So, when some people say, “Mississippi is last in education,” folks, they’re just not telling you the truth.

I want to personally thank all the legislators that played a role in helping to pass those education reforms. I also want to thank all the involved parents and dedicated teachers across Mississippi. We couldn’t have accomplished these goals without you.

Our state – unlike some others that have been in the – recognizes that we have a duty to both. We should ensure that parents continue to play an active role in their kids’ education, and we should ensure that teachers are paid what they deserve.

It is my firm belief that Mississippi has some of the best teachers in the nation, and their salaries should reflect that.

That’s why I was proud to sign legislation giving Mississippi teachers the largest pay raise in state history. We elevated teacher salaries above not only the Southeastern average, but even above the national average!

Mississippi’s teachers earned those raises, and I was proud to sign them into law.

But regardless of the technology or textbooks we put in front of our kids, nothing is more influential to a child’s educational development than parents.

And when it comes to education, Mississippi should protect parents’ voices and their right to be involved in the classroom. Because at the end of the day, the state doesn’t run a child’s life – parents do. We need more transparency in schools in this country. We need more choice. We need more freedom. That will be the best way to protect our children.

I’ve been shocked to see how some states have embraced the misguided practice of pushing parents out of the classroom, pushing parents out of their children’s lives, and pushing parents out of the school board decision-making process.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is more invested in the life and the future of a child than a parent. They shouldn’t be labeled as domestic terrorists for simply asking questions or for attending a school board meeting. They should be celebrated for being invested in their child’s education.

As a father myself, I want schools across Mississippi to complement the lessons parents are trying to teach at home, not reject them. That’s exactly why I am calling on the legislature to pass a Parents’ Bill of Rights this session.

Through the Parents’ Bill of Rights, we will reaffirm that in Mississippi, it is the state who answers to parents and not vice versa.

This Parents’ Bill of Rights would further cement that when it comes to the usage of names, pronouns, or health matters, schools will adhere to the will of parents. There is no room in our schools for policies that attempt to undercut parents and require the usage of pronouns or names that fail to correspond with reality.

I am proud to be governor, but the greatest pride in my life is being the dad of three wonderful girls. There are few things I love more than having the chance to cheer them on from the sidelines at their soccer or basketball games.

That’s why I’m especially proud to have signed legislation that ensured, that in Mississippi, we’re going to let boys play boys sports, and girls play girls sports. I didn’t do this just for my daughters, I did this for all of Mississippi’s daughters.

But we need to do even more to protect Mississippi’s children. We have a duty to keep pushing back against those that are taking advantage of children and using them to advance their sick and twisted ideologies.

There was a time in America when saying to kids ‘you can be whatever you want when you grow up’ meant that one day they could become a teacher, officer, or fire fighter. A professional athlete, a doctor, or even a lawyer. That if you push yourself, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.

But today, there is a dangerous and radical movement that is now being pushed upon America’s kids. It threatens the very nature of truth. Across the country, activists are advancing untested experiments and persuading kids that they can live as a girl if they’re a boy, and that they can live as a boy if they’re a girl. And they’re telling them to pursue expensive, radical medical procedures to advance that lie.

These radical liberals are attempting to undermine objective, scientific truths. They’re trying to undermine how we view gender and even manipulate English words and grammar rules. From their illogical pronouns to their attempts at pushing the word Latinx onto the Hispanic community – they don’t care about the destruction they’re causing or whether they have the support of those they’re trying to group or label. Rather, they’re tyrannical in their approach to these issues and their unceasing attempts to have them adopted by society.

And let’s be honest, America stands essentially alone in the truly outrageous position that we’ve staked out on this issue. While some in our country push surgical mutilation onto 11 year olds even here in Mississippi, even liberal darlings like Finland, Denmark, and Sweden don’t allow these surgeries to be performed on kids who are under 18.

The fact is that we set age restrictions on driving a car and on getting a tattoo. We don’t let 11 year olds enter an R-rated movie alone, yet some would have us believe that we should push permanent body-altering surgeries on them at such a young age.

Mississippi must continue to do everything in our power to counter those who want to push their experiments on our kids. Time is of the essence, and we don’t have a second to waste. We must take every step to preserve the innocence of our children, especially against the cruel forces of modern progressivism which seek to use them as guinea pigs in their sick social experiments.

Let me be clear to those radical activists around the nation who want to do our kids harm.

Mississippi will not be trading compassion for compliance.

Our voices will not be silenced when it comes to science.

We will not be pressured into not asking questions.

And we will not give in to liberal intimidation when it comes to protecting our kids.

This is my promise to every Mississippian across our state.

There is also another way we are going to keep our kids safe, and it includes keeping their parents safe as well.

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of government is to ensure public safety and to uphold law and order.

I ran for governor to fix Mississippi’s problems, not to hide them. That’s why I’ve become increasingly concerned that, for three consecutive years now, homicides have numbered in the triple digits here in our capital city. We can and must do better.

The fact is, no matter how hard we try, there will always be evil in the world. There are those who lurk in the shadows seeking to hurt those around them. There are those who seek to inject drugs and crime into their communities, all so they can make a buck.

These actions undermine social cohesion and safety in our neighborhoods. They threaten the lives of our kids and the safety of our families.

To put it mildly, the crime situation in Jackson is unacceptable. Kids are getting killed in our streets and it’s time we put a stop to it.

Now, some have suggested that the response should be to undercut, defund, and dismantle the police. I couldn’t disagree more.

Many of us have family and friends who wear the badge. It’s worth constantly reminding ourselves that these individuals are the thin blue line which helps hold communities together.

In Mississippi we choose to fund the police. We choose to back the blue. We choose to celebrate the brave men and women who put on the badge every day and run towards danger. That’s exactly what Mississippi has done, and that’s exactly what Mississippi will continue to do.

Last year, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety conducted two major surges of law enforcement personnel – one in Jackson and one along our Gulf Coast. We flexed law enforcement in the areas and helped to shut down criminal elements in the regions. And while those surges proved to be successful, we still have more work to do.

That’s why this session, I’m calling on the legislature to make further investment into our Capitol Police by giving them the 150 officers and equipment they need to continue fulfilling their mission and continue pushing back on lawlessness in Jackson.

And let me say this as well, my administration will go after all crime within our jurisdiction. Regardless of the crime committed, regardless of who did it, regardless if it happened on the street or in an office building, my administration is and will continue to hold criminals accountable.

That’s why my administration remains committed to delivering justice and recouping every dollar possible from those who stole from Mississippians through the of TANF dollars.

Again, I ran for governor to fix Mississippi’s problems, not to hide them. Which brings me to my next area of focus – our state’s system.

Mississippi is not immune to the struggles facing healthcare systems across the country. Together, we should keep working to improve Mississippians’ access to quality healthcare, and together, we should keep working to ensure Mississippi’s healthcare system meets the needs of our people.

It starts with leveling the playing field. Most people do not know that it is illegal to open a new facility that competes with other institutions. We are all frustrated and worried by the threats that some hospitals may close. The first step should be allowing new ones to open! By reforming Mississippi’s Certificate of Need laws, we can root out anti-competitive behavior that blocks the formation of medical facilities and prevents the delivery of lifesaving healthcare to Mississippians.

We should continue to strengthen the pipeline of medical professionals by doubling and tripling down on our improved workforce development strategy, and we should pass legislation that levels the playing field for hospitals with expanded residency programs.

Because, at the end of the day, the real answers to our problems are not contained in the same old proposals that only serve to delay the inevitable at the expense of taxpayers. The real answer to our problems lies in innovation.

Technology is changing, and the way healthcare is delivered is changing. Our policies must adapt with the times and facilitate care that focuses not on institutions but on the patients we seek to support.

Throughout modern history we’ve witnessed innovation disrupt industries such as manufacturing, transportation, food, and entertainment. There was a time when people had to go to the theater to watch a movie. Today, they can watch them at home and on an airplane. On cable TV, Netflix, and every streaming service in between.

The fact of the matter is that technology and innovation lead to new opportunities. The same can be said of our healthcare system.

There was a time when if you needed medical services, you had to go to a large brick and mortar hospital – that was your only choice. But today, people are increasingly choosing new healthcare distribution channels over your traditional hospital. Today, people are accessing healthcare through telemedicine providers, micro-hospitals, urgent care facilities, and expanded care opportunities with nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and others.

This legislative session, I urge the legislature to think outside the box when it comes to improving Mississippi’s healthcare system. Don’t simply cave under the pressure of Democrats and their allies in the media who are pushing for the expansion of Obamacare, welfare, and socialized medicine.

Instead, seek innovative free market solutions that disrupt traditional healthcare delivery models, increase competition, and lead to better health outcomes for Mississippians.

Do not settle for something that won’t solve the problem because it could potentially and only temporarily the liberal media’s target on your back.

You have my word that if you stand up to the left’s push for endless government-run healthcare, I will stand with you.

For as dire as national politics sometimes seem, there’s still a tremendous amount of hope in Mississippi.

There really are incredible things happening here. And I’m talking about far more than our state winning its second college baseball national championship in a row, as incredible as that was.

Last year, Mississippi led the nation to overturn Roe v. Wade – the greatest accomplishment in the conservative movement in my lifetime.

Long story short, more innocent children will now have the chance to be born.

There are future doctors who now have the chance to be born. There are future teachers that now have the chance to be born. There are future nurses, future linemen, and future truckers. There are future fathers and future mothers, friends and family, brothers and sisters. They all now have the chance at life.

And there may very well even be a life that was saved who, a few years from now, will stand up here and give his or her update on the State of our State. What a wonderful blessing that would be.

But the fact is that being pro-life is about more than just being anti-. We don’t just want to eliminate the taking of unborn children’s lives, we want to make it easier for parents to raise children and for mothers to give birth to happy and healthy kids.

Now some have said that too many children will be added to Mississippi’s population. I say what a wonderful problem to have. On this point I agree with Mother Teresa when she said, ‘How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.’

But I also recognize we are called to do more and to support these new moms and new babies.

And I want every element of our laws to reflect and facilitate this critical mission.

That’s why I’m also calling on the legislature to establish a New Pro-Life Agenda that helps make Mississippi the easiest place in the nation to raise a family.

Together, we can prove the country wrong just like we did in education. Just like we led the nation in overturning Roe, we can lead the nation in supporting mothers and babies.

This session, Mississippi should establish a childcare tax credit and allow Mississippi families to write off childcare supplies on state tax returns.

We should increase our support for pregnancy resource centers and thus help to care for expectant and new mothers, especially those who are struggling with poverty or isolation.

We should expand childcare opportunities by cutting red tape. There’s no reason that we should let government get in the way of parents accessing care for their children.

We should expand safe haven laws, so parents have every available opportunity to choose life.

We should reduce the existing adoption backlogs and make it easier and less expensive for parents to adopt kids into a loving forever home.

And we should update our child support laws so that fathers must support their children from the moment their life begins – at conception.

This is our New Pro-Life Agenda. As I’ve said before, it will not be easy, and it will not be free. But I know that together, we are going to get the job done and deliver the support Mississippi mothers and babies deserve.

My fellow Mississippians, it’s been quite the year for our state. We’ve had moments of triumph and moments of anguish. But through it all, we’ve emerged stronger, together.

We know where Mississippi has been, and we know where Mississippi is going. Regardless of the unfair stereotypes placed upon our state and her people, we know good things are happening here.

Is our state perfect? Of course not. But besides heaven, no place is.

We know what’s happening on the ground here. We know it because we are seeing it. Whether it’s the record investment or all-time low unemployment, the all-time high graduation rate or standing up to the radical left’s war on our values – Mississippi is winning, and our state is on the rise.

That’s why I urge all of you here today to stand with me and call out the lies when they are thrown at all of us.

We can never give into the cynics who seek to tear down our great state.

We can never give into Joe Biden and the national Democrats who seek to force feed us an unhealthy dose of progressivism because they view Mississippians as neanderthals.

And we can never give into those who want us to live in a perpetual state of self-condemnation.

My friends, I am proud to serve as Mississippi’s 65th governor but I’m even prouder to call myself a Mississippian.

The eyes of our state are turned to the future, and that’s why I will continue to reject those who would seek to divide and separate us. Instead, on behalf of all Mississippi, I am proud to pronounce once more that we are all Mississippians, committed to improving this home that we love.

We are blessed to live in a wonderful state. We are blessed to have wonderful neighbors. We are blessed by one common God who smiles down upon Mississippi.

I have no doubt that our future is brighter than ever before and that, together, we will continue to build this great state upwards.

God bless all of you. And may God continue to bless this great state that we all love, Mississippi.

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

Lumumba on bills aimed at Jackson: ‘It reminds me of apartheid’

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Lumumba on bills aimed at Jackson: ‘It reminds me of apartheid’

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba on Monday lambasted lawmakers’ ongoing attempts to strong-arm city leadership through legislation that would local control over judicial and drinking water systems.

In the current legislative session, lawmakers have introduced the following bills:

  • HB 1020, which would create a new court to oversee cases within Jackson’s Capital. Complex Improvement District with judges appointed by the state Supreme Court and prosecutors appointed by the state .
  • HB 696, which would expand the boundaries of the the district.
  • SB 2889, which would put the long-term control of Jackson’s drinking water system under a board mostly appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor.
  • SB 2338, which would prevent cities from charging for water based on property value, a plan Jackson’s new third-party manager is proposing as a way to lower the cost burden on poorer residents.

The mayor spoke to the pattern of recent attempts to remove control over issues in Jackson from the 83% Black, majority Democrat city, and put it in the hands of state leaders; all of Mississippi’s statewide elected officials are white Republicans.

“It reminds me of apartheid,” Lumumba said Monday. “They are looking to colonize Jackson, not only in terms of them putting their military force over Jackson, but also dictating who has province over decision-making.

“They put this military force over us, and we’re just supposed to pay taxes to the king.”

Lumumba also called out HB 370, which would allow voters to recall municipal elected officials. Critics of the bill argue it was aimed at removing Jackson leadership, although the bill’s author, Rep. Shanda Yates, said she didn’t introduce it with the city in mind.

The mayor has frequently criticized the role of state leaders over the past year. Last April, Lumumba called the “paternalistic” and “racist” after a dispute over the appropriation of federal funds from the . In their handling of the funds, lawmakers attached extra oversight over Jackson’s spending of infrastructure money that wasn’t required for other cities in the state.

Last fall, after a combination of and broken pumps shut down the capital city’s drinking water system, Gov. Tate Reeves announced that the state was taking over Jackson’s water operations. After both initially said that the city and state were working together, Reeves and Lumumba spent weeks launching public attacks against each other.

Following the U.S. Department of Justice’s November order to put the water system into the hands of a third-party manager, Reeves said it was “excellent ” that Lumumba would no longer have authority over the utility.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, left, and Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba discuss elements of a coordinated response with federal agencies, that they believe will help deal with the city’s long-standing water problems, during a Wednesday news briefing, Sept. 7, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The federal government recently appropriated $600 million to directly assist Jackson’s water system; that money is part of a total $814 million in federal funds that will go towards the city’s water and sewer projects.

Lumumba said Monday there has never been an investment like this before, referencing that Flint received $100 million in federal funds to aid its lead crisis. He said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann expressed doubts that Jackson could secure such funding without the state’s help.

“(Hosemann) said that I needed to look at a possible relationship with the state, because what did I think, Biden was going to write me a check?” Lumumba said. “I recently told (Hosemann): ‘I do, and he did it.'”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (left) and water system’s third-party administrator Ted Henifin, answer questions regarding the current state of the city’s water system during a town hall meeting held at Forest Hill High School, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Mayor hasn’t seen proposal yet, appointing new public works director

Asked about last week’s proposal from the city’s new water manager, Ted Henifin, Lumumba said he hasn’t yet reviewed the plan, and couldn’t speak to specific ideas in the plan, such as charging customers based on property values or creating a nonprofit to govern the system long term.

Lumumba did say the city was getting ready to announce a new interim public works director; the previous interim director, Jordan Hillman, is now working for Henifin’s organization, JXN Water.

The mayor said the city is hiring a recruiting firm to find a permanent director, and added that the new director will no longer be handling the city’s drinking water.

Asked if management of the drinking water system would remain with a separate entity long-term, Lumumba said “it’s too early to say.”

“I will say my interest is not just to (the water system) and operate it for the sake of running and operating it,” the mayor said.

Lumumba will host a town hall to discuss the latest around federal funding and Henifin’s role on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Forest Hill High School.

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

Bill Waller Jr. will not challenge Gov. Tate Reeves in 2023

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Bill Waller Jr. will not challenge Gov. Tate Reeves in 2023

Bill Waller Jr., the former chief justice of the who waged a strong 2019 primary challenge of Gov. Tate Reeves, will not again in 2023, he told Mississippi Today.

“After talking with my family and supporters, and after much prayer and soul searching, I have decided not to run for governor,” Waller told Mississippi Today in a short statement on Monday afternoon, just a couple days before the Feb. 1 qualifying deadline.

In early January, Waller had said he was “strongly considering” challenging Reeves in the 2023 Republican primary.

“I think there’s a critical need for a change of leadership at the top,” Waller said at the time. “In a lot of ways, the issues I ran on in 2019 are more dire, more pronounced now. So many people in this are hurting or frustrated, and the response (from the governor) just isn’t there. It’s undermining the fabric of this state.”

Reeves, who is in the final year in his first term as governor, signed qualifying papers for reelection and held a press conference at Mississippi GOP headquarters in early January.

He will, however, face John Witcher in the Republican primary. Witcher, the founder of anti- vaccine group, has gained a social media following among Mississippi conservatives who opposed many of Reeves’ COVID-19 policies.

“I will continue to fight for conservative beliefs and will continue to fight for the conservative values believe in,” Reeves said earlier this month when asked about potential 2023 challengers.

He repeated the old political adage that there are only two ways to run for office, “scared or unopposed.”

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

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Podcast: The wild, wild potential of 2023 elections

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Podcast: The wild, wild potential of 2023 elections

Mississippi Today’s team discusses how the 2023 governor’s race and lieutenant governor’s race could provide more than any statewide cycle in recent memory.

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

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Legal fight over abortion continues in Mississippi

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Legal fight over abortion continues in Mississippi

Recent legal wrangling over a 1998 ruling saying the Constitution provides a right to an highlights the uncertainty of Mississippi’s abortion ban.

On Friday the and Democracy Forward filed a motion saying an anti-abortion filed by a group conservative doctors should be thrown out.

The motion said the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not have standing to bring the case. The case was filed in November in Chancery Court.

In the case, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, on behalf of the doctors, is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn its 1998 ruling in Pro Choice Mississippi v. Fordice that said the state Constitution provides a right to an abortion.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said the group filing the case is an out-of-state organization that is “not suffering any injuries from the existence of this (Pro Mississippi v. Fordice) precedence. They don’t have a case that belongs in court.”

There are no abortion clinics in Mississippi and most view Mississippi as a state where most abortions are banned. But in reality, the state has been in a strange legal limbo since June when the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought by Mississippi overturned the national right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi already had laws in place banning most abortions in the state when Roe was overturned. But what state leaders did not account for was the 1998 state ruling saying the Mississippi Constitution granted the right to an abortion.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, arguing on behalf of its client, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, then the only abortion clinic in the state, contended that abortion should continue to be legal unless the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling was overturned by a new ruling from Mississippi’s highest court.

In an unusual ruling in early July, Chancery Judge Debbra Halford of Meadville, appointed to hear the case by the state Supreme Court, refused to block the laws banning abortions. One of her primary reasons for not blocking the laws is because she predicted the current state Supreme Court would reverse the ruling providing a right to abortion in the Mississippi Constitution.

The Mississippi Center for Justice appealed to the Supreme Court. But the state’s highest court refused to take up the case on an expedited schedule. Amid the uncertainty, closed and the Mississippi Center for Justice dropped the appeal.

But in November the conservative leaning Mississippi Center for Public Policy filed a lawsuit to renew the case, claiming that because of the uncertainty caused by the existence of the 1998 Supreme Court ruling doctors who chose not to perform abortions could face punishment.

In Friday’s motion the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward, both of which support abortion rights, said doctors face no penalties for not performing abortions in Mississippi and that the case should be dismissed.

The state already has intervened in the state. Mississippi Lynn Fitch argued that based on the fact that the chancery judge did not uphold the lawsuit by Jackson Women’s Health Organization that most abortions in the state are banned and the Pro Choice Mississippi v. Fordice ruling no longer is the law.

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

Future of Mississippi ballot initiative in hands of Senate Chairman Polk

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Future of Mississippi ballot initiative in hands of Senate Chairman Polk

House Constitution Chairman Fred Shanks said, based on conversations he has had with Senate leaders, that he anticipates the Senate passing a bill to revive Mississippi’s initiative process that allows voters to bypass the and place issues on the ballot.

Because he believes the Senate leaders will advance the initiative legislation, Shanks, R-Brandon, said he does not plan to take up a House proposal before Tuesday’s deadline. Last year, a bill died when House and Senate leaders couldn’t agree on details. Tuesday is the deadline to pass general bills and constitutional resolutions out of committee in the chamber where they originated.

It will take a constitutional resolution to amend the Constitution to revive the initiative process. Constitutional resolutions require a two-thirds vote of both chambers to pass the Legislature. Then the resolution must be approved by voters.

After discussions with Senate leaders, Shanks said he believes the Senate will pass a resolution out of committee before Tuesday. When that resolution passes the Senate, it will come to the House to be taken up.

“We’re optimistic we can get something done this year,” Shanks said.

While Shanks might be confident that a resolution to revive the initiative process will come out of Senate committee by Tuesday’s deadline, Senate Committee Chair John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, has not publicly made that commitment. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has referred the resolutions to revive the initiative process to the Accountability, Efficiency Transparency Committee chaired by Polk instead of the Constitution Committee chaired by Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg.

Polk has repeatedly said several proposals have been filed by senators to revive the initiative process and that he will make a decision on what to do with those resolutions before Tuesday’s deadline. He did say recently he anticipates his committee meeting twice on Tuesday.

The initiative process was struck down in 2021 at the same time the initiative that was approved by voters in November 2020 was ruled invalid by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled the process unconstitutional because the signatures were required to be collected equally from five congressional districts that existed in 1990 even though the state lost a congressional seat after the 2000 census,

The action marked the first time in the modern era that the judiciary in any state had struck down an entire initiative process, according to Caroline Avakian, director of strategic communications for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a national, pro-initiative nonprofit.

While the only time in the modern era, the state Supreme Court landmark decision is not the only time a ballot initiative process has been ruled invalid by the judiciary. In the 1920s the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a previous initiative process approved by state voters. After that 1920s ruling, it was not restored until the early 1990s.

In the 2022 session, the House and Senate could not agree on the number of signatures of registered voters that should be required to place an issue on the ballot. The House wanted the number of signatures to be the same as it was in the proposal that was struck down by the Supreme Court – 12% of the total from the last gubernatorial election or about 100,000 signatures. Polk and Hosemann wanted to more than double the signatures required.

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

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Isabelle Taft recognized by Families as Allies for her accountability reporting

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Isabelle Taft recognized by Families as Allies for her accountability reporting

Mississippi Today reporter Isabelle Taft was honored by Families as Allies Monday for her in-depth reporting on Mississippi’s mental health system.

Isabelle Taft is a reporter and member of the Community Health Team at Mississippi Today, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.

Families as Allies is a statewide nonprofit that advocates for children with behavioral health challenges and their families. Mississippi Today attended a ceremony for honorees who exemplified one of the organization’s core values: valuing every child and family, excellence, partnership and accountability. Taft was awarded the Tessie Schweitzer Award for Accountability for her reporting on mental health.

“We especially appreciate her commitment to clearly explaining developments and processes that can be confusing and conveying the real-world struggles of people with mental illness and their families,” Families as Allies said in a press release.

In the last year, Taft dove into complicated stories about Mississippi’s mental health system. She detailed how individuals and families with mental health issues were asking lawmakers to ensure they get input on how federal funds are spent. She closely covered the state’s ongoing mental health lawsuit. She shared difficult experiences of a Hattiesburg family who struggled with the state’s civil commitment process.

“Reporting on mental health in Mississippi can be challenging because it involves complicated systems that don’t always seem to work together, with high stakes and serious consequences for real people seeking help,” said Taft. “Families As Allies helps navigate those systems, and their staff have also helped me develop an understanding of the ’s mental health services and challenges. I’m grateful to them for this recognition and to everyone who has shared their time and insights with me as I reported on mental health over the last year.”

Other honorees included Dr. Michael Hogan, Imari McDonald, and Rep. Kevin Felcher.

“Mississippi is lucky to have Isabelle reporting on its mental health institutions,” said Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor. “She is a fair and thorough reporter, and people here deserve to get contextual and truthful information about what’s going on in our state’s mental health system, which has been the subject of a federal for the past six years.”

Taft joined Mississippi Today last year as a member of the community health team covering , maternal and infant health, mental health and the operations of the state Division of .

This month, she and Mississippi Today were selected as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, and Taft will spend the next year in collaboration with the award-winning, nonprofit investigative newsroom on a special project.

Read Taft’s reporting here.

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

Advocates say licensed midwives could help Mississippi’s maternity care desert. Bills appear dead

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Advocates say licensed midwives could help Mississippi’s maternity care desert. Bills appear dead

Advocates say pending legislation on midwifery could help alleviate Mississippi’s lack of maternity and protect mothers and babies from those practicing without proper training.

But Senate Bill 2793 and House Bill 1081 are likely going to die without a vote in committee this session, as legislative leaders say they need more time to study the issue.

More than half of Mississippi’s 82 counties are considered “maternity care deserts,” with no hospitals providing obstetric care and no OB-GYNs. Advocates say trained midwives could help this shortage of care for low-risk pregnancies, but say the should license and regulate them.

With the overturning of and a ban on abortions in Mississippi, advocates say trained midwives could help with the expected increase of thousands of deliveries a year for a health care system that is already woefully inadequate.

Mississippi is one of 14 states that does not regulate or license direct-entry midwives, those who practice without first becoming a nurse. Certified nurse midwives in the state are licensed as advanced practice registered nurses. There are only 26 certified nurse midwives in Mississippi, and only a few deliver babies, because only three hospitals allow them to.

Mississippi prevents free-standing, midwife-led clinics for low-risk births and prohibits certified nurse midwives from performing in-home births – both of which are popular in other states and in Europe. More mothers want personalized care at home or in a small clinic as opposed to giving birth in a larger hospital, and want natural birth instead of induced labor or non-necessary C-section surgeries for delivery that have become more and more common in hospitals.

But Mississippi’s lack of licensure or regulation also results in untrained or poorly trained people claiming to be midwives providing substandard – or dangerous – care to mothers and newborns at home.

“Anybody can say, ‘I’m a midwife,’ and nobody can stop them,” said Getty Israel, founder of Sisters in Birth, a nonprofit that pairs community health workers with low-income women, primarily beneficiaries, to provide support during and after their pregnancies. Israel hopes to open Mississippi’s first birth center. Such centers in other states serve women with low-risk pregnancies, and provide compromise between hospital births and home births.

READ MORE: Bills to watch in the 2023 Mississippi legislative session

Israel said she supports midwifery and wants to see it become a viable alternative in Mississippi, but believes they should be state regulated and licensed.

Erin Raftery is with Better Birth Mississippi, a group advocating for the midwifery legislation. The group says, “Community-based midwifery is a key solution to the challenges faced by the maternity care system in Mississippi.” Trained midwives could help with health care shortages caused by closure of rural hospitals and help save Medicaid money by “minimizing the use of costly, ineffective interventions.”

“The goal of these bills is accountability,” Raftery said. “… This would provide protection for patients, and for midwives. This would also hopefully open the door for insurance coverage for midwife services, and help with the maternity desert.”

Raftery said her group knows of at least one infant in Mississippi overseen by an unlicensed midwife, and that a similar instance a decade or so ago had also prompted proposed legislation. Raftery said licensure would help protect patients from the “select few” midwives practicing without training.

Senate Medicaid Chairman Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, authored the Senate midwife bill.

“I think we need to look at all our opportunities for health care in Mississippi,” Blackwell said. “We are last, and we won’t change. We need to look at all the other states that are changing the way they do things.”

Both Blackwell’s bill and a mirror one authored by Rep. Dana McLean, R-Columbus, would create a state board of licensed midwifery.

“There are community midwives already practicing in this state, and this would help legitimize them, provide some oversight, and I think our primary responsibility is to make sure those that are practicing are doing so with some standard of care and level of experience,” McLean said. “Safety for moms and babies is the first priority. But I think there’s also an issue of allowing for reimbursement for Medicaid and private insurance. They do require some sort of certification or licensure before they would reimburse for these services.

“Rural areas are closing maternity wards, and if this is an option that can help for low-risk births, then we need to explore that.”

But many physicians and hospital groups say child delivery should be overseen by trained physicians in hospital settings. Beyond these arguments, there has been a push by conservative groups and GOP lawmakers to reduce government agencies, boards and regulations, not create new licensing and a new regulatory board.

Nurse practitioners have also struggled for more autonomy and expanded scope of practice in Mississippi – with limited legislative success – saying they, too, could help with the state’s shortage of doctors and health services.

Israel said doctors and hospitals treat child birth as a “cash cow,” and that their lobbyists and influence at the Capitol prevent “progressive, evidence-based health care.”

The House and Senate bills are now in each chamber’s public health committee, facing a deadline for committee passage next week. That passage this year, or even a vote in committee, unlikely days before the deadline.

House Public Health Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, asked Wednesday about the midwifery bill pending in his committee, said he was unaware of it.

“I’ll go look at it,” Mims said. “I will read it. I will go look at it. Thank you, though.”

Raftery said her group had met with Mims and his committee vice chair only a couple of weeks ago and outlined the bill. She said Mims told her he would be opposed because he’s against new government boards and licensing.

Senate Public Health Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he doubts he will bring the bill up for a vote in his committee this year.

“It’s sort of late in the session, and I really wasn’t aware of this legislation before we got here,” said Senate Public Health Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “I don’t think the committee would have time to fully study this … I’ve met with two different midwife groups, and I try to listen to people. I learned that at least one group will assign someone to an individual, and they will stay with that person, work with them, throughout their pregnancy and after delivery, and be there for them to discuss other health care issues. I think that is a very good idea, that could perhaps carry over into other health care services, and I am interested in learning more.

“I am neither opposed to nor supportive (of the midwifery legislation), but I have an open mind,” Bryan said.

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

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Pressure grows for lawmakers to pass postpartum Medicaid extension

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Pressure grows for lawmakers to pass postpartum Medicaid extension

As the first major legislative deadline of 2023 nears, legislative leaders face growing pressure to extend coverage for moms on from two months to one year.

After Speaker of the House Philip Gunn killed the effort last year, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, mothers across the and health care professionals are ratcheting up the conversation at the Capitol this session about the benefits of the bill for Mississippi mothers and children. Mississippi, as it has for many years in a row, has the highest infant mortality rate and among the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation.

Several lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate — filed bills early this year to extend the Medicaid coverage to one year. This would put Mississippi on the same page as 29 other states, including most of the Southeast. Eight additional states are currently considering full extended coverage or a limited extension of coverage.

The Senate last year overwhelmingly passed the legislation and has since held hearings where experts and physicians spoke to its positive impact on women and babies’ health. Several senators filed bills early this year to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he would usher it through his chamber.

And in the House, Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, filed a bill this year to extend the coverage. Several of her Republican colleagues, including Rep. Rob Roberson, R-Starkville, co-authored the bill.

“I really think that this is a pro-family position and certainly a pro-life position to take care of these moms who are carrying and delivering and bringing these babies into the world,” McGee said. “Healthy moms equal healthy babies. They go hand in hand, so I really believe it’s currently the most impactful thing we can do for women and children.”

Roberson, who authored the main postpartum bill last year that the House never had the opportunity to vote on, also cited being pro-life as a reason he fully supports the extension.

“I feel like if you’re pro-life, then this is a pro-life issue,” Robertson said. “You support the baby and the mother for as long as we can, and obviously we have financial constraints that enter into this, but I do think in the long it would be less expensive and more conducive to the health of that child and that mother.”

But that momentum could halt, as it did last year, at the House dais, where Gunn wields immense power. He could, as he did last year, block the issue from ever coming up for a full vote.

Gunn spoke to Mississippi Today this week about his stance on the proposal. He said he believes the Mississippi Division of Medicaid should act — not the — to extend the coverage.

“My point is, any time I can call an agency and say, ‘Fix this by regulation, it doesn’t take legislation,’ that’s the best way to do it,” Gunn told Mississippi Today on Monday. “Legislation is the hardest way to get it done. If the Division of Medicaid felt like it was a good idea, they could’ve submitted a request a year ago and I believe CMS would grant it in a heartbeat.”

The Division of Medicaid has not taken a stance on extending postpartum coverage. But even a committee appointed by Republican leaders, including Gunn, to advise on Medicaid policy recommended that the Legislature extend postpartum coverage.

Dr. David Reeves, a pediatrician from the Gulf Coast whom Gunn appointed to the committee tasked by law to advise and make recommendations to the agency, penned a letter to state leaders, including Gunn, earlier this year urging them to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months. 

“I see moms that lost postnatal care after a few months and ended up pregnant again, or have postpartum depression and couldn’t get treatment,” Reeves told Mississippi Today. “A lot of women do have complications during pregnancy, and they need follow up (care) that will take more than two months — like for gestational diabetes, hypertension … These things need continued coverage.”

Gunn said he had not seen Dr. Reeves’ letter. The Division of Medicaid, which is housed under the governor’s office, did not respond to questions Mississippi Today sent over a five-day period. Medicaid Executive Director Drew Snyder did not return text messages to his personal cell phone about the issue.

Staffers for Gov. Tate Reeves, who oversees the Division of Medicaid and appointed Snyder, also ignored questions from Mississippi Today on the topic of extending postpartum coverage.

In the Mississippi Today interview this week, Gunn said he has asked the Division of Medicaid for data on how continuous coverage during the federal public health emergency impacted health outcomes for women and babies, but he has not received it. Trey Dellinger, Gunn’s chief of staff, told Mississippi Today he wanted to see data that covers whether there was “any actual change in maternal or infant mortality.”

Experts say Gunn’s office hasn’t seen that data because it does not exist yet.

“The research awards for … what the full impact of the postpartum coverage extension has been — those were just awarded, and they’re five year grants,” said Maggie Clark, senior state health policy analyst for Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “We’re not going to know the impact of this (extended coverage during the Public Health Emergency) nationally and definitely at the state level for many years.”

In Mississippi, for example, the latest maternal mortality data available is for the time period of 2013-2016. The Health Department has said it plans to release a report for 2017 through 2019 soon.

Clark made another point about making decisions around postpartum based solely on mortality numbers.

“The goal of extending postpartum coverage is to support maternal health. There’s a lot more to maternal health than, ‘Did you die?’” she said. “That’s just the absolute bare minimum.”

A recent Texas study, however, showed postpartum women with continuous coverage used twice as many postpartum services, up to 10 times as many preventive, contraceptive and mental health services, and 37% fewer services related to what’s called “short interval pregnancies” within the first year postpartum to before continuous coverage was in place.

Short interval pregnancies are defined as becoming pregnant within six months after giving birth – and they are associated with a higher risk for preterm birth. For mothers over 35 with short interval pregnancies, there’s an increased risk of and serious illness. 

Dellinger, Gunn’s chief of staff, said they had reviewed that study but concluded it was not the data they needed to see.

“The Texas study you sent us, it showed there was increased utilization of health care services,” Dellinger said. “But what it didn’t cover was whether there was any improvement in outcomes.”

But according to Clark, the Texas study is “one of the only, if not the only” such study. She also pointed out the time frame researchers looked at was early in the pandemic (March to December 2020) — when health care utilization as a whole was down.

A reduction in short interval pregnancies, Clark said, is a positive health outcome.

The Texas study also showed an increase in the use of mental health and substance use services. Data shows mental health conditions (including substance use disorder) are the leading underlying cause in maternal mortality.

“The Texas study showing increases in services for mental health and substance use disorder is significant, because these conditions are drivers of maternal mortality,” said Clark.

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

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