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September 20, 2016

Mississippi Craft Brewers and Mississippi Beer Distributors Agree on On-Premises Sales Bill

By Todd Stauffer

Jackson, Mississippi – On June 22, 2016, the Mississippi Brewers Guild and the Mississippi Beer Distributors Association held a joint meeting to discuss the state of the craft beer industry in Mississippi and agree on an on-premises sales bill for the 2017 Mississippi Legislative Session.

September 19, 2016

MDOC Plans to Use Walnut Grove Site for Alternative or Re-Entry Programs

By adreher

The Mississippi Department of Corrections plans to use the former Walnut Grove Correctional Facility site for other purposes, like alternative or re-entry programs, a press release from the department says.

Commissioner Marshall Fisher has mentioned the mental health of inmates as a pressing concern in his department at government working group meetings this month and MDOC has formed a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.

“We do not intend for the Walnut Grove site to go unused,” Fisher said in the press release. “Just as we have formed a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health to assist us in supervising mentally ill inmates both inside and outside prison, we are strongly pursuing other ways to help inmates re-enter their communities in a meaningful way and remain out of prison.”

MDOC is refocusing its resources on rehabilitation, a press release from the department says. There are 3,194 inmates reported to have mental health diagnoses and about 15,000 reporting substance abuse, including drug and alcohol use.

The former prison could be used as a technical violation center, which was created under the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in 2014 as an alternative to incarceration. MDOC currently operates three such centers in Rankin, Leflore, and Simpson counties.

Walnut Grove closed late last week when MDOC moved the last prisoners to the state-run facilities. MDOC announced the closure on June 10, before the U.S. Bureau of Prisons announced that it would be phasing out its use of private prisons.

“MDOC’s decision to close Walnut Grove is in no way connected to the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision nor is the closure the result of any advocacy group’s ‘victory’,” Fisher said in the press release. “When the prison closed, significant improvements had been made under Management & Training Corporation, and juvenile offenders were no longer being housed there. We believe enough significant improvements had been made that the consent decree providing oversight was no longer needed.”

September 16, 2016

MS Dept. of Mental Health Releases State Suicide Prevention Plan

By adreher

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health released its first state plan for suicide prevention today; a workgroup composed of state agency workers and other advocates formed in April to help finalize the two-year prevention plan. In Mississippi, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24 years old.

The plan's release coincides with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is in September.

“Whether we realize it or not, many of our friends and neighbors have been affected by suicide or mental illness,” DMH Executive Director Diana Mikula said in a press release. “Suicide affects people across all ages, races, and backgrounds, but through collaboration, sharing resources, and working towards common goals, we can prevent the tragedy of suicide.”

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death overall in Mississippi, and the state's suicide rates also increase with age, the report shows. Men in Mississippi commit suicide at much higher rates than females their age.

The suicide prevention hotline is: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The number will connect you to a counselor in a local crisis center.

September 14, 2016

Debra Gibbs Wins District 72 Runoff Election, Will Take Seat in January

By adreher

Jackson-based attorney Debra Gibbs will replace former Rep. Kimberly Campbell in the Mississippi House of Representatives in January.

Gibbs won the run-off in the special election on Sept. 13 for the District 72 House seat. She defeated Synarus Green by a vote of 921-897. Green is the current director of policy and intergovernmental affairs for the City of Jackson.

District 72 covers part of northwest Jackson, parts of Ridgeland and Pocahontas.

Vote Breakdown:

Hinds County voters: Gibbs: 816 Green: 819

Madison County voters: Gibbs: 105 Green: 78

Totals: Gibbs: 921 Green: 897

To learn more about Gibbs, read the JFP interview with her here.

September 14, 2016

Attorney Appeals State Flag Lawsuit to 5th Circuit

By adreher

Grenada-based attorney Carlos Moore, who sued Gov. Phil Bryant alleging that the Mississippi state flag is not constitutional, has appealed his case to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last week U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves dismissed Moore's lawsuit but left the door open to potential legal action in the future.

Moore alleged that the Confederate battle emblem in the canton of the Mississippi state flag violates the 13th and 14th Amendments. He brought his federal lawsuit against Gov. Phil Bryant, who has the authority to ensure that state laws are followed.

Reeves did not find Moore to have standing in his case. Moore had to prove that the injury he had suffered (seeing the state flag over courthouses where he practices law) had a causal connection to Gov. Bryant and the state of Mississippi displaying the Confederate emblem.

To read all of Judge Reeves' opinion in the dismissal of Moore's case, click here.

September 9, 2016

U.S. Reps Introduce Bi-Partisan Juvenile Justice Bill in House

By adreher

On Thursday, Republican and Democratic U.S. representatives introduced the "Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act," in the U.S. House of Representatives. House Bill 5963 would update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, adding new language to encourage states, cities and reservations to utilize evidence-based programs that are "trauma informed" to help address juvenile crime in the country.

The bill lists several evidence-based programs "including delinquency prevention, intervention, mental health, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, family services, and services for children exposed to violence." The bill would also change the definition of an "adult inmate" so it would not include a person who "at the time of the time of the offense, was younger than the maximum age at which a youth can be held in a juvenile facility under applicable State law."

House Bill 5963 would also require much more data collection on juvenile offenders than is currently required now. It would require the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to collect data on state and localities' use of restraint and seclusion, the number of juveniles released from custody and the type of living arrangements to which they were released, the number of juveniles whose offense originated on school grounds and the number of juveniles who are pregnant but in secure detention.

In a press release from the Education and Workforce Committee Democrats, principal author of the bill Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) said that the purpose of the bill was to help children born into circumstances outside of their control a better path forward.

"These bipartisan reforms will deliver state and local leaders the tools they need to help the most vulnerable kids in their communities put the past behind them and work toward a brighter future," Curbelo said in the press release. "I want to thank Ranking Member (Bobby) Scott (D-VA) for all he has done to move this issue forward and for working together to deliver these bipartisan reforms.”

September 7, 2016

Poll: Mississippi a 'Tossup State' for Presidential Election

By adreher

A new poll paints Mississippi purple, calculating Trump's lead over Hillary Clinton in the state to be only three points, in a four-candidate race. The online-only survey had over 800 respondents from Mississippi, who are registered voters, and over 74,000 voters in the country. The results put Mississippi in the "tossup" category—not a red state.

September 7, 2016

Jackson Councilwoman Barrett-Simon Endorses Synarus Green

By adreher

Jackson Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon has endorsed Synarus Green in the District 72 special election run-off, which will be held on September 13.

Barrett-Simon has served on the city council for over 30 years and credited Green for helping the city of Jackson get $16.5 million from the Mississippi Department of Transportation for infrastructure improvements by working as a legislative liaison for the city of Jackson.

Attorney Debra Gibbs is the other candidate in the District 72 special election. To read interviews with her and Green visit jacksonfreepress.com/2016elections.

September 1, 2016

Magnolia Health to Offer Statewide Obamacare Coverage in 2017

By adreher

The Mississippi Department of Insurance announced today that Ambetter from Magnolia Health has been cleared to offer individual health insurance plans through the federal health marketplace. Magnolia serves 50 counties in the state currently, but will extend its coverage to all 82 counties beginning in January 1, 2017.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney announced the news today in a press release.

"Commissioner Chaney says there will be more consumer options and price competition for counties in the Delta, as well as in Coastal counties. The decision by Chaney concerning the adequacy of AmBetter's provider network will also give consumers more choices for health care providers," the press release states. "Providers are the doctors, clinics and hospitals consumers choose to use when seeking care under a health plan."

Read about the current Obamacare coverage in Mississippi here.

August 31, 2016

Mississippi GOP Endorses 3 Judicial Candidates

By adreher

The Mississippi Republican Party endorsed three candidates running for judicial offices in the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

Supreme Court Candidates:

  • Kenny Griffis, District 1, Place 3
  • Dawn Beam, District 2, Place 2

Court of Appeals Candidate:

  • Jack Wilson, District 3, Place 1

Judge Kenny Griffis currently serves as the presiding judge over the state Court of Appeals. He is challenging current associate justice James "Jim" W. Kitchens, who has been in the Mississippi Supreme Court since 2009.

Associate justice Dawn Beam was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in February to replace former Justice Randy Pierce, and she is now running for a permanent spot on the high court. She is a former tenth district chancellor running against McComb lawyer Michael T. Shareef.

Judge Jack Wilson was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2015, by Gov. Phil Bryant, and now he is running to keep his spot. The District 3, Place 1 race is a three-way challenge. Madison County court judge Ed Hannan and Ridgeland lawyer Dow Yoder are also running for the spot.

Gov. Phil Bryant said the judicial races are extremely important, in a press statement endorsing the three candidates.

"We have a strong slate of judicial candidates this year who represent conservative values that will resonate with voters in all corners of our state," he said in a statement. "Their experience and dedication will serve Mississippi well. I am confident that each of these candidates will promote a fair and effective justice system in Mississippi."

August 29, 2016

Speaker Gunn Appoints New Appropriations Chairman

By adreher

Speaker Philip Gunn has appointed Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, as the new Chairman of Appropriations in the House of Representatives.

“John has more experience and knowledge of the appropriations process than anyone in the House of Representatives,” Speaker Philip Gunn said in a press release. “He has 25 years of legislative experience. He has been a member of the Appropriations Committee for more than 20 years and has served as the Vice-Chairman of Appropriations for eight of those years."

“He has also served in various other leadership roles during his legislative career, including Chairman of the Fees and Salaries Committee, Chairman of the Conservation and Water Resources Committee, and Vice-Chairman of the Rules Committee, one of the most powerful committees in the House,” Gunn said in a release. “John has served well in all of these roles and has proven himself to be a competent leader. His resume and his record of service make it clear that he is very qualified to be the Chairman, and I believe he will do an excellent job.”

Rep. Read currently serves on the following committees in the following roles:

  • Conservation and Water Resources - Chair
  • Rules - Vice-Chair
  • Appropriations
  • Gaming
  • Ports, Harbors and Airports
  • Public Property
August 24, 2016

Why Did Trump Come to Mississippi, Anyway?

By adreher

It's convenient to presume that Mississippi will bleed red on Election Day, but if that's true, then a fair question follows. Why would Donald Trump waste time and resources stopping in Jackson, Miss., this evening for a $1,000 per ticket fundraiser and rally?

Polling done in Mississippi this presidential year might help explain why. An April Mason-Dixon poll only favored Trump to Hillary Clinton by three percentage points, a slim margin for a candidate who won the primary election in Mississippi with an 11-point advantage over Ted Cruz, Politico reports. A second poll, conducted by Magellan Strategies and commissioned by Y'all Politics, revealed a larger gap between the two candidates, with Trump leading by 13 percentage points.

One question in the Magellan poll gave Mississippians three options: Trump, Clinton or Undecided. Fifty-four percent chose Trump; 39 percent chose Clinton; and 7 percent were undecided.

FiveThirtyEight gives Clinton only a 14-percent chance of winning Mississippi's six electoral votes, but that number is a result of the weighted analysis of only two polls: the Mason-Dixon and Magellan polls.

November has the potential to be a competitive election, depending on which poll you believe, and as NewsMax pointed out: "The last time a Democrat presidential candidate won the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976," but it's likely too early to confidently project a solid winner.

August 24, 2016

Gibbs, Green Head to Run-Off in District 72 Special Election

By adreher

The House District 72 special election will head to a run-off between Debra Gibbs and Synarus Green on Sep. 13.

Election results from a Hinds County Election Commission spokeswoman are as follows:

  • Synarus Green-642
  • Debra Gibbs-641
  • Theresa Kennedy-169
  • Shae Buchanon-Williams-138

Either Gibbs or Green will replace attorney Kimberly Campbell and finish her three-year term in the Mississippi House of Representatives. To read interviews with Gibbs and Green, visit jacksonfreepress.com/elections2016.

August 18, 2016

MAE Endorses Green for District 72 Special Election

By adreher

The Mississippi Association of Educators has endorsed Synarus Green in the District 72 House of Representatives special election.

"For generations, the Mississippi Association of Educators has worked to build opportunities for the people and communities they serve," Green said in a press statement. "I'm honored to have the support of MAE's members and leaders, and proud to stand with them as a champion for all our students."

Green is one of four candidates running for the District 72 seat that was vacated when former-Rep. Kimberly Campbell announced she would be leaving the House after the 2016 legislative session to take a position as the state director of AARP.

Read interviews with all the candidates in the District 72 special election race here.

August 18, 2016

Southern Living names Saltine a Best New Restaurant in the South

By Donna Ladd

Southern Living magazine has named Saltine in Fondren one of the South's best new restaurants. The write-up begins:

"You might not think Jackson, Mississippi, when you imagine robust oyster culture. And you might not expect to find a sleek eatery in a repurposed schoolhouse. But Jesse Houston has created such a spot, where he is wholeheartedly supporting a resurgence of American oystermen, such as Murder Point Oysters off Dauphin Island, Alabama. Inside a former elementary school that was built in 1927 in the city’s Fondren District, Houston has turned a series of classrooms into a nautical wonderland worthy of Jules Verne—complete with a massive octopus mural."

Congrats to Jesse and the crew! Hard work and creativity pay off.

August 18, 2016

Secretary Hosemann Reaches $4.7 Million Settlement with Morgan Stanley

By adreher

The Secretary of State reached a $4.7 million settlement with Morgan Stanley, after a years-long investigation into the Ridgeland branch office following complaints from customers who had investment accounts with financial representatives there.

Morgan Stanley did not admit or deny the Secretary of State's allegations but has agreed to pay the over $4.2 million back to investors, the majority of whom hold accounts in Mississippi. Additionally, Morgan Stanley will pay $100,000 in penalty fees to the state as well as $400,000 for the costs of the investigation.

“This is a significant settlement which is a culmination of hard work by the Division on behalf of investors,” Secretary Delbert Hosemann said in a press release. “It exemplifies the important investor protection role the Agency serves to safeguard our citizens through fair regulation and enforcement and hopefully deterrence.”

The fund Morgan Stanley must set up by next month to settle their dues with investors impacts 259 accounts--194 of those accounts are in Mississippi. Hosemann's office is sending letters to those Mississippians affected by the settlement so that they can participate in the fund and get their money back.

August 15, 2016

Donald J. Trump Set to Come to Jackson for Private Fundraiser

By adreher

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump is scheduled to be in Jackson next Wednesday, August 24, for a fundraising event supporting his campaign, a MS GOP press release states. Tickets for the event are being sold at an affordable $1,000 per ticket.

The event begins at 6:00 PM, but the location is only being disclosed to those who purchase tickets. The event is closed to the press, the MS GOP release states. Last time Donald J. Trump was in Mississippi, he held a rally during the primaries at Madison Central High School in March. The rally cost Madison County taxpayers $11,565.44 in security expenses.

August 12, 2016

5th Circuit Denies Gov. Bryant's Motion for Stay in HB1523 Case

By adreher

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied Gov. Phil Bryant and MDHS Executive Director John Davis' motions to stay the injunction that blocked House Bill 1523 from becoming law. Bryant and Davis asked the court to expedite their appeal, and that application was also denied.

The 5th Circuit did allow the two HB 1523 cases to be consolidated, but the court will not issue a stay on U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves' injunction or expedite the a hearing for the governor's appeal of the bill.

The conservative legal organization, Alliance Defending Freedom, is providing co-counsel for the governor's appeal in the 5th Circuit. HB 1523 was based, at least in part, on language from a model policy that ADF sent to the governor's office before same-sex marriage was legalized nationally in 2015.

Rob McDuff, one of the lawyers for plaintiffs, called the order a great victory.

"Two and a half months after we filed this challenge to HB 1523, the federal courts once again have held that the bill should not take effect. This is a great victory for the thousands of Mississippians who have opposed this bill in the name of tolerance and fairness and dignity for all," he said in a statement to the Jackson Free Press. "Although the Governor apparently will continue with his appeal, this is an important milestone in the battle against this completely misguided piece of legislation."

“We are pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s summary denial of the governor’s motion and look forward to final resolution of this matter in our favor,” said Beth Orlansky, advocacy director of the Mississippi Center for Justice said in a statement.

Read the motion here. Read more about HB 1523 here.

This post has been updated with statement from the MS Center for Justice and Rob McDuff.

August 11, 2016

AG Hood Responds to DOJ Olmstead Lawsuit

By adreher

Attorney General Jim Hood issued a statement in response to the DOJ Olmstead lawsuit, filed today in federal court. That statement is reproduced in full below.

JACKSON— A lawsuit filed today by the U.S. Department of Justice against the state of Mississippi provides the most meaningful opportunity yet for leaders to work together to continue to improve the state’s mental health system, Attorney General Jim Hood said today.

The federal government alleges that the state has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by housing mentally ill individuals in institutions rather than community settings. The Department of Justice has filed similar lawsuits in about a dozen states alleging violations of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision.

“This lawsuit is a clarion call to all of us in state leadership to consider how we care for the least among us and how we can make it better,” Attorney General Hood said. “I see this litigation as a challenge to our Legislature to find the resources we need to continue to expand mental health services. This is a clear opportunity for our Legislature, mental health professionals, our faith-based community and all of us as Mississippians to come together to determine an effective way to address issues related to our mental health delivery system for years to come. It’s our obligation as Christians and people of faith to take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves. It’s time for each of us to move forward to better fulfill that fundamental responsibility.

“The state has made great progress in expanding community mental health programs, and we will continue to push for expansion. We have come a long way, but further work remains to be done.”

Attorney General Hood said his office has been negotiating with DOJ for several years in an effort to avoid litigation, which is expected to be a considerable cost to the state at a time when tax cuts have caused significant budget problems. However, the Attorney General refused to accept the federal government’s demands for a court-ordered consent decree that would bind the state to perpetual federal oversight.

Attorney General Hood had also hoped that good-faith efforts to address the state’s mental health needs might allay the federal government’s concerns. Thus, the Attorney General has encouraged lawmakers for years to allocate additional resources to the Department of Mental Health. The Legislature did provide some extra funding in previous sessions, but this year actually cut the Department’s budget by $8.3 million. Since 2008, the Department has been forced to eliminate approximately 500 mental health beds, in addition to 34 beds in 2016 because of the Legislature’s budget cuts and its refusal to provide additional money for mental health programs.

“Not only did the Department of Mental Health take a substantial budget hit, the Legislature did not agree to a request for more than $12 million for community mental health programs,” Attorney General Hood said. “That would have helped us continue our expansion of community-based mental health services ...

August 4, 2016

Town Hall with Dr. Kai Smith

By Todd Stauffer

In July, the JFP held a town hall meeting at Millsaps College with featured guest Kai Smith.

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