Gov. Phil Bryant called for a special session for lawmakers to finish the fiscal-year 2018 budget. He made the announcement on his Facebook this week. Lawmakers will return to Jackson on June 5 to presumably pass the three budget bills that died during session.
"In the interest of providing proper notice to taxpayers and to members of the Legislature, I am announcing that the special session to complete the budget for fiscal year 2018 will be June 5," Bryant said on Facebook on April 25.
"Although the legislative process will determine the length of the session, I anticipate lawmakers will finish their work as quickly as possible, to minimize costs to taxpayers"
The governor did not give explicit details about what lawmakers could address during the session. The House, led by Speaker Philip Gunn, has pushed for addressing the state's crumbling infrastructure with a funding mechanism in the Department of Transportation budget bills. At the end of the session, Gunn hoped he could work with Senate leaders to work on a plan to get more funding to roads and bridges. Now the timer is set for those discussions. Tick tock.
The Attorney General's budget also died as a result of last-minute tinkering with conference reports, and lawmakers will need to pass a bill to fund that agency too.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), who represents part of the city of Jackson in Washington D.C., introduced a private bill to prevent the deportation of Daniela Vargas, a DACA recipient living in his district before she was detained in March. Vargas' brother and father were detained early in March during a raid on their home, then Vargas herself was picked up by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers after speaking out at a press conference. She was released over a week later after her story caught national media attention and sparked local outcry and vigils.
“Enforcement of our country’s immigration laws must hold steadfast to our cherished American values. Daniela Vargas is a member of our community who respects our laws, pays taxes, and has no criminal record," Thompson said in a press release. "It is regrettable that she is the innocent victim of the cruelties of our current immigration system. Our nation needs DACA recipients like Ms. Vargas to be free from the threat of deportation so that they can contribute to our communities and build a better future for themselves and their families.”
“Members of the Jackson community support Ms. Vargas wholeheartedly and I am proud to offer my support as well. While this may be a private bill for one individual, I strongly believe we must do better for those who live in fear of being uprooted from the communities that they call home.”
Read Thompson's bill here.
Gov. Phil Bryant announced his fourth budget cut to the current fiscal-year budget this afternoon. He will cut over $20 million from the state's budget, meaning a less than half percent cut for each state agency. He also pulled $39 million from the state's rainy day fund to plug budget holes, a letter to the state's fiscal officer Laura Jackson shows.
Gov. Bryant announced the news on his Facebook page today, shortly after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee met to adjust their revenue estimates, decreasing anticipated revenue projections for the upcoming budget year, which must be finalized by Saturday night and starts July 1.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told reporters after the meeting that revenue estimate change will make the budgeting process "even more challenging." Lawmakers will have to cut $174.6 million from the already reduced legislative budget office's proposed budget for fiscal-year 2018.
The state now has $240 million in its rainy day fund, which the governor has drawn from three times already this year as well as cutting agency budgets to keep the state's budget balanced in spite of lagging revenues.
Boil water notices are being lifted Monday morning after the weekend's contract work on Jackson water mains.
Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) sent a letter to Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security John Kelly today regarding Daniela Vargas, the 22-year old undocumented immigrant detained in Jackson last week. Thompson's letter asks Sec. Kelly to ensure that his department "exercises available discretion and looks upon her case favorably."
Vargas is Thompson's constituent, and the congressman describes her story to Kelly, saying "Daniela is the kind of young person who, as President Trump put it, should be treated with 'great heart.'"
Thompson asks Kelly to release Vargas from detention while her case proceeds.
"I would also ask that any pending application for immigration benefits, including her DACA renewal, be expeditiously reviewed and favorably considered by your Department," Thompson's letter says. "Young people like Daniela are an important part of communities all over this country, and deserve a chance to pursue their American dream."
National law firms and advocacy groups filed a petition for Vargas' release on Monday, asking the U.S. District Court in Louisiana to stay her pending deportation so that the court can consider whether or not Vargas deserves a hearing before an immigration judge--or to be released from ICE's custody altogether.
Vargas is currently held in the LaSalle Immigration Detention Facility in Louisiana.
Read Congressman Thompson's letter here.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center will close the University Wellness Center Downtown and University Wellness Center Northeast, both in Jackson, by April 1.
The press release from UMMC says the closures are due to "unanticipated cuts in patient care reimbursement and other budget reductions."
“We regret having to close these locations but our need to improve our finances leaves us little choice,” said Kevin Cook, chief executive officer of UMMC’s health system said in a press release. “We are attempting to minimize impacts on employees and members through this transition.”
On Feb. 22, UMMC administrators announced that departments and units across campus must identify ways to reduce expenses and/or increase revenue by a net $24 million by June 30. For fiscal-year 2017, the two Jackson wellness centers are projected to lose a combined $400,000, a press release from UMMC says.
Both centers employ 36 staff members who will remain on the job through March 31 and can apply for openings at the three remaining University Wellness Centers in Madison, Brandon and off Lakeland Drive in Flowood. The Flowood location is the largest of the three and used by the most members. Employees work for Power Wellness, the company that manages the centers for UMMC.
Membership in the centers won’t change, and those using the two Jackson locations, located at 100 E. Capitol St. and 46 Northtown Drive, will continue to have full access to the other three centers.
The City of Jackson announced repairs to a 24-inch water line at Larson and Moody Streets today, and they have issued a boil water notice for the following areas:
[1200-1399] High Street; 39202
[600-199] Monroe Street; 39202
[1200-1399] Harding Street; 39202
Larson Street; 39202
Vine Street; 39202
Foley Street; 39202
Harris Street; 39202
The advisory applies to about 50 connections on the city's drinking water system. Residents will be notified when the boil water notice is lifted.For more information, customers may call 601-960-2723 during business hours or 601-960-1778 (or 601-960-1875) after 4:00 p.m. and on weekends. Please note, this water line repair is not related to the water outage and repairs planned for this weekend.
Gov. Phil Bryant called out Congress today, saying that the American Health Care Act resembles Obamacare too closely.
In a Facebook post, Bryant cited the Heritage Foundation's concerns on the new American Health Care Act, which support his stance that the new plan is "Obamacare Lite." (The Heritage Foundation gave Gov. Bryant an award last year for passing House Bill 1523, which was blocked in court before it went into affect.) Bryant's post says he will be working with Mississippi's congressmen in the coming days to ensure that Republicans "end Obamacare once and for all."
"Republican voters who gave majorities to both chambers and delivered the White House do not want Obamacare Lite," Bryant's Facebook post says. "I know it takes tremendous courage to turn back an entitlement once it is in place. But with $20 trillion in national debt, we best start making some tough decisions."
Read his full statement here.
The Mississippi House of Representatives voted to add domestic abuse as grounds for divorce this afternoon when Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, brought out an amendment to Senate Bill 2680, which clarifies that abused and neglected children can be placed with their relatives when they are removed from their homes.
Gipson's amendment clarifies that "cruel and inhuman treatment" in the state's grounds for divorce law includes both physical and non-physical abusive conduct as a ground for divorce. The amendment thoroughly defines both types of conduct as well as outlines standards of proof that a spouse would need to make.
The amendment would allow the injured spouse's testimony to meet the burden of proof to divorce their partner. The House passed Senate Bill 2680 with the new amendments unanimously. Now the Senate will have to concur with those amendments or invite conference on the bill to keep it alive.
Last week, lawmakers and citizens alike criticized Rep. Gipson for killing Sen. Sally Doty's, R-Brookhaven, bill to clarify that domestic abuse could be grounds for divorce. Gipson initially said that domestic abuse was already included in the state's divorce grounds that says "habitual cruel and inhuman treatment" is a ground for divorce. Days after killing the bill, Gipson announced on Facebook and Twitter that he was working with the Center for Violence Prevention to come up with the "House plan for this issue." Today, before bringing up the new amendment for a vote, Rep. Gipson introduced representatives from the Center for Violence Prevention to the House.
Jackson State University's interim President Dr. Rod Paige applauded President Donald Trump's executive order in support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country. Trump's order creates a board of advisors on HBCUs that reports to him as well as effectively moves HBCU programs to the executive office instead of the Department of Education.
Paige, a former U.S. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, said he was encouraged by Trump's executive order.
“HBCUs have played an integral role in providing access to education and to the American dream for minorities for nearly two centuries. We are encouraged by the White House Initiative on HBCUs and look forward to the enhanced visibility and the opportunity to develop strategic partnerships with other agencies," Paige said in a press statement. "Moving the initiative from the Department of Education back to the White House is significant. This gives HBCUs greater access to other departments under the White House umbrella, such as the departments of agriculture, commerce, defense, health and human services, and so many others."
Trump signed the executive order on Feb. 28 the same day that new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a statement using HBCUs as a bastion for school choice, a statement which drew ire from politicians and academics alike.
"(HBCUs) started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn't working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution," DeVos' statement said.
"HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish."
DeVos' statement completely ignores the fact that HBCUs were born out of segregationist policies, like Jim Crow laws and state sanctioned segregation that did not allow African American students to attend public schools or universities, or even earlier in some cases as the Washington Post reports, "historically black colleges date to the pre-Civil War era when public policy in parts of the nation barred blacks from education."
Since Trump signed the executive order, some HBCU presidents have taken the opposite approach of Paige. The Root boiled down the essence of some presidents' response to the executive order simply as: "We got played."
The president of Morehouse College wrote that expectations of a president doing more than Barack Obama would have meant increased funding, but as President John Silvanus Wilson Jr. wrote, "...instead of the long-awaited executive order containing or signaling any of those outcomes (increased funding, scholarships etc), the key change is a symbolic shift of the White House HBCU Initiative from the Department of Education to the White House. It is not possible to measure the impact of this gesture anytime soon, if ever."
Wilson Jr. went on ...
Fondren's First Thursday is undergoing another change.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), released a statement in support of Daniela Vargas today. Thompson is a ranking member on the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, and represents parts of the city of Jackson in the U.S. House. His statement is below:
"Our country must have immigration policies that are constitutional and remain true to our values. Ms. Vargas appears to have committed no crime and was only speaking out on behalf of her family, who is threatened by this President's misguided immigration agenda. ICE's assertion that her detention is "routine" is absurd and seems anything but. Clearly, ICE resources used in this case would have been better utilized to find and detain dangerous criminals and get them off our streets. As a DACA recipient she should be allowed to stay here. Those like Ms. Vargas just want a better life for themselves and their families and are true believers in the American dream - they should not be pushed further into the shadows."
Ward 7 Jackson Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon has announced that she will not seek re-election this spring for her council seat, which she's held for 32 years. Barrett-Simon released the statement below, regarding her decision:
It has been my deepest honor and blessing to serve Ward 7 as your elected representative on the Jackson City Council for the last 32 years. After much consideration and discussion with Al and the rest of our family, I have decided that the time has come to seek new challenges. I will not seek re-election this spring.
Ward 7 is perhaps the most diverse part of our city. One of the true blessings that I have had in this job is the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from such varied backgrounds. I have come to love these friends so much, and this is what I will miss the most. I would also like to thank all of my colleagues on the City Council and in city government with whom I have been privileged to serve.
I intend to remain engaged in our local affairs as we move forward together, and I look forward to joining with all of you as we all strive to build a better and more prosperous city for all of our residents. I also encourage each of you to take an active role in making Jackson and Ward 7 the best that they can be. The future of Jackson is bright because of you.
Dr. Albert Simon and I would like to offer our most sincere thanks to each and every one of you for your support and friendship over these many years. We won't be far away."
According to WJTV the Hinds County Board of Supervisors voted today to declare a state of emergency in South Jackson to support work on a 48-inch water main; the work may require a significant time period of disrupted water service in the area.
Due to newly projected expenses not incurred in the past, important logistical decisions could not be made in a timely fashion, resulting in the cancellation of the annual nighttime parade.
Continental Tire awarded four Mississippi-based firms contracts to work on the construction of the Hinds County tire plant and training center, which will be located off of Interstate-20 just outside of Clinton.
Three firms, Jackson-based McCarty Architects, Clinton-based WGK Engineers and Tupelo-based Corbett Legge & Associates Engineering, were awarded 30 percent of the design contract for Continental’s training center, which is expected to begin in July 2017.
“We are thrilled to help Continental Tire make their vision of a new training facility a reality,” Kurt Shettles, McCarty Architects President & CEO, said in a press release. “Our previous experience with training facilities and automotive related projects gives us an opportunity to use that expertise to help make this project the best that it can be for our community and state.”
Jackson-based firm, Sol Engineering, was awarded a portion of the engineering design and program management contract for Continental’s tire plant.
For contracting information or updates visit www.mississippi.org/continental.
MDAH has now announced the leadership team for 2 Mississippi Museums, which will encompass the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.
Here are more details on Hal's St. Paddy's Parade & Festival on March 18.
The Tax Foundation honored Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn with its Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform award this week.
"Reeves and Gunn led the effort to begin phasing out the state’s archaic franchise tax, a tax on investment and capital formation in a state that needs more of both," a press release from the Tax Foundation says. "Beginning in 2018, the tax rate will drop in phases until complete repeal in 2028. The legislation also reduces the tax rate on low levels of income. Reeves and Gunn have also explored further tax reform options."
Reeves and Gunn brought the Tax Foundation to the Legislature last summer to work with a tax panel made up of lawmakers to look at the state's tax code. The conservative Tax Foundation favors relieving tax burdens on businesses, and their award follows the 2016 Legislature's passage of the Taxpayer Pay Raise Act, which will divert $415 million from the state's general fund in 12 years.
On deadline day, both the House and the Senate passed their respective versions of "dummy" education funding formula bills out of committee that bring up code sections regarding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The bills mark both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves' commitment to at least looking at some of EdBuild's education funding recommendations, which were released two weeks ago in an 80-page report.
EdBuild's main recommendation is for the state to transition to a weighted student formula, which would work in a very different way than MAEP does now. Weights are attached to certain characteristics of students like special education, English language learners or "low-income" students to name a few. Weighted formulas give money based on those weights and the student populations they affect, so in theory, the district with the highest number of highest weighted student populations could have the most to gain--or not. How much weight each of those and other measures will get in the Legislature's proposed new formula is still unclear, and experts say that the weights are the political part of any weighted formula.
The dummy bills that came out of both committees today give no indications of what sort of weights the top lawmakers are considering or what total dollar amount lawmakers are working with to determine funding for the new formula or fiscal-year 2018, which begins July 1.
It's possible that specifics on any plans to re-vamp the formula won't be out until conference committee time, right before session ends. It's also possible that lawmakers will only address certain parts of EdBuild's recommendations. Both Rep. John Read, R-Gautier, and Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, mentioned the transparency measures from EdBuild's report, which would require school districts to track and report how they spend their funds in new ways.
There are a lot of questions up in the air, and the answers are few and far between. What's for certain is that the formula is certainly still up for debate and potential changes this session, but to what extent changes will be made depends on top lawmakers' decisions in the next 60 days.