Trust Fund

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

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

If Mississippi’s political leaders had stuck to their plan, the state 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-Mississippi 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 Legislature 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 appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Governor Reeves Signs Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Act

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-04-19 14:26:19

JACKSON, Miss. – Governor Tate Reeves today signed House Bill 606, the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Act, into law.

The legislation creates the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship , and the legislature has appropriated $10 million for the fund.

“Mississippi is the most beautiful state in the nation. From our rivers and forests to our farmlands and coastlines, we have been abundantly blessed by the Lord with a…

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After another major deadline at the Capitol, here’s what bills survived and died

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After another major deadline at the Capitol, here’s what bills survived and died

Tuesday, March 1, was the deadline for committees in the House and Senate to pass out general law bills that originated in the other chamber — a major “killing deadline” that resulted in hundreds of bills dying with or without a committee vote.

The next major deadline for the Legislature is March 9, for the full chambers to take action on the other chamber’s general bills. Most spending and tax bills face later deadlines than general bills. Although bills might have died, there is a possibility some might be revived by inserting language through the amendment process into bills that remain alive.

The 2022 Mississippi legislative session began Jan. 4 and is scheduled to end on April 3.

Here’s a look at general bills that lived or died with Tuesday night’s deadline:

ALIVE

House Bill 530: Teacher pay raise. After a political game of cat-and-mouse, the House killed the Senate’s teacher pay bill on deadline and the Senate, after much fear and loathing, passed the House bill — amended with its own language — to keep a teacher raise alive. Either version would be the largest teacher pay raise in recent history, at more than $200 million.

HB 770 and SB 2451: Equal pay bills. Both bills survived the March 1 deadline. Mississippi is the last state to not provide state legal recourse for employees paid less for the same work based on sex. However, women’s equal pay groups have criticized both the House and Senate bills as having glaring flaws and called for them to be amended. The Senate also amended the House equal pay bill to keep a proposal to reform divorce laws alive.

READ MORE: Will Mississippi continue to short-change women on equal pay?

SB 2113: Prohibiting teaching of . This bill has divided lawmakers along racial and party lines. Supporters say it would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in kindergarten through 12th grade schools and on the university level. State Department of Education officials have said critical race theory, which strives to explore the impact of racial discrimination on various aspects of society, is not being taught in the . Some say the bill is so vague that it is not clear what the impact of the legislation would be.

READ MORE: House committee advances anti critical race theory bill along racial lines

HC 39: Reviving the state’s initiative process. This proposal would revive the process where citizens can bypass the legislative process and place issues on the ballot for voters to decide. The legislation is needed because the state Supreme Court ruled the initiative process invalid because of a technicality in May 2021.

HB 606: Creating an outdoor stewardship . This measure, a source of debate between House and Senate for two years, would create a conservation fund to use state dollars to draw down federal wildlife conservation grants — as many other states do. The Senate opposes the House’s plan to use diversion of sales taxes from sporting goods to fund it, and stripped that language and said the Legislature would fund it each year. Proponents of the measure say such a fund needs a steady stream of revenue.

SB 2164: Creating a standalone Department of . It would be its own department instead of a division within the Mississippi Development Authority. It would also create the Mississippi Department of Tourism Fund and divert a portion of sales tax revenue collected from restaurants and hotels there instead of to MDA.

SB 2273: Allowing employers to vouch for people on parole, The bill allows employs of people convicted of crimes to provide reports to probation officers to prevent the need for the employee to leave work to report to a probation officer.

HB 1029: Increasing broadband access. This bill provides grants for entities willing to expand broadband in rural areas.

HB 1367: Removing racist language from property deeds. This bill provides property owners an easy, inexpensive way to go to chancery court to remove old language found in property deeds that is no longer enforceable and offensive. Language, for instance, forbidding Black families from owning a piece of property can be found in deeds.

DEAD

SB 2643: Divorce law reform. This measure would have brought Mississippi a step closer to having a unilateral no-fault divorce like most other states. Mississippi’s antiquated divorce laws make getting a divorce difficult and expensive, often allows one spouse to delay a divorce for years and leads to spouses and children being trapped in bad family situations. The bill died in House committee without a vote. But the bill’s author, Sen. Brice Wiggins, said the divorce language was inserted into a House equal pay bill that is still alive.

READ MORE: Mississippi divorce laws are irrevocably broken. This Senate bill would help.

SB 2634: TANF savings accounts. This bill would have provided matching money to help recipients of welfare benefits create savings accounts, and the savings would not affect their eligibility for TANF benefits. The goal of the program, similar to ones most other states have, is to help recipients become financially stable and get off TANF rolls.

SB 2504: Creating state parks division. This measure would have made a state parks division of the , , with its own director. Advocates say the state’s dilapidated, ill-maintained parks have languished under MDWFP for years.

HB 630: Restoring right to vote. This bill would have clarified people whose felony conviction is expunged under existing law would be eligible to vote.

SB 2261: “Buddy’s Law.” This law, named after a dog who barely survived being severely burned and tortured by a 12-year-old in Mississippi. It would require children who torture dogs or cats to receive psychological evaluation, counseling and treatment.

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

Full text: Gov. Tate Reeves’ 2022 state-of-the-state

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Full text: Gov. Tate Reeves’ 2022 state-of-the-state

Below is the full text of Gov. Tate Reeves’ state-of-the-state address outside the Capitol on Tuesday:

“Thank you, Lieutenant Governor Hosemann and Speaker Gunn.

To the members of the legislature and other elected officials – thank you. Thank you for your commitment to bettering our state. Thank you for your dedication to our people.

Together, we can do great things. I look forward to partnering with you this session to continue making Mississippi the best state in the nation to live, to work, and to raise a family.

I would also be remiss if I did not thank the person who enables me to stand here in the first place. Someone who always puts others before herself. Someone who is an amazing ambassador for our state – our great First Lady. Elee, thank you for everything you do for me and for Mississippi. I could not ask for a better partner and Mississippi could not ask for a better First Lady.

Mississippi has weathered great storms in the last two years. We have bent but we did not break. We dug deep and we stood tall. We got through it all because we decided to get through it all together.

That is why, after recession and pandemic and hurricanes and tornadoes, I can still stand before you tonight and declare, without reservation, and without qualification, that the state of our state is not only strong, but stronger than it has ever been.

I would like to start with what I consider to be the crowning achievement of Mississippi’s ride through the pandemic and recession – our educators.

It is the most basic promise a state government makes to its people. We tell every young parent: we will be your partner in educating your child. Together, we will make sure that if they work hard, they will learn what they need to know.

It is a solemn promise and one that our state must fulfill – and it is a promise that I am determined to fulfill.

We all know that there are many who enjoy criticizing Mississippi. They trash our way of life, they trash our institutions, and they frequently deride our education.

And at times in our past, they might have been at least a little bit right about our educational system. But Mississippi’s schools have made a major turnaround – in fact, a turnaround of historic proportions.

When you look at the data, it looks like a miracle. But it is not a miracle. It is the product of dedication of our teachers, a result of the intelligence of our people, and conservative, common-sense reforms enacted by many of us here today. And most importantly, it is achievement that was earned by Mississippi students.

Mississippi’s students with disabilities have seen a graduation rate that has doubled over the last eight years. Overall, our graduation rate is now at an all-time high at 87.7 percent. That’s, by the way, better than the national average. And while the graduation rate is at an all-time high, the dropout rate is at an all-time low of just 8.8 percent.

Our passing rate on Advanced Placement exams is also at an all-time high.

The number of students who completed career and technical courses has shot up by 36 percent since 2015.

Mississippi students are learning more, achieving more, and they are more prepared for a prosperous life.

You all know how fond I am of data. I love it. I swim in it. It’s what I do for fun – and yes, I realize how uncool that makes me. In fact, just ask my teenage daughters if you have any doubt about how uncool I am.

But this is not merely data on a page. These numbers are real people. These are real lives that have been transformed – and family trajectories that have been forever altered.

The Mississippi kids who have out-performed previous generations in the classroom are going to make our state better as adults. We are talking about generational change in careers and horizons – and it is happening in every corner of Mississippi.

I attribute these educational gains to three important factors. First, the parents and guardians of our students. Without you investing in your children’s educations, without you pushing them to be their very best, none of these gains would be possible.

It all starts and ends with parents. Mississippi schools and teachers answer to parents. They are paid for by you. They work for you.

It is shocking to me, that in some corners of this country, the basic right of parents to determine their child’s education is ignored. We must strive to be better than that. We recognize that no classroom can replace a parent’s care. Your voice should not just be heard, it should be sought. It should reign. All public servants answer to the people. In education, we answer to the parents and as long as I’m governor, we always will.

We’ve also seen these historic gains because of the conservative and effective education reforms we’ve implemented over the last decade.

Expect more and you will get more. That is a lesson Mississippi has had to learn.

The rigorous reading standards that we put in place have transformed lives and the data prove it.

Since those standards were created, we’ve experienced incredible gains in fourth grade reading. Just a few months ago The Economist noted, Mississippi’s fourth graders rose 20 places – from 49th to 29th – on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and in 2019 we were the “only state in the nation to improve its scores.”

Now, I want to repeat that. In 2019, Mississippi was the only state in the nation to improve our scores. The only state. Out of 50, we were the very best at improving reading scores.

Students of all backgrounds are having academic success in Mississippi. According to 2019 NAEP results, our students living in poverty are outperforming their peers nationally. Black, white, and Hispanic students from low-income households achieved higher scores than the national average in all four NAEP subjects.

For decades we were at the bottom, but now we are not. It takes time to go from last to first. But Mississippi kids are on the move, and it is revitalizing our state’s future.

Now, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, all of you should be flattered. Again, according to The Economist – and this is a direct quote – “Many states have noticed Mississippi’s success and have passed similar legislation.”

When is the last time you heard that? From to Iuka and from Natchez to Tunica, every single person in Mississippi should be proud.

These education reforms and the gains they have wrought, is what happens when Republicans and Democrats come together. When we set aside our differences, and focus on what matters most, there is no limit to what Mississippians can achieve.

That is why I am asking the legislature to keep it up, and to invest in math coaches, just as we did for reading, to ensure that we continue to see improved results.

The final vital factor in our education gains is our teachers. Unlike other states throughout the pandemic, most of Mississippi’s teachers stepped up. They did not cower in fear and refuse to come into the classroom. In fact, it was just the opposite. While other states resorted to Zoom for years on end, Mississippi’s teachers took to the chalkboard. When teachers in other states said, “no we won’t,” Mississippi’s teachers said, “yes we will.”

They did not walk out, they stepped up. Now I want you to stand up for them. I would like for everyone to take just a moment and give our teachers the applause they deserve.

Thank you.

As the great Mississippian B.B. King once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

Those who pushed long-term school closures would have taken that opportunity away from our children. In other states, students remained out of the classroom and locked away from their teachers and their peers.

But we chose to not let that happen. Teachers in Mississippi did not, and will not, back down amid this unprecedented educational battle between a virus and a child’s right to learn.

That is why we must give our teachers the pay raise they deserve.

Y’all know that I am a conservative. Many of you are too. As conservatives, we believe in rewarding hard work and success. There is no doubt that Mississippi teachers fit that mold.

I’m confident that in this session, working together, we will get a significant teacher pay raise done. It is my number one priority. Credit goes to where credit is due and in , Mississippi teachers deserve the credit.

There is one cloud on the horizon for our schools and it’s one that we need to address.

Across the country, there is a looming threat in too many schools. It is propaganda that seeks to divide us. It’s what’s called . It doesn’t really matter what you call it. And I’m not interested in semantics. I’m interested in the integrity of our civic education. In too many schools in other states, they teach the lie that America is inherently racist. They teach students that by virtue of the color of your skin you are inherently a victim or oppressor. They teach this for a purpose.

It is designed to allow a small group of idealogues to pose as saviors—false heroes. It is arrogance and ambition, masquerading as education. When you are a victim by birth, only their generosity can save you. When you are an oppressor by birth, only your silent cooperation with their radical worldview can sanctify you.

There is no country on this earth without sin in its past. That is because there is no person on this earth without sin. Sin is inherent in the human condition. Injustice is still too present today. We must teach that truth. We must learn from our history.

But we can also proudly teach that America is the first nation in history to be born of ideals—not just blood and soil. We are not a nation created by a tribe, but a melting pot of people committed to common purpose.

We work to live up to those ideals every single day. Yes, sometimes, we fall short. But then we get up. We keep stretching towards that promise, enshrined in our founding documents: that all Americans are created equal with rights bestowed by their creator.

With the radical founding of America, we set the world on a course towards greater prosperity and freedom. Racism is not unique to America. Injustice is not unique to America. It is endemic in humanity because humanity is sinful. But the American notion that God grants rights that no one can take away – that notion is still transforming the entire planet.

When we teach American children to fear one another because of their skin, we reverse the great trend towards achieving our American dream. The promise of America is replaced with a vicious lie: that you are doomed to failure or evil based on your race. We must stop this trend in its tracks, and we can do our part in Mississippi.

Today, I am calling on the State Board of Education to adopt the values that combat critical race theory in their educational efforts. To affirm that Mississippi’s public educators will not indoctrinate students in ideology that insists this country, or this state, are inherently racist. We will not teach that your race determines your status as a victim or oppressor. No school district shall teach that one race is inherently superior or that an individual is unconsciously or inherently racist because of how they are born. No child will be divided or humiliated because of their race. We will strive for equality, and our education will support that aspiration.

This is an important common step we can take to ensure that Mississippi is committed to equality. Honesty about our past, and bold and optimistic determination about our future.

The legislature can bolster that effort by passing legislation to this effect. We will teach all of our history — good and bad. And that will lead to a brighter future. I know that our teachers can and will lead the way and I ask the legislature to set down that path.

These investments in our schools are not a pipe dream.

We can afford them. We can afford them in large part, because of our economic resilience.

Mississippi continues to be in the best fiscal shape and the best financial shape in its history. Mississippi ended the year a billion dollars over revenue estimates.

This was not an .

We kept our businesses open and helped ensure Mississippians could continue putting food on their table. And they kept working. Bravely and calmly and rationally, they put on their boots, they showed up for work, and our state is better for it.

We also refuse to incentivize the opposite. Mississippi was one of the first states to end the massive pandemic unemployment benefits, because we knew we needed to return to meaningful work. The results are clear: 

In November, Mississippi’s weekly unemployment claims reached their lowest point since 2018. That’s because, in Mississippi, jobs are plentiful. In the four months after we announced the ending of the pandemic unemployment benefits, employers hired at a pace nearly 60 percent faster than before the announcement. In the month of June alone, Mississippi’s businesses hired more than 72,000 workers. That’s more than any other month in state history.

While we are proud of how we weathered the economic storm, survival is simply not enough.

We should never be satisfied until every Mississippian has access to the best jobs, skills, and upward mobility needed to better themselves and their families.

That’s why one of my top priorities is to continue investing in our people. To continue investing in workforce and skills training Mississippians need to thrive in today’s .

I said in my first address, upon taking this office, that at the end of my time as governor we will measure our success in the wages of our workers. We don’t just want people to have any job. We want them to have a career. A family-supporting career that gives them not just a paycheck, but joy.

One of the things we should all be able to agree on, is that together, we passed one of the most consequential pieces of workforce development legislation in Mississippi’s history. When we created Accelerate Mississippi, we set our state up to better prepare Mississippians for the jobs of the next 50 years, not the jobs of the last 50 years. Through that legislation, we were able to streamline our workforce development efforts to ensure we have a clear strategy – a strategy that will meet the needs of employers and fill the vacancies for jobs that offer above average wages.

To date, we have awarded over $11.5 million in RESTORE Act funds towards high-value workforce development programs. Additionally, Accelerate has awarded almost $12 million in grants to get more people into good careers.

Careers like commercial trucking, advanced manufacturing, welding, utility line working, and fiber. They pay well and they offer security.

Doing things the right way to build a skilled labor pool takes time. Companies realize this and so should we. Our work is just beginning. Months, and in some cases years, for people to acquire the skills they need to obtain these high-paying jobs.

The time is now to continue building the pipeline. In my most recent Executive Budget Recommendation I proposed allocating $130 million in funds to support this effort. I believe that if we make this investment, Mississippi will develop that workforce of the future and set up our state for success for years to come.

We also know that for Mississippi to grow, we must attract more economic activity. We need to be bold. We need to attract the kind of work that creates wealth for all Mississippians.

First, we need to take care of the basics. We have a historic opportunity to invest in our core infrastructure – to take nearly $2 billion of federal money and put it into real, transformative projects.

I want to echo and appreciate the sentiment from Lieutenant Governor Hosemann: We must stay focused on those investments that will have an impact not for one or two years, but for one or two generations. I whole-heartedly support his plan to put the bulk of that money into local infrastructure projects that can put those concerns behind us for years.

We also need to consider how to attract those companies and economic projects that transform communities—create generational wealth and lift families out of poverty.

This does not just happen one project at a time. It takes a bold vision that lasts forever. The heart of that vision is the elimination of the state’s income tax.

By eliminating the income tax, we can put ourselves in a position to stand out. We can win those projects. We can throw out the welcome mat for the dreamers and the visionaries. We can have more money circulating in our economy. And it can lead to more wealth for all Mississippians.

I am begging Mississippi legislators to be bold. Give us another arrow in our quiver to attract more capital and to continue to transform our economy.

When someone in California or Illinois or even Louisiana decides to start their own business, let’s make them consider doing it right here in Mississippi. Let’s tell them that they are guaranteed to keep more of the first dollar of profit they earn if they come to our state.

The only way to make Mississippi a magnet for the entrepreneurs of our nation is to show them our unmatched culture – married to an unbeatable tax code.

I know that many of you have already demonstrated an appetite for such boldness, and I want to thank you. In the House, Republicans and Democrats voted overwhelmingly for their chamber’s bipartisan tax plan, which would eliminate the income tax. Speaker Gunn and Chairman Lamar, thank you for your hard work and your commitment to this ongoing effort. If we can eliminate the income tax, we will achieve an historic victory for this state. We can become a place that money flows more freely, and all Mississippians will benefit.

Please do not let this moment pass without achieving something big. We can invest in our workers, water, and workforce. We can attract more wealth that can transform our economic potential. We can grow this great state to achieve what we all know we are capable of. That should be our ambition throughout this session.

We are governing in a time of plenty. Good decisions have brought us a great harvest.

If we do not lead boldly, when this time of great resources passes, I believe we will look back with regret. We have done the hard work to secure our fiscal situation. Now let us return that largesse to the people and unleash Mississippi’s economy.

We know that our economic situation would not be so secure if it were not for our handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have lost many Mississippians to this virus. And we mourn their loss every day.

We also know we cannot lock ourselves away behind screens and live in fear. We choose to protect ourselves as we see fit. We choose to reject panic and embrace a life worth living.

And here in Mississippi, we realize that your life is a gift from God, and it is sacred. That comes straight from His word, which reads in Deuteronomy: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.”

In this time of fear, there are many who have suffered from despair. They have wondered if their lives are worth keeping. I want to tell all of you—anyone who needs to hear it—that you are loved. You are valued. Your life has purpose and your life has meaning. Your state needs you. Even if you don’t know it, your life is a blessing to others. We are glad that you are here, living and with us.

I pray for the same protection over those who are most vulnerable. Those who need our protection more than any other. Those innocent Mississippi children whose lives are precious. I pray every one of them can be regarded with the same basic respect. That most core human right: the right to life. The right of these children not to be killed before having the chance to be heard.

Mississippians are leading the charge to defend those children. Mississippi and the Supreme Court’s landmark case is on a path to preserving millions of lives for generations to come. There is no excuse for America’s laws to be closer to the Chinese communists than the rest of the western world.

If we are successful before the Supreme Court, our work will not be done. We must acknowledge and champion the fact that being pro-life is about more than being anti-abortion. We should be doing everything in our power to make Mississippi the most family-oriented state in the country. We should be doing everything in our power to make Mississippi the safest and most supportive state in the country for mothers. And we should be doing everything in our power to promote a culture of life.

In the coming months, we will be promoting plans to further protect mothers in our state. To ensure that they don’t just receive the basics— that they get the best possible care during their pregnancy.

We will work to make it even easier to adopt a Mississippi child into a forever home. We will go further than preventing abortion.

I have been proud to push for laws that restrict abortion and protect innocent life. But I do not pretend that those laws mean the work for life is done.

We will lead in the effort to be pro-life in every sense of the word. It is vitally important, and I will be asking all of our legislative allies to commit to that work together.

Another area where our collaboration is going to be key, is improving Mississippi’s corrections system. Two years ago, as I took office, we were facing prison riots that resulted in serious violence.

To address the issues in the system, we needed a cultural reset. To ensure that we took control and took proper care of those who were serving time. To preserve the safety of our citizens, we needed to stem the rising tide of violence.

I am proud to say that culture overhaul is happening. The system is different than it was two years ago. We are making incredible progress. Under the leadership of Commissioner Cain, we are hiring more guards. We are combatting gang violence. We are turning the tide and we are taking control.

Time in prison often leads to despair. When you have a lack of hope, you don’t just serve your time. You commit to a life of . And instead of returning to society, having taken your discipline, the cycle of violence continues. The inmate returns.

We can break that cycle, for hundreds of inmates, and that will lead us to a safer state. We are committed to offering hope of a better life. That begins with opportunity. Today, in state prisons, we are working hard to offer training and meaningful work. That can not only fill the days, it can set an offender up for a peaceful life on the outside.

Just last month, Commissioner Cain unveiled a mobile welding training center that will help train inmates for a career in welding, post-release. The mobile welding training center – which by the way was not paid for with taxpayer funds – can train 32 inmates at a time and will rotate between prisons every 90 days. At the end of the program, trainees who complete it will receive a certification that they can use to find a job.

But that’s not the only program we’re leveraging to train inmates. For example, the Automotive Service Excellence Certification, where inmates can learn to work on car motors and small engines. Or the National Center for Construction Education and Research Certification, which prepares enrollees in a variety of skills that will help translate to jobs in the construction industry. These programs work, and we need more of them.

Now, some of you may be asking yourself, why should we be offering these types of opportunities to those who have been convicted of a crime? Why should we allocate funds towards educational opportunities for those who are incarcerated? The answer is actually pretty straightforward – because it’s a wise investment.

The proof is in the numbers. The average cost to house an inmate in 2020 was over $50 a day. The cost for vocational training, depending on the program, is approximately $2,000 a year. The question you may ask is, well is it worth it? The short answer is an emphatic yes.

Here’s why. In 2020, the general recidivism rate in Mississippi was 37.4 percent. According to the Department of Corrections, initial data shows that under Commissioner Cain’s leadership, the recidivism rate for those who have completed re-entry and vocational training is less than half that.

What does that mean for you? As a taxpayer, a $2,000 investment can save you over $18,000 a year. But most importantly, there will be fewer crimes, fewer victims, safer communities, and a skilled workforce that has a second chance at life.

If we want to break the cycle of recidivism, we must invest in a cycle of education and learning. That’s why in my most recent Executive Budget Recommendation, I proposed allocating $2 million for re-entry programs geared toward Mississippians who will be eligible for parole within six months. Additionally, I’ve proposed funding to expand the work release pilot program – that has already shown so much promise – to each of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

I think and we can all agree that no matter how much we invest in training for those reentering society, there will always be a crime element present. It will never be completely eliminated.

That is tragically obvious today. In 2020, our capital city set a record of 130 murders. In 2021, it increased to over 150 murders. That is unacceptable. Let’s put these numbers in perspective. In the city of Atlanta, there was a historic crime wave. People there are rushing to reform – electing new city leadership promising to combat the violence. They saw 158 murders in 2021. In Jackson, Mississippi, even though Atlanta is more than triple our size, we saw roughly the same number of murders in that year. The rate of killings in Jackson is three times worse than Chicago. It is worse than St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis. The violence scars families for generations. Our community is torn apart by senseless acts of mayhem. If our state is to thrive, we need a capital city of order. Governed by laws, not abandoned to daily violence. We all have an interest in stopping this deadly cycle.

We can do our part to go down a brighter road. Create a capital city that is vibrant, full of life, and safe. A capital city where residents don’t have to fear for their safety. A capital city where parents can let their children run around in the yard without having to fear if they’ll be home for dinner.

I believe that Jackson still exists. I have faith that we have what it takes to make Jackson a city that is a hub for business and capital investment. A city where jobs are plentiful, and opportunity is only limited by how hard you want to work.

Reasonable citizens must take back control from those who only wish harm to their neighbors. Their day is ending in Jackson. The men and women of local law enforcement will always be the first line of defense. The frontline officers who feel abandoned cannot be left to their own devices. That is why I have championed an expansion of the scope of our Capitol force. To support local law enforcement and to bring peace back to Jackson.

To our law enforcement officers who wake up every day, put on the badge, and risk their own personal safety to protect and serve us, thank you. As long as I’m governor, I will do everything I can to provide you with the tools and resources you need to keep us, and yourself, safe.

That’s why I want to work with the legislature to get you the support you need. It’s why I proposed doubling the size of our Capitol Police, so there will be more boots on the ground as you perform your shifts in the Capitol Complex Improvement District. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we have a lot of brave men and women in blue – there’s just not enough of them. Doubling the size of our Capitol Police, is the first, most immediate action we can take within the State’s jurisdiction. We have the ability to do it, and we must.

We also know that alone is not enough. Capturing violent criminals does nothing if our justice system puts them right back on the streets. I am eager to work with the legislature to develop resources for targeted prosecution and conviction of violent felons here. Catch and release has caused nothing but record crime and chaos. All of us can agree on that. We need to find those who are leading the efforts to flood our capital with illegal drugs and guns—and put them behind bars where they belong. We need to bring focused attention to those orchestrating these efforts. Not to catch more people speeding or loitering. But to arrest, charge, and eradicate the ringleaders who make life hell for the peaceful residents of Jackson.

After the day’s shifts have ended, and our law enforcement officers head back to their families, that doesn’t mean our support of the men and women in blue is over. It doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing the sacrifices they make daily. It doesn’t mean we should forget about their gallant actions over the last two years, or the expanded duties placed upon them because of the pandemic. It’s one of the reasons why I authorized $1,000 in one-time hazard pay for each sworn state law enforcement officer who actively served during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. Today, I call on the legislature to do the same for local law enforcement.

Over the last two years, some of our law enforcement officers made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to us. We have benefits in place for those who fell at the hands of violence or in other tragic circumstances in the line of duty. These officers fell victim to an enemy that couldn’t even been seen – COVID-19. These officers will never again make it home to their families. There will be missed birthdays, graduations, weddings, birth of children, and more. And if they contracted the virus while serving and protecting, that should be counted as a line of duty death. That’s why this session, we need to appropriate additional money towards the Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters Death Benefits . Doing so will be a final act of gratitude to the men and women who gave it all to keep us safe.

To all our law enforcement officers, Mississippi will always back the blue. Again, thank you for everything you’ve done and thank you for everything you will do.

We have many great opportunities before us. We can look back on what we’ve survived. We can look back on the gains we’ve accomplished. And we can be proud of one another. We must also dedicate ourselves to more hard work. To tackle those challenges and seize chances for greatness. We can do amazing things together if we focus on doing what’s right. And, if we have the fortitude to do what’s right, boldly. I know that each of you can commit to that goal, and if so, we will serve our neighbors well.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the state of Mississippi.”

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

State agencies give lawmakers wish lists for federal stimulus

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State agencies give lawmakers wish lists for federal pandemic dollars

by Geoff Pender,
November 30, 2021

State agencies and other groups pitched lawmakers for hundreds of millions in federal pandemic stimulus funds in hearings at the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday.

The agencies want to fix or replace dilapidated buildings, water and sewer pipes, and computer systems. They asked for money to expand nursing programs, hire more law officers, improve the state’s marketing and workforce training, buy a helicopter and do many other projects that would otherwise be out of reach in the regular state budget.

The Legislature has $1.8 billion in money it can allocate from now through December 2024, with relatively broad leeway under federal regulations.

Mississippi is behind most other states in planning for and spending its ARPA funds. But a special Senate Appropriations subcommittee appointed by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann is holding hearings through the end of the year and will make recommendations to the Legislature when it convenes in January.

FOLLOW THE MONEY: How will Mississippi spend billions in federal pandemic stimulus dollars?

The agencies this week made more than $1.6 billion in requests. But some of the requests were duplicative, would not likely qualify under the federal rules, and some agencies are receiving other federal pandemic funds directly. Sen. John Polk, chair of the special committee, said those are issues that will have to be sorted out.

Mississippi’s city and county governments are also receiving a combined $900 million in ARPA funds. Hosemann, who has called for the money to be spent in “transformational” ways that will have an impact for generations, has proposed the Legislature use up to half its funds to match city and county spending, to provide for larger projects.

READ MORE: How are other states spending COVID-19 stimulus money?

Some requests made during the two days of hearings include:

Institutions of Higher Learning

$200 million

State universities are asking for money for money to improve broadband internet services, especially for rural campuses, to fix aging water, sewerage, ventilation and other infrastructure and to expand health programs to help with the state’s shortage of nurses and other health practitioners.

Commissioner of Higher Education Alfred Rankins Jr. told lawmakers that needed projects include “potable water contingencies” at Jackson State University and Alcorn State, heating and air projects at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State and a project to alleviate at the University of Southern Mississippi.

”For many of our campuses, the water and sewer systems are more than 40 years old,” Rankins said.

Community colleges

$84.6 million

The state’s 15 community colleges need upgrades for water and sewerage and broadband connectivity, said Kell Smith, interim director of the Community College Board. The schools also want to use the money to focus on supply-chain issues with workforce training and to expand allied health programs — to produce more nurses and other health workers currently in short supply statewide.

”(Regular) Appropriations and bonds have not been enough to cover these needs in the past,” said Smith, who said his request includes $54.5 million for infrastructure, $15 million for supply chain workforce training and $15 million for health programs.

Private universities and colleges

$39.5 million

The state’s seven private colleges would qualify for the state’s federal pandemic funds, said Jason Dean, director of the Mississippi Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Dean said many campus buildings at the schools are around 100 years old and need work, and like public universities, they could expand their nursing and other healthcare programs to help the state’s shortage.

State courts

$13 million

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael K. Randolph told lawmakers that the state’s court system is constitutionally required to keep operating even during the worst of a pandemic, and federal dollars could help the system address backlogs and improve technology.

He noted that with previous federal pandemic funds, the court system sent back hundreds of thousands of dollars it didn’t need, proving the system is frugal and trustworthy.

”I look at it like it’s my own checkbook,” Randolph said.

Accelerate Mississippi workforce training

$250 million

Ryan Miller, director of the state’s new workforce development clearinghouse agency, said there are “4,000 jobs unfilled in nursing alone” in Mississippi, and federal funds can help produce needed trained workers in healthcare, emerging technology sectors, logistics and supply chain and other areas.

Mississippi Department of Employment Security

$91.9 million

The agency’s main request is $90.9 million to replenish the state’s unemployment to its pre-pandemic levels, said interim Director Robin Stewart.

In January of 2020, the fund had $707 million. It got hit with $488 million in unemployment claims during the worst of the pandemic shutdown. The state replenished the fund with about $397 million from an earlier round of federal pandemic relief, but it is only at $595, still below pre-pandemic level. Keeping the fund flush staves off automatic tax increases for state businesses.

The agency also requested $1 million for four new customized buses to serve as mobile WIN Job Centers, to replace its current bus, which is old, large, hard to maneuver and breaks down often, Stewart said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency

$12.9 million

Director Stephen McCraney told lawmakers his agency had to scramble with response, including standing up a warehouse and distribution for personal protective equipment — and noted, “there’s another variant coming.”

McCraney said the agency needs the federal dollars to pay salaries for staff and reservists, cover utilities and maintenance for its emergency supply warehouse, cover COVID-19 contracts and PPE expenses.

”Without ARPA funds, we’re going to be forced to dip into the state coffers,” McCraney said.

State buildings and infrastructure/government health insurance plan

$553 million

The state Department of Finance and Administration asked lawmakers for $500 million for capital projects — work on state-owned buildings and infrastructure — and $53 million, for now, to prop up the state employee insurance plan.

Some of DFA’s request for projects appeared to duplicate requests from colleges and universities and other agencies. Part of the request is for the state employee health insurance program, which was hit with more than $50 million in pandemic costs and has had to dip into cash reserves over years to prevent huge premium increases for workers.

Mississippi Development Authority

$102 million

The state’s economic development agency is asking for $52 million for tourism, to provide grants to local tourism agencies and for $50 million for “Quality of Place” and downtown revitalization grants for local communities.

MDA Interim Director Laura Hipp said the agency is also receiving about $4 million in ARPA funds more directly from the federal Economic Development Administration that will be used for upgrades at state welcome centers and parks and trail markers and for working with universities on technology-based economic development.

Mississippi Department of Human Services

$0*

MDHS badly needs to replace its old computer system that was built in the 1980s and ’90s, said Director Bob Anderson. The pieces of the system cannot even communicate with each other.

”For instance, when a single mom comes in and we can’t sit down with her at a single station on a single system and determine all the programs she might be eligible for,” Anderson said. This often requires families to spend hours or make multiple trips trying to get certified for programs.

But Anderson said the price tag for a new system is $150 million, and there’s no way it could be bidded, built and installed by the 2026 deadline for ARPA projects. Instead of asking the state for ARPA funds for the project, Anderson is asking the state use ARPA funds for other agencies and hopefully “free up” general fund dollars MDHS could use for the system. He said MDHS will ask the Legislature for $54 million for the system, and hopes to receive other federal dollars for the balance.

MDHS is also receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic dollars directly for programs such as workforce childcare.

Department of Public Safety

$74.4 million

DPS wants to provide premium pay of $1,000 each to public safety workers who soldier on through the pandemic and to provide benefits for families of first responders who die from COVID-19.

Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said that as of Oct. 1, 30 first responders statewide had died from COVID-19 and that total is expected to reach about 50 by the end of the year.

Tindell said he also wants to use ARPA funds to bring the number of state troopers and other sworn officers up to levels they were years ago. He said Highway Patrol now has about 500 troopers, but had about 600 in 2007.

”I don’t think Mississippi is a safer place than it was 15 years ago,” Tindell said.

DPS also wants to use the funds to purchase a building in Canton to centralize drivers services, renovate or purchase other buildings, increase cyber security and buy a second MHP helicopter (which costs $7.9 million). DPS also wants funding to improve the Medical Examiners Office and provide incentive pay to recruit forensic pathologists to help with a backlog of autopsies — some dating back to 2011.

Mississippi Department of Corrections

$118 million

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said his agency needs to make water, sewerage and stormwater improvements to the prison system statewide.

”The Justice Department is knocking on the door and I’ve been through that before, and they’re going to get us on wastewater,” Cain said. “The numbers are humongous, but we need to fix it before the Justice Department makes us fix it.”

The agency’s request includes $44.6 million in improvements at the troubled State Penitentiary at Parchman, built in 1901, and $20 million in work at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

Mississippi Veterans Affairs

$30 million

Director Stacey Pickering said the agency’s top priority is to relocate the Home at Jackson, which is antiquated, dilapidated and located in a high area. Pickering said the agency, like many others, is also facing a critical shortage of nurses.

Relocating the nursing home would cost more than $56 million, but Pickering said the federal VA would provide 65%, so he is requesting $19.7 million from the state’s ARPA funds.

But Chairman Polk told Pickering that the ARPA rules say the money cannot be used as a match to other federal dollars. Pickering said his office had put in a request with the U.S. Treasury to see if the money could be used as a match for a new VA home.

FOLLOW THE MONEY: Click here to read all our coverage of Mississippi’s federal spending.

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

Gov. Tate Reeves offers his own plan for spending $1.2 billion in federal funds

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Mississippi Governor Mansion

Gov. Tate Reeves offers his own plan for spending $1.2 billion in federal funds

After Gov. Tate Reeves spent portions of a Monday conference criticizing federal policies that he said are holding back the state, he still announced his proposal to spend $1.2 billion in federal funds in the budget plan he hopes the Legislature will consider during the upcoming 2022 session.

Ahead of the 2022 legislative session, Reeves announced on Monday his proposal on how to spend state funds and his partial recommendation on spending $1.8 billion in federal funds the state is receiving to deal with and its aftermath.

The governor said he would announce additional plans later how to spend the rest of the federal funds, which must be appropriated by the end of 2024.

READ MORE: Our full “Follow the Money” coverage of Mississippi’s federal spending.

As far as the spending of state funds, the governor said because of the strong growth in state revenue he has retooled his plan to eliminate the state income tax to say it could be done in five years opposed to the longer time period he had recommended in the past.

In addition, Reeves included in his budget the commitment he made this summer at the Neshoba County Fair to provide a $1,300 pay raise for teachers during the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1, followed by two years of $1,000 pay bumps.

“We seek to eliminate tax burdens and make a bold move: to attract high-paying jobs to the state of Mississippi,” Reeves said of his plan.

Reeves proposes spending $1.2 billion of the $1.8 billion in federal American Rescue Plan funds the state is receiving to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic on a litany of items, ranging from:

  • $130 million administered by the newly created Office of Workforce Development, commonly known as Accelerate Mississippi, to provide grants to community colleges and senior colleges for training “for the higher-income jobs and careers of the future.”
  • $200 million for the further expansion of high-speed internet. This would be in addition to recent broadband expansion efforts the state has made thanks, in part, to past federal COVID-19 relief legislation.
  • $300 million to improve 911 access in Mississippi, calling the state’s current system “an embarrassment.”
  • $200 million to restore some of the losses the health insurance plan for state workers and teachers absorbed because of COVID-19.
  • $5 million presumably for bonuses to recruit to Mississippi law enforcement personnel who Reeves said has been “mistreated” in “blue” or Democratic jurisdictions.
  • $200 million to further replenish the state’s unemployment . During 2020 when the state shutdown during the start of the pandemic, a record number of Mississippi workers were able to draw unemployment compensation, reducing the size of the trust fund. Under federal law, Reeves has said a tax will be imposed on Mississippi businesses to replenish the fund if other sources of revenue are not used for that effort.
  • $50 million for downtown Jackson revitalizing efforts.
  • $100 million for water and sewer grant projects in local municipalities. This would presumably be used to match local efforts to improve water and sewer with the separate American Rescue Plan funds they received.

When it was pointed out to the governor that officials for the city of Jackson have said repairs for their antiquated water and sewer system could cost as much as $2 billion, Reeves did not seem to rule out the possibility of using some of the additional American Rescue Plan funds for such an effort in Jackson and other cities. But he said the city of Jackson and the county of Hinds, which is where the capital city is located, have about $85 million in American Rescue Plan funds that also could be used for water and sewer issues.

The governor did not mention or commit any American Rescue Plan funds for salary supplements to help retain and recruit providers, particularly nurses, who have been retiring and leaving the state for better paying jobs in the midst of combatting the coronavirus. Both Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Philip Gunn have endorsed such a proposal.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, who is the House minority leader, has said some of the American Rescue Plan funds should be used to provide salary supplements for “essential” workers, both those in the public and private sector, including for such jobs as grocery store employees.

“These are people on the front lines whose jobs are becoming increasingly more high pressure involved,” Johnson said.

Reeves called the economic growth and strong revenue collections as the best in state history. He said that growth came despite “to a certain extent some of the policies in Washington.” He later reluctantly acknowledged some of the massive federal spending might have helped spur the state as numerous economists have said.

Reeves’ traditional budget plan, excluding the American Rescue Plan, is $6.49 billion or 1.7% less than what the Legislature spent in the 2021 session for education, law enforcement, health care and other areas.

Part of that reduction would be to start the process of eliminating the personal income tax.

“Eliminating the individual income tax will further help us fuel Mississippi’s economic engine for the next 100 years,” Reeves wrote in his budget narrative.

The income tax accounts for about one-third of state general fund revenue.

The governor proposes using a large portion of the revenue growth the state has experienced to speed up the elimination of the state income tax. An analysis by Mississippi Today indicates state revenue growth that could be available during the 2022 session could be as much as $2 billion.

Reeves did not miss the chance to incorporate many of his conservative principles and Republican talking points into his budget. He proposes withholding state funding to school districts that teach , which is an effort to explain the impact of racism on the country. He could not cite an example of any school in Mississippi teaching critical race theory.

He also proposed $3 million for the teaching of positive or patriotic American history.

And the governor endorsed a plan that died during the 2020 session to require removing from election voter rolls people who do not respond to a mail-out or have not voted once in the past four years.

The governor did propose more spending in some other areas, such as for math and computer science and for the Department of Corrections.

RULES: How can Mississippi, local governments spend billions in COVID-19 stimulus?

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

Secretary Watson presents $11.2M Tidelands Check

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www.wxxv25.com – Janae Jordan

On behalf of the Gulf Coast legislative delegation, Secretary of State Michael Watson presented the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources with a check for $11.2 million representing the Tidelands .

Revenue for the Tidelands Trust Fund is generated by leases on lands owned by the state in trust for the people of…

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