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March 26, 2015

Yarber Pulls A HOC-Style Trick From His Sleeve, Declares State of Emergency

By R.L. Nave

In Season 3 of House of Cards, the Netflix dark political drama, President Frank Underwood devises a plan to circumvent Congress and fund his sweeping jobs plan dubbed America Works.

The plan involved Underwood's declaring that soaring unemployment created a state of emergency, which let him tap into the coffers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide jobs for out-of-work Americans.

Not saying Mayor Tony Yarber is Frank Underwood, but I wouldn't be surprised if HOC has been marathon-streaming on the Yarber family Roku in the past few weeks considering the announcement Yarber made this afternoon.

During a press conference in his office, Yarber, said that his administration has been "talking out loud as a team about declaring a state of emergency" for the city's infrastructure woes.

"Over the last 24 hours, we've seen more breaks than we'd like to see in our water mains," Yarber said.

The declaration enables the city "to use a different form of procurement in order to get the supplies and resources we need," the mayor added.

The winter weather and heavy rains of the past few weeks likely caused shifts in the soils that created potholes and weakened already brittle and deteriorating underground pipes.

Yarber stressed the quality of the water coming out of the city's water-treatment plant remains high, but some residents might see boil-water notices, which the city is legally required to issue when busted pipes cause drops in water pressure. The Red Cross and Salvation Army could be called upon to provide bottled water to area dormitories for students who cannot boil their water, Yarber said.

Yarber added that Gov. Phil Bryant and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality support the declaration.

Council President De'Keither Stamps said he and his fellow council members are getting up to speed on the emergency-declaration processes.

"If the governor is supporting this, they've obviously identified resources," Stamps told the Jackson Free Press.

In recent weeks, the city council has expressed frustration with Yarber for not providing final budget numbers for fiscal-year 2013-2014 so that budget writers have a clear picture of the city's fiscal health.

Council Vice-President Melvin Priester Jr., who presides over the council's Budget Committee, said Yarber's declaration put the city in unchartered territory and he wants to see the details of the plan.

"If you can declare an emergency about aging infrastructure when there hasn’t been a tornado or hurricane or breakdown at the water-treatment plant, and magically be able to draw from a big pool of money with no strings attached, every municipality in Mississippi would have done it," Priester said.

March 23, 2015

Ole Miss Alumni Not Happy With Jones Non-Renewal

By Todd Stauffer

The Ole Miss Alumni Association has released a statement regarding the non-renewal of University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones' contract. The association calls the new "unexpected and distressing" and expressed concern over the lack of details offered by IHL.

"Dr. [Dan] Jones has our continued confidence, trust, and support to serve as our chancellor."

Verbatim statement below:

March 23, 2015 It is now well known that the IHL Board of Trustees announced on Friday that it would not extend Chancellor Dan Jones’ contract, which is set to expire on September 14. This news came as an unexpected and distressing statement to Alumni Association leadership as it did to the Ole Miss faithful. The lack of details provided by the IHL make its decision even more concerning to the Alumni Association.

Dr. Jones has worked tirelessly over the past six years to ensure the University of Mississippi continually excels and that it receives proper recognition for its accomplishments. The results of his efforts and those he has entrusted on his leadership team speak for themselves in setting our university above the bar. We have never been a stronger institution than we are now. Enrollment and freshmen GPA are at all-time highs. Our schools and programs are recognized for their achievements almost daily. Support in the form of private giving is growing at record pace. There are more dues-paying members of the Alumni Association than there have ever been. These are signs of a flourishing institution that should not have its leader removed.

Dr. Jones has our continued confidence, trust, and support to serve as our chancellor. We do not believe that the IHL Board was justified in its decision and have seen no evidence to the contrary. We stand with Chancellor Jones, and we support the extension of his employment contract for another full term. We encourage the members of the Ole Miss family to stand with us in support of Chancellor Jones.

Executive Committee of the Ole Miss Alumni Association Ms. Trentice Imbler-President Mr. Robert R. Bailess Mr. David E. Brevard Mr. James L. Brown Ms. Kimsey O'Neal Cooper Mr. John T. Crunk Jr. Mr. Lawrence B. Johnson Jr. Mr. Randall G. Long Mr. C. Matthew Lusco Mr. Edward C. Maloney Mrs. Carole Lynn Meadows Dr. P. H. (Hal) Moore Jr. Dr. Melinda S. Ray Ms. Candace Simmons Mr. John E. Wade Jr. Mr. Charlie White

March 18, 2015

Lt. Gov. Reeves Blasts Dems for Blocking GOP Tax Breaks

By R.L. Nave

The following is a press release from the office of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves:

JACKSON – One day after nearly half of Senate Democrats joined all Senate Republicans in passing the largest tax cut in state history, House Democrats voted almost unanimously to kill the same bill.

“Fifty-two House Democrats believe they can spend your money better than the 1.23 million Mississippians that this bill would have benefited,” Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said. “The Senate passed this bill in a large, bipartisan vote in an effort to simplify the tax code and encourage long-term economic growth. Hopefully, a few House Democrats will hear the cries of the people back home that need a little more money in their pockets to provide for their families.”

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 40-11 to amend House Bill 1629 to include additional income tax cuts proposed by Speaker Philip Gunn plus relief for small businesses proposed under Lt. Gov. Reeves’ Taxpayer Pay Raise Act.

The $555 million tax relief plan earned praise from Americans for Tax Reform. It would have:

· Eliminated the 3 percent and 4 percent tax brackets levied on income, · Reduced the overall tax burden on small business owners, and · Removed the investment penalty, or franchise tax, on businesses’ property and capital.

Eliminating the franchise tax alone would have grown the state’s GDP by $282 million and added 3,514 jobs within 10 years, according to a Mississippi State University study.

Food Blog

March 16, 2015

Surin of Thailand Now Open in Old Nick's Location

By amber_helsel

Jackson Free Press reported Feb. 11 that Atlanta-based franchise Surin of Thailand was close to opening a location in the old location of Nick's Restaurant (3000 Old Canton Road, Suite 105). The Jackson location of Surin is now open. For more information, visit, go to the location's Facebook page or call 601-981-3205. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 or 9:30 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

March 10, 2015

T-P: Saints Trading Jimmy Graham to Seattle

By Todd Stauffer

In what feels like a surprise move (at least, to me) the Times-Picayune in New Orleans is reporting that multiple sources have given word that the New Orleans Saints are trading Pro Bowl Tight End Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Saints will receive 28-year-old center Max Unger and Seattle's first round pick, while the Seahawks will receive Graham and the Saints' fourth round pick.

This (apparent) trade comes one year after protracted negotiations resulted in a 4-year, $40 million contract last year. Graham joins veterans Pierre Thomas and Curtis Loftin as locker-room casualties as free agency deadlines loom.

March 9, 2015

Education Honorees Warn About Assault on Public Schools

By AnnaWolfe

Lawmakers cautioned the audience at the Mississippi Association of Educators event Friday about the state’s attack against the public school system.

“And it’s not an assault without significant resources. They’re sincere in their efforts to do what they can to undermine the efforts of public educators,” said Rep. Kevin Horan, D-Grenada.

MAE awarded Horan the “Humanized Education” award alongside Pastor Marcus Dudley for both men’s work supporting public education and setting an example to others in their communities.

The group of educators also gave Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, the “Friend of Education” award for the years he’s spent fighting for public education in the Legislature. Brown served as the House Education Committee chairman for seven years.

Brown urged educators and advocates to become more active in supporting candidates who believe in the public school system.

“I’m sorry you don’t like (politics), but that’s just the way it is,” Brown said. He added that turning the state around in regards to education must happen through state government and through elected officials. “Elections matter,” he said. “We don’t govern you. You govern us.”

Brown is running for Public Service Commission this year. Horan said he hopes to live up to Brown’s legacy by continuing to advocate for public education during his service in the Legislature.

“Being in favor of quality public education just comes second nature, because that’s the way I was raised, and unfortunately people who are policy makers in this state just don’t feel that way,” Horan said.

MAE also recognized achievement in educator associations across the state in several categories. The group honored Jackson Association of Educators for its instructional and professional development, its system for filing grievances, and its support of political candidates.

Two education students who have the intent to teach in Mississippi, Miranda Williams and Trenton Miller, received $1,000 scholarships.

March 5, 2015

Winter Advisory - Jackson Bridge Closings

By Todd Stauffer

Just saw this posted to the Nextdoor Fondren website from the City of Jackson (didn't see the same posting on the city's site) and thought it was worth repeating here:

Motorists are being urged to stay off bridges and overpasses because of ice accumulation. The following bridges are temporarily closed:

•Pearl Street Bridge

•Fortification Street and Bailey Avenue Bridge

•Woodrow Wilson Bridge

City of Jackson crews continue to monitor the winter weather situation and deploy action plans as necessary:

•The Department of Public Works and the Fire Department have crews inspecting roads and bridges and applying de-icer and/or sand.

•The Department of Parks and Recreation has trucks at the ready for downed limbs or general debris removal.

•The Jackson Police Department is inspecting roads, providing security and traffic control points. To report areas in need of sand or de-icer, or to report downed trees and other debris obstructing city streets call 601-960-1234 or 601-960-1168.*

February 27, 2015

Whitwell is In for MS01 Congress Race

By R.L. Nave

Former Jackson Ward 1 City Councilman Quentin Whitwell will run for the seat left vacant by the recent death of U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee.

He wrote on Facebook: "With the outpouring of support and the blessing from my family, I am pleased to announce that I am running for US Congress. As a native of Southaven and current Oxford resident, I am ready to run a strong campaign. My business background and legal training distinguishes my candidacy from the field. I hope you will join me in fighting to bring America back to its finest moment!"

Whitwell left the Jackson City Council in October to move back to Oxford so that his son could be trained under tennis coaches at the University of Mississippi.

February 26, 2015

Joce Pritchett, Cristen Hemmins to Take Aim at GOP Incumbents

By R.L. Nave

Well-known in progressive political circles, Cristen Hemmins and Joce Prtichett today announced that they would run for elected office.

In 2012, Jackson Free Press readers opined that Hemmins should seek public office. Hemmins, chairwoman of the Lafayette County Democratic Party, will challenge state Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, for the Senate seat he has held since 1996. Tollison, a one-time Democrat who switched over to the GOP in 2012, had been eyeing late U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee's House seat but announced this week that he wouldn't run for Congress.

Joce Pritchett, an engineer who lives in Jackson with her wife, Carla Webb, and their children will make an announcement Friday at the Capitol that she will run for state auditor. So far, two Republicans have announced intentions to run, incumbent Stacey Pickering and Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler. Charles E. Graham has also said he would run as a Democrat; Pritchett did not indicate which party primary she would run in.

Pritchett and Webb are plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi's same-sex marriage ban. That case is pending in a federal appeals court.

February 25, 2015

3 More Rankin Countians Sentenced for Hate Crime Against Black Jackson Man

By R.L. Nave

The following is a verbatim press release from the Office of the U.S. Attorney:

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that William Kirk Montgomery, 25, of Puckett, Mississippi, Jonathan Kyle Gaskamp, 22, and Joseph Paul Dominick, 23, both of Brandon, Mississippi, were sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Jackson for their roles in a federal hate crime conspiracy involving multiple racially motivated assaults, culminating in the death of James Craig Anderson, an African-American man, in the summer of 2011. Montgomery was sentenced to 234 months; Gaskamp was sentenced to 48 months; and Dominick was sentenced to 48 months.

Montgomery had previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for his role in the death-resulting assault of Anderson, 47, of Jackson, Mississippi. Gaskamp previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for his role in the conspiracy and in a violent assault of an unidentified African-American man near a golf course in the spring of 2011. Dominick pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy for his role. A restitution hearing will be set for a later date.

“The Justice Department will always fight to hold accountable those who commit racially motivated assaults,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “We hope that the prosecution of those responsible for this horrific crime will help provide some closure to the victim’s family and to the larger community affected by this heinous crime.”

“Violence fueled by hate spreads fear and intimidation throughout our community,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi. “The prison sentences today make clear that our community will not tolerate hate, and individuals who commit such despicable crimes will be brought to justice.”

“The guilty pleas and resulting sentences handed down today are the result of the tremendous efforts by men and women in law enforcement who worked on this case,” said Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway of the FBI in Mississippi. “The FBI takes very seriously its responsibility to protect the civil rights of all Americans, and remains committed to its pursuit of justice for anyone who is deprived of those rights."

In prior court hearings, the defendants had admitted that beginning in the spring of 2011, they and others conspired with one another to harass and assault African Americans in and around Jackson. On numerous occasions, the co-conspirators used dangerous weapons, including beer bottles, sling shots and motor vehicles, to cause, and attempt to cause, bodily injury to African Americans. They would specifically target African Americans they believed to be homeless or under the influence of alcohol because they believed that such individuals would be less likely to report an assault. The co-conspirators would often boast about these racially motivated assaults.

Montgomery admitted his presence and participation in numerous racially motivated assaults, ...

February 24, 2015

Familiar Jackson Faces Still Lining Up for State Democratic Primary

By R.L. Nave

Ahead of the Friday deadline to qualify for state and county offices, several Jacksonians have qualified as Democrats in several races. That includes some old faces from local politics trying their hands at new, higher seats.

Bruce Burton of Jackson has qualified to run for the Central District seat on the Public Service Commission; Democratic state Rep. Cecil Brown has been actively campaigning for the seat for months.

Robert Amos, who has run for Jackson City Council and mayor, will compete for the Mississippi Department of Transportation's Central District post.

Democratic Party records show that Stan Alexander, a former Hinds County prosecutor now with the attorney general's office, has qualified to seek the Hinds County district attorney's seat. DA Robert Smith as of this morning has not qualified for reelection, party information shows.

Plavise Patterson, a businesswoman and community activist who ran for Jackson city council's Ward 5 in 2013, has qualified to run in Mississippi House District 69 along with incumbent Alyce Clarke. Corinthian Sanders, another perennial name on local ballots, will run for House District 72 against incumbent Kimberly Campbell.

And Charles E. Graham of Jackson qualified to contend for state auditor in the Democratic primary as well. Republicans in that race include incumbent Stacey Pickering and Madison Mary Hawkins Butler.

February 23, 2015

Attorney General Warns of Phishing Scam Targeted Mac Users

By Todd Stauffer

Verbatim from the Attorney General's office:

A classic scam is now targeting Apple users. The very common “phishing” scam is constantly being revised by con artists to target a larger pool of potential victims. Currently, scammers are using emails to target Apple users by falsely claiming that your Apple ID, iCloud or iTunes account has been comprised. You are then asked to provide personal information to rectify the problem.

“Because there is a large percentage of Apple users, these cons are using the Apple name to cast a wide net to phish for potential victims,” said Attorney General Hood. “That’s why it is important to think twice about any action you take online asking you to provide personal information. Legitimate companies like Apple never ask you to provide such information to them through an email.”

The danger for most people using iCloud is that they often back their cellular devices up to it. In the event this account is compromised, the attacker could gain access to very sensitive and personal information stored on those backups. These phishing websites can look similar to the legitimate ones. Very often, the scam comes in the form of a fake email (see example below) which will prompt you to click on a link and visit one of these phishing websites to “update your account information.”

To avoid this scam make sure you are in the iTunes application directly, not through a web browser. If you are asked to update your account information, make sure that you do so only in iTunes or on a legitimate page on, such as the online Apple Store.

If you suspect your Apple ID, iCloud or iTunes account has been compromised, change the password immediately and/or contact Apple and advise them your account’s security has been compromised. If you have received a suspicious email, please notify iTunes Customer Support by visiting ‘

Sample of phishing email:

> iCloud ID – xxxx This is the final message to inform you as of 22 – February – 2015 that you have not yet updated your Apple ID details. Under “Know your Customer” legislation Apple Inc is required to carry out a verification of your information, failure to complete this validation will result in deletion of your iCloud within the next three days. Please click below to » Login to your Apple/iCloud ID To cancel the deletion of your Apple & iCloud ID please proceed to your Apple ID information before the deadline. Resolution Validation Request: #L8FHI20121711925 Sincerely, iGenius Helpteam

The Arts Blog

February 20, 2015

New Stage Theatre Has a New Website

By amber_helsel

Take a look here:

Playwright Jane Reid Petty founded New Stage Theatre in 1965. In the theater's 49th season, New Stage has put on plays such as "All the Way" and "One Man, Two Guvnors," which shows through March 1.

February 13, 2015

City: Public Works Director Orders Temporary Halt to New Water Meter Installations

By R.L. Nave

From the office of Mayor Tony Yarber:

City of Jackson Public Works Director Kishia Powell has issued a stop work order to Siemens, halting the installation of new city water meters. Powell also postponed the start of a new online billing system that was set to go-live this weekend.

The action comes after the discovery that Siemens had installed at least seven meters that were not configured to properly measure water usage, resulting in unusually high water bills. A review found that the company had installed gallon meters. The city measures water usage in cubic feet. Those meters have been changed out and adjustments are being made to the customers’ accounts.

The company must provide the city with an approved corrective action plan before installation work can resume. Siemens was awarded a $90 million contract in 2012 to install a new water meter system in Jackson.

A media availability with Powell is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13, in the Mayor’s Ceremonial Office at City Hall.

The city has been responding to customer complaints about higher water bills. In many cases, higher bills result from a more accurate reading of properly installed meters.

“While we believe there may be other gallon meters in the system that are contributing to the high bills, it has been found that some of the high bills have stemmed from leaks on private property,” Powell said. “Once those leaks are identified and fixed, adjustments are made to the accounts.”

Customers with questions about their bills are asked to contact the Water and Sewer Business Administration at 601-960-2000.

February 12, 2015

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves: "We Protect Your Rights"

By AnnaWolfe

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves touted his support of the right to bear arms, the repeal of Common Core and transparency after several noticeable bills passed the Senate.

Today, the Senate passed SB 2394, which decreases costs of concealed weapon permits, and SB 2407, which would change measures in state law to make the operations of public hospitals more transparent.

Yesterday, the Senate spent nearly two hours discussing Common Core, and its possible repeal under Senate Bill 2161. The body passed the bill, which would create a commission to develop new state standards.

Below is a verbatim press release from Reeves' office.

JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ proposals to support Second Amendment Rights, end Common Core in Mississippi and make government more transparent passed the Senate. His legislative agenda moves to the House for consideration.

“I proposed a bold, aggressive plan for the session that ensures we protect your rights and makes your government more efficient with your tax dollars,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said.

On Thursday, the Senate passed:

· Senate Bill 2394, by Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, reducing concealed carry permit fees.

· Senate Bill 2619, by Sen. Haskins Montgomery, D-Bay Springs, recognizing military training for firearm permits.

“I am proud to honor our servicemen and women and recognize their experience as part of responsible firearm ownership and use,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “These bills are part of my ongoing commitment to fight for the Second Amendment and protect Mississippians’ rights to carry concealed weapons.”

Also approved this week, Senate Bill 2161, by Sen. Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, will end Common Core in Mississippi and allow Mississippi teachers, parents and education experts to create high academic standards for students.

“With this bill, we can end Common Core, we can end our connection to PARCC, and we can draft our own strong standards for the classroom,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said. “I am proud the Senate passed the only bill that can lead to the end of Common Core, and I appreciate the 28 Republicans and three Democrats that joined us to make that happen.”

Included in the bill:

· Establish the Mississippi Commission for College and Career Readiness.

· Request the State Board of Education to limit the amount of time spent on testing.

· End relationship with Common Core and PARCC.

· Add protections for student data.

Lt. Gov. Reeves’ proposals to make meaningful reform in the way government operates also head to the House.

Senate Bill 2506, by Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, requires agencies to disclose the fees they charge to taxpayers and mandates budget requests be readily available online at the Legislative Budget Office website.

Lt. Gov. Reeves’ agenda included Senate Bill 2553, by Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, to tighten state contracting laws and increase scrutiny on government purchases. The bill remakes the Personal Service Contract Review Board, requires review of procurement practices once every two years by the legislative watchdog committee, and ensures pricing details and terms of contracts are public ...

February 9, 2015

Suddenly Pro-Woman, the AFA Blasts '50 Shades' Flick as Degrading

By R.L. Nave

The American Family Association has no love for the release of the film "Fifty Shades of Grey” for the upcoming Valentine's Day Weekend.

In a news release today, the Tupelo-based nonprofit threw some shade of its own at the movie, which is based on an E.L. James novel of the same title, calling it sexually graphic and degrading to women.

“Nothing in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ builds up society, respects or empowers women or demonstrates healthy relationships,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon in the release. “Rather, the film glorifies abusive relationships and glamorizes abusive tendencies such as stalking, bondage sex, intimidation and isolation."

This sudden gush of concern from the same organization that often disrespects LGBT women (and men) by calling them immoral. AFA also recently said the landmark Roe V. Wade decision, which protects the right of women to have abortion, is tantamount to a "war on women." Reproductive-justice advocates and people possessing a uterus, however, say abortion access empowers women to make decisions about their bodies that can have positive impacts on their lives.

A quick search of the AFA's website turned up no support of, say, equal-pay legislation at either the state or federal level. Also, while the AFA writes frequently on the harms of domestic violence, it's usually in the context of its tirades against the pornography industry and not simply protecting the safety of women.

"A more apt title for the movie would be 'Fifty Shades of Evil,'" Wildmon said in the release. "Without question, this film will have a corrosive effect on cultural views of what normative sexuality ought to be. Healthy relationships seek to safeguard the emotional and physical well-being of another; this film promotes inflicting emotional, physical and psychological harm on another for the sole purpose of self-serving sexual gratification. It is the epitome of elevating abuse, and we call on all theaters to reject promoting such abuse on their screens.”

In the meantime, AFA is supporting a social-media movement, #50DollarsNot50Shades, that encourages potential moviegoers to donate $50 to a local domestic-abuse shelter instead of going to see “Fifty Shades."

So there's that.

February 5, 2015

Jarvis Dortch to Run for House Seat

By R.L. Nave

Jarvis Dortch, a health-policy expert and advocate, said today that he will run for the Mississippi House of Representatives.

"There are a number of policy concerns that I hope to address during this campaign. Our state's failures in healthcare, education, and wages are all issues that keep too many Mississippians in poverty," Dortch, who is running as a Democrat, wrote in the announcement.

"To be completely honest, many of our local legislators are not doing the job of engaging the public and truly representing our needs. Our problem isn't that we have poor people that aren't working hard, but we have poor leadership working against them."

Dortch is competing in District 66, which Democratic Rep. Cecil Brown now serves. In the last round of redistricting, however, Brown's district was combined with that of Republican Rep. Bill Denny. Brown is running for Public Service Commissioner from the Central District. The new District 66 serves south Jackson, Byram, Terry, Raymond and Utica.

"Unless you have your own personal lobbyist, the game is rigged against you. And there are way too many legislators willing to play the game. I'm not naive but I'm also not so cynical that I don't believe it's worth fighting for change," Dortch wrote.

A previous version of this story misstated that Jarvis Dortch is running against Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson.

January 29, 2015

ACLU Challenges Debt Collection Practices That Target the Poor

By AnnaWolfe

The following is a verbatim press release from the American Civil Liberties Union.

ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit challenging debt collection practices that have resulted in the jailing of people simply because they are poor. The case was brought on behalf of Kevin Thompson, a black teenager in DeKalb County, Georgia, who was jailed because he could not afford to pay court fines and probation company fees stemming from a traffic ticket.

"Being poor is not a crime. Yet across the county, the freedom of too many people unfairly rests on their ability to pay traffic fines and fees they cannot afford," said Nusrat Choudhury, an attorney with the ACLU's Racial Justice Program. "We seek to dismantle this two-tiered system of justice that punishes the poorest among us, disproportionately people of color, more harshly than those with means."

The ACLU charges that DeKalb County and for-profit Judicial Correction Services Inc. (JCS) teamed up to engage in a coercive debt collection scheme that focuses on revenue generation at the expense of protecting poor people's rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 30 years ago that locking people up merely because they cannot afford to pay court fines is contrary to American values of fairness and equality embedded in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court made clear that judges cannot jail someone for failure to pay without first considering their ability to pay, efforts to acquire money, and alternatives to incarceration.

No such consideration was given to Thompson, who was locked up for five days because he could not afford to pay $838 in fines and fees to the county and JCS – despite the fact that he tried his best to make payments. The lawsuit charges that Thompson's constitutional rights to an indigency hearing and to counsel were violated by DeKalb County, JCS, and the chief judge of the local court that sentenced him to jail.

"What happened to me, and others like me who try their best to pay fines and fees but fall short, is unfair and wrong," said Thompson. "I hope this lawsuit will help prevent other people from being jailed just because they are poor."

These debt collection practices have had a devastating impact on people of color in the Atlanta metropolitan area. While blacks make up 54 percent of the DeKalb County population, nearly all probationers jailed by the DeKalb County Recorders Court for failure to pay are black – a pattern replicated by other Georgia courts.

"In a country where the racial wealth gap remains stark, the link between driving while black and jailed for being poor has a devastating impact on communities of color," said Choudhury.

The case, Thompson v. DeKalb County, was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. It names DeKalb County, Chief Judge Nelly Withers of the DeKalb County Recorders Court, and Judicial Correction Services Inc. as defendants. Rogers & Hardin LLP, the ACLU of Georgia, and Southern Center for ...

January 28, 2015

LGBT Hate Crimes Introduced in Bill

By AnnaWolfe

As of now, the LGBT community is not protected in Mississippi's hate crime law. But Rep. Deborah Dixon, D-Raymond, authored a bill that could change that.

House Bill 534 would amend the constitution to increase the penalties for crimes committed against people because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. The law currently defines a hate crime as a crime committed against a person because of their race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

HB 534 has been referred to the Judiciary B House Committee, chaired by Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton.

While his committee has a meeting tomorrow morning, Gipson told the Jackson Free Press he has not looked at HB 534 yet.

January 27, 2015

Personhood is Back

By AnnaWolfe

A previously failed proposal that aims to abolish abortion has resurfaced this legislative session.

State Rep. Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, introduced a so-called Personhood bill in the form House Bill 1309, which would amend the state constitution to define a person as beginning at the moment of conception.

Boyd's bill number is reminiscent of a bill passed in 2012, House Bill 1390, which required physicians at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals.

Critics of Boyd's bill point to the failure to achieve a Personhood law through a statewide ballot initiative in 2011. During that drive, a proposed Personhood amendment to the state constitution failed to garner enough votes to become law. Later, in 2013, a group attempted to get the measure back on the ballot but missed a key deadline. Subsequent Personhood bills in the Legislature have also failed to gain traction.

Personhood has gained national attention not only because it would outlaw abortion in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, but because of the law's unintended consequences. Because such a law would also define a fertilized egg as a person, it could bring to question the legality of birth control pills, Plan B, and some methods of in-vitro fertilization, reproductive-justice advocates say.

The 2012 Mississippi admitting privileges law would have closed the last abortion clinic in the state, Jackson Women's Health Organization, because nearby hospitals refused to grant privileges to them. But the clinic fought the law, which resulted in a U.S. District Court striking it down. A federal appeals court upheld the decision and Mississippi's attorneys have not announced whether the state would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.