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July 13, 2016

Verbatim Statement by Attorney General Jim Hood on HB 1523

By Todd Stauffer

After careful review of the law, and the social and fiscal impacts of HB 1523, I have decided not to appeal the Federal Court's injunction in this case against me. I am convinced that continuing this divisive and expensive litigation is not in the best interests of the state of Mississippi or its taxpayers.

July 12, 2016

Thigpen: Charter Schools are 'Free' Schools

By Maya Miller

Forest Thigpen, president of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, issued the following statement regarding the lawsuit filed on July 11 by the Southern Poverty Law Center that alleges the state's charter school law violates the state's constitution by enabling ad valorem taxes to cross district lines, leaving the district they were meant to support:

Charter schools are public schools, and since they charge no tuition, any rational person would conclude that they are "free" schools as referenced by the state constitution.

Parents are responsible for their children's education. It is immoral for the government to force parents to send their children to schools that do not meet their academic and related needs, especially when other public options are available, including charter schools.

Parents who have enough money to move to a better district or to send their children to private schools already have options. Charter schools, as demonstrated by the student population at the two schools that opened this year, primarily serve families who cannot afford either of those options.

Improving educational outcomes is one of the most important ways to lift children out of poverty, and charter schools offer that hope to parents who want a better future for their children. By pursuing this lawsuit, it appears as though the Southern Poverty Law Center wants to perpetuate, not alleviate, southern poverty.

July 11, 2016

State Health Department Announces 3 More Travel-Related Zika Cases

By adreher

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported three new cases of Zika virus in the state today, which brings the state's total cases to eight. The department said all three cases were travel related for residents from Chickasaw, Hinds and Rankin counties who recently traveled to St. Thomas, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Last week, two cases were reported from DeSoto and Madison counties, in travelers to Jamaica and Guatemala respectively. Three other travel-related cases occurred earlier this year, the department's press release states.

In 2016,four cases of West Nile Virus were reported in Hinds, Grenada, Lamar and Rankin counties. The state health department only reports laboratory-confirmed cases to the public. In 2015, Mississippi had 38 West Nile Virus cases and one death.

“At least 46 other U.S. states and territories have already reported travel-associated cases,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Dobbs in a press release. “Now that school is out, we know it is a popular time for mission trips and vacations to these areas. Please be especially mindful of protecting yourself from mosquitoes while you’re abroad. Simple steps can make a big difference.”

Below is information from the state health department about Zika and necessary precautions from their press release:

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that may cause serious birth defects if contracted during pregnancy. Zika virus infection can cause a mild illness with symptoms (fever, joint pain, conjunctivitis or rash) lasting for several days to a week, but 80 percent of those infected have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Death is very rare. The MSDH strongly advises pregnant women not to travel to countries where Zika is actively being transmitted.

Zika has been seen in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and some Pacific islands for years, but has recently been reported in approximately 30 countries, mostly in the Caribbean, Central and South America. The breed of mosquito that is spreading Zika – Aedes aegypti – has not been detected in Mississippi since the early 1990s. The MSDH is currently conducting surveillance for Aedes mosquito populations in every county in the state.

In previous years, WNV has been reported from all parts of the state. All Mississippians are potentially at risk – not just the areas where cases are reported.

Symptoms of WNV infection are often mild and may include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, a rash, muscle weakness or swollen lymph nodes. In a small number of cases, infection can result in encephalitis or meningitis, which can lead to paralysis, coma and possibly death.

The MSDH suggests the following precautions to protect yourself and your environment from mosquito-borne illnesses: · Use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent that contains DEET while you are outdoors.

· Remove all sources of standing water around your home and yard to prevent mosquito breeding.

· Wear loose, light-colored, long clothing to cover the arms and legs when outdoors.

· Avoid areas where mosquitoes are prevalent.

June 30, 2016

Attorney General Jim Hood Announces $150 Million BP Payment to Mississippi

By Tim Summers Jr.

Attorney General Jim Hood released the following statement:

JACKSON, MISS.- The state of Mississippi is expected to receive $150 million from BP on Friday, representing the oil company’s first payment for economic damages resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Attorney General Jim Hood announced today.

The payment comes three months after five Gulf Coast states, the federal government and BP finalized a nearly $20 billion settlement in federal court. The agreement is the largest environmental settlement in history. In all, Mississippi will receive approximately $2.2 billion in compensation from BP.

Attorney General Hood commended his staff and state agency employees for their years-long efforts to ensure Mississippi held BP accountable for its actions and that the state received appropriate compensation for economic recovery and coastal restoration.

Attorney General Hood said he remained committed to making sure that coastal counties and cities receive fair treatment from the settlement. As part of that commitment, Attorney General Hood reminded the Legislature that, despite a significant budget deficit, the $150 million in recoveries from BP should be directed for projects on the Coast. This initial payment – expected Friday and required to be delivered by BP no later than Sunday – is part of a total of $750 million for economic damages that Mississippi will receive over the next 17 years.

“After years of litigation and work to identify the economic damage caused by this catastrophe, we reached an agreement that would help to make our coastal communities whole again,” Attorney General Hood said. “However, I am deeply concerned that the state’s legislative leaders may use this payment to try to cover up their self-created budget hole.”

Attorney General Hood noted that the Legislature has already earmarked approximately $46 million from the $150 million disbursement. Legislative leaders would do a disservice to their coastal constituents if they use that money to fund anything other than areas impacted by the spill, he said.

“Those who created this budget emergency by providing self-serving tax cuts to big business should not use this money to cover up their mess at the expense of our neighbors on the Coast,” Attorney General Hood said.

June 27, 2016

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas' Anti-Abortion Laws; Mississippi Leaders Respond

By adreher

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’ admitting privileges and surgical-center requirement anti-abortion laws by a vote of 5-3 today. The court found both laws unconstitutional because they do place “undue burden” on women seeking abortion access in the state.

"The record contains sufficient evidence that the admitting-privileges requirement led to the closure of half of Texas’ clinics, or thereabouts," the majority opinion says. "Those closures meant fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding. Record evidence also supports the finding that after the admitting-privileges provision went into effect, the 'number of women of reproductive age living in a county . . . more than 150 miles from a provider...'"

In her concurring opinion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners, faute de mieux, at great risk to their health and safety."

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas criticized the court for tinkering with levels of scrutiny in their ruling.

"If our recent cases illustrate anything, it is how easily the Court tinkers with levels of scrutiny to achieve its desired result," he wrote. "This Term, it is easier for a State to survive strict scrutiny despite discriminating on the basis of race in college admissions than it is for the same State to regulate how abortion doctors and clinics operate under the putatively less stringent undue-burden test."

Mississippi's admitting privileges law, which is still tied up in the Supreme Court could be affected by the ruling. The Center for Reproductive Rights said in a press release that similar laws in Mississippi and Louisiana will be found 'likely unconstitutional.'

"Today’s ruling is entirely consistent with lower court rulings in challenges to similar laws in Mississippi and Louisiana which found the measures likely unconstitutional," the press release states. "The clinics in those states will remain open while the litigation continues."

Mississippi state leaders, who supported a Planned Parenthood Medicaid defunding law this session, voiced their outcry to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.

"I am disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today," Gov. Phil Bryant said on Twitter. "This measure is designed to protect the health and safety of women who undergo this potentially dangerous procedure, and physicians who provide abortions should be held to the same standards as physicians who perform other outpatient procedures."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn agreed with the governor's remarks.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today endangers the lives of women and their unborn children in Mississippi and all across America,” Reeves said in a statement. “States should have the ability to protect their citizens through proper regulation of medical care.”

"I'm disappointed with the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court," said Gunn in a statement. "The legislation struck down today is designed to protect women and their unborn children. For those of us who believe in the sanctity of human life, this ruling is a major setback."

...
June 21, 2016

Verbatim: Settlement Ends “Debtors’ Prison” System in Jackson, Mississippi

By Tim Summers Jr.

JACKSON, Miss. – The landmark settlement of a federal class action against the City of Jackson, Mississippi, has brought an end to that city’s self-described “pay or stay” system alleged to have sent hundreds of people to jail each year because they could not pay fines and fees in misdemeanor cases.

The City has agreed to give indigent defendants the choice of paying off their fines at the rate of $25 per month or performing community service and receiving credit toward their unpaid fines at the rate of $9 per hour.

In addition, Jackson no longer will require people arrested for misdemeanors to post a money bond in order to avoid pre-trial detention. Rather than releasing only those people who can afford to pay a bond and detaining those people who – although presumptively innocent – are too poor to pay their way out of jail, the city will release all people arrested for misdemeanors upon their written promise to appear in court on a specified date for a trial or other hearing. As an alternative to money bond, the city’s judges will have the option to place non-monetary pre-trial conditions on people arrested for misdemeanor offenses. For example, a judge might order a person accused of shoplifting to stay away from the location of the alleged misdemeanor until after the resolution of that person’s case.

The agreement is part of a settlement reached in the lawsuit filed by Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit civil rights organization in Washington, D.C., and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law. The case was filed on behalf of seven Jackson residents who were ordered to jail by Jackson municipal judges for periods ranging from 26-90 days due to their inability to pay court debts imposed in misdemeanor cases.

The lawsuit challenged Jackson’s practice of sending impoverished people to jail when they failed to pay their court debts without regard for whether they actually had the financial ability to pay. Persons sent to jail under this system received credit toward their unpaid debts at a rate of $25 per day of incarceration at the Hinds County Jail, or $58 per day if they participated in the mandatory work program at the Hinds County Penal Farm.

As a result of this practice, some people spent several months in jail while working off their debts.

The lawsuit alleged that this practice was carried out for more than a decade and resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of indigent defendants each year.

U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee of the Southern District of Mississippi entered a declaratory judgment in Bell v. City of Jackson setting forth the limitations on incarcerating defendants for failure to pay fines. The judgment states: “It violates the Constitution to incarcerate an individual, either before or after trial, solely because an individual does not have the ability to make a monetary payment…. Based upon this constitutional principle, no individual may be held in jail ...

June 21, 2016

U.S. District Judge Dismisses ACLU HB1523 Lawsuit

By adreher

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves dismissed the ACLU's lawsuit that tried to dismantle House Bill 1523 before it becomes law next week. In his order, Reeves wrote that the ACLU's complaint did not satisfy the criteria for him to issue a preliminary injunction to block HB1523 from becoming law. Reeves wrote that the plaintiffs needed to prove that injury was "imminent" in order for a preliminary injunction to be considered. The plaintiffs, Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas are engaged to be married but do not plan to do so for a few years. Reeves said for a threat to be imminent, it "threatens to occur immediately."

"Alford and Thomas’s injury, if one exists, would arise when they apply for a marriage license. But they declare that they will apply for their license sometime within the next three years," Reeves wrote. "That is not imminent. The ACLU has the same problem. If a member of the ACLU intends to enter into a same-sex marriage in 2017, any injury is at least six months away."

Human Rights Campaign state director Rob Hill reiterated that HB1523 is dangerous and hateful legislation, in response to the order.

“H.B. 1523 represents the worst of Mississippi. If allowed to go into effect next week, it will lead to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ Mississippians at work, school and in family life. The business community -- including local and national companies and organizations such as Nissan, General Electric, the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Manufacturing Association and more -- has roundly condemned this dangerous bill," Hill said in a statement. "It will do harm to our community, our families and our economy and we must not allow it to stand. In the coming weeks, HRC will continue our ongoing efforts to ensure this bill is ultimately struck down or repealed.”

Judge Reeves will hold hearings for the two other lawsuits filed against House Bill 1523 together on Thursday this week. HB1523 will go into effect on July 1 if Reeves does not issue a preliminary injunction blocking it from becoming law.

June 15, 2016

Southern Baptist Convention: 'Discontinue the Display of the Confederate Battle Flag'

By adreher

On Flag Day at its annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution that calls on all Southern Baptist churches and 'brothers and sisters in Christ' to not display the Confederate battle flag.

The convention passed a resolution that said, "we call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters."

"We recognize that the Confederate battle flag is used by some and perceived by many as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people..." the resolution says. "We recognize that, while the removal of the Confederate battle flag from public display is not going to solve the most severe racial tensions that plague our nation and churches, those professing Christ are called to extend grace and put the consciences of others ahead of their own interests and actions."

Russell Moore, president of the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a native Mississippian, has spoken out against Mississippi's state flag previously and reiterated his stance in a blog post this week.

"As I’ve said before, the Cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire," Moore wrote. "Today, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, including many white Anglo southerners, decided the cross was more important than the flag. They decided our African-American brothers and sisters are more important than family heritage. We decided that we are defined not by a Lost Cause but by amazing grace. Let’s pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors.

And let’s take down that flag."

June 14, 2016

Jackson City Council Approves Landmark LGBTQ-Inclusive Non-Discrimination, Hate Crimes Ordinance

By Donna Ladd

The Human Rights Campaign just released this verbatim statement:

JACKSON, Miss. -- Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Mississippi hailed the Jackson, Mississippi City Council for voting to advance city-wide non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, public accommodations and employment. Passed by a 7-0 vote, the measure also expands the city’s hate crimes statute to include tougher penalties for perpetrators who commit crimes motivated by the victim's real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

“As the LGBTQ community grapples with the horrific massacre in Orlando, it is truly encouraging to see the Jackson City Council taking decisive action to protect and affirm the rights of all their citizens,” said HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill. “Discrimination and hate have no place in Jackson, and everyone, regardless of who they are, should have the legal right to feel safe in their community. We thank Councilman Tyrone Hendrix for his continued leadership on issues of equality, and are confident that the Council’s actions will serve as an example to communities across the country.”

Today’s vote comes just days after a tragic shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, claimed the lives of 49 people and injured more than 50 others. While that crime has not yet been labeled a hate crime, according to the most recent FBI statistics available, more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a recent investigation by the Associated Press uncovered, this reporting dramatically undercounts LGBTQ data, as it is based on local, non-mandatory reporting. Strong, fully-inclusive hate crimes legislation at the local level plays an important role in improving data collection and ultimately saving lives.

Mississippi is one of 20 states that do not have hate crimes laws explicitly protecting sexual orientation and gender identity, and one of 32 without fully-inclusive LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.

Jackson his been leading on the issue of LGBTQ equality. Earlier this year, the Jackson Public School District’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to extend fully-inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity workplace protections to their employees. With almost 30,000 students, the district is the second largest in the state and one of the first in the Mississippi Public School system o grant employment protections to LGBTQ staff members.

In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC Mississippi continues to work to advance equality for LGBT Mississippians who have no state level protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations. Through HRC Mississippi, we are working toward a future of fairness every day—changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.

June 14, 2016

Third Lawsuit, Fourth Legal Challenge Filed Against HB1523

By adreher

The Campaign for Southern Equality and Mississippi-native Rev. Susan Hrostowski filed a lawsuit against several state officials, saying that House Bill 1523 is unconstitutional, late last week.

The lawsuit states that House Bill 1523 violates the first and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution and asks the U.S. District Court to enjoin the bill from becoming law on July 1. New York-based attorney Roberta Kaplan, who won same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt in this state, will represent the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit names the governor, attorney general, the executive director of MDHS, and the state registrar for vital records as defendants. Several floor debate comments from the 2016 legislative session about the bill are used in the initial complaint. The complaint draws the distinction between Mississippi's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.

"Critically, the Mississippi RFRA does not single out any particular religious belief or creed and privilege it above all others..." the complaint says. "HB 1523, however, starkly departs from this tradition and practice by providing additional rights and benefits and by extending well beyond those available under RFRA, but only to individuals or entities that espouse one of three specific beliefs: (a) that '[m]arriage is or should be recognized as union of one man and one woman,' (b) that '[s]exual relations are properly reserved to' a marriage between one man and one woman, or (c) male and female 'refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.'"

The ACLU and the Mississippi Center for Justice have both filed lawsuits, asking the courts to rule House Bill 1523 unconstitutional, and Kaplan filed a motion to re-open the case that legalized same-sex marriage in Mississippi, due to HB1523's passage. The Campaign for Southern Equality's lawsuit is the third lawsuit filed against House Bill 1523 and the fourth legal challenge.

June 14, 2016

JFP Wins 'Best in Division' in 66th Annual Green Eyeshade Awards

By Todd Stauffer

Members of the JFP's editorial and design staff have won numerous honors in the 66th Annual Green Eyeshade award, including our first ever "Best in Division" award, receiving the top honor among all non-daily print publications in the contest.

June 10, 2016

UPDATED: MDOC Will Close Walnut Grove Correctional Facility by September

By adreher

The Mississippi Department of Corrections plans to close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility by September due to "budget constraints and the prison population," a press release from MDOC says.

“MDOC’s budget is lower than what we anticipated,” Commissioner Marshall Fisher said in a press release. “Pursuant to an intensive budget review and evaluation, we have determined this is the most prudent action. We have the space in our state-run prisons to house the 900 inmates at Walnut Grove.”

Management and Training Corporation, which ran Walnut Grove, manages three other privately-operated prisons in the state (Marshall County Correctional Facility, East Mississippi Correctional Facility and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility), and Fisher said in a release that he is pleased with MTC.

“We look forward to continuing to work with MTC,” Fisher said in a release. “Ending our contract for Walnut Grove is about being fiscally responsible.”

MTC has operated the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility since 2012, and the current contract cost is $14.6 million annually.

“We are disappointed by the news but also understand the state must do what’s in the best interest of the taxpayers,” said MTC Senior Vice President of Corrections Bernie Warner said in a press release from the company. “Our hearts go out to the excellent staff at the facility. We have some of the best corrections professionals in the business at the facility, and we know this will be very difficult for them. We will do our best to help make the transition as smooth as possible.”

June 6, 2016

John Oliver Starts Miss. Company; Buys and Forgives $15m in Medical Debt

By Todd Stauffer

In a segment highlighting how easy it is to buy up old medical debt and learn about the patients who have it, John Oliver on his show "Last Week Tonight" put together a shell company to do just that.

June 3, 2016

Pastors, Community Advocates File Third Legal Challenge to HB1523

By adreher

Mississippi pastors, community leaders and a Hattiesburg church have filed a federal lawsuit challenging House Bill 1523, the third legal challenge to the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act."

The plaintiffs have sued the governor (who recently received a Religious Freedom Award), the attorney general, the executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and the state registrar of vital records, asking the federal court to issue an injunction blocking the bill from becoming state law on July 1.

The lawsuit says that "with the passage and approval of that bill, the Legislature and the Governor breached the separation of church and state, and specifically endorsed certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations, and condemn transgender people."

The plaintiffs will be represented by Jackson-based lawyer Rob McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Read the complaint here. The press release from the MS Center for Justice has been reproduced, verbatim, below:

Ministers, Community Leaders, and Activists File New Lawsuit Challenging House Bill 1523

A group of Mississippi ministers, community leaders, and civic activists, along with a Hattiesburg church, today filed a new lawsuit in federal court in Jackson challenging House Bill 1523. The lawsuit claims the controversial measure violates the principle of the separation of church and state contained in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The plaintiffs, represented by longtime civil rights lawyer Rob McDuff and the Mississippi Center for Justice, are asking the federal court to issue an injunction blocking the bill from taking effect on the scheduled date of July 1.

The lawsuit follows an earlier case filed by the ACLU challenging HB 1523 on different grounds. The ACLU suit also seeks an injunction prior to July 1.

Today’s lawsuit focuses on the language of Section 2 of HB 1523, which reads: “The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that: (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

The lawsuit claims that by enacting HB 1523, the Legislature and the Governor “specifically endorsed certain narrow religious beliefs that condemn same-sex couples who get married, condemn unmarried people who have sexual relations, and condemn transgender people.” The lawsuit notes that the bill provides special legal protection exclusively to people holding those beliefs, but not for those who have different beliefs.

“The people bringing this lawsuit, like thousands of people in Mississippi, do not subscribe to the religious views set forth in the bill, and do not believe the government should be interfering in religion by choosing some religious views over others,” McDuff said.

“Ensuring that government maintains neutrality on religious beliefs and respects ...

June 1, 2016

VIDEO: One on One With Chief Vance

By Todd Stauffer

In May 2016, Donna Ladd sat down with JPD Chief of Police Lee Vance to discuss crime, youth violence, and creative solutions.

May 26, 2016

Reeves Commends Bryant for Joining Transgender Bathroom Lawsuit

By adreher

Below is a verbatim press release from Lt. Gov. Reeves supporting Gov. Phil Bryant's decision to join the lawsuit challenging Obama's transgender school bathrooms directive:

"Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves today commended Gov. Phil Bryant for joining a lawsuit challenging the federal directive to open bathrooms in Mississippi schools to both sexes.

“I appreciate Gov. Bryant representing Mississippi kids’ interest in this lawsuit fighting massive federal overreach into our communities,” Lt. Gov. Reeves said."

May 19, 2016

U.S. House Approves Bill With Amendment to Ban Confederate Flags at VA Cemeteries

By adreher

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Veteran's Affairs spending bill that had contains an amendment that will ban Veteran Affairs cemeteries from flying Confederate flags. The vote on U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman's (D-CA) amendment ignited debate yesterday in the House but passed this morning by a vote of 265-159. The bill has a ways to go to become law, however, as it will head to the U.S. Senate next.

U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) released the following statement regarding today’s vote in the House of Representatives to approve an amendment to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs spending bill that will limit the display of Confederate flags at national cemeteries:

“I am very pleased with the result of today’s vote to approve an amendment from my colleague Representative Jared Huffman to limit the display of confederate flags at national cemeteries. The Confederate flag belongs in a museum along with other relics of the past and not in a place of prominent display such as cemeteries run by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.”

“Although it was very disappointing that many in the Republican party voted to cling to the last vestiges of slavery and support the flag that represents the darkest times in our country, I am encouraged that many hearts and minds have been changed and that this symbol will no longer fly above VA cemeteries.”

May 18, 2016

ACLU of Mississippi Responds to GOP House Reps Letter to Dr. Wright

By adreher

The following is a statement from American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi Executive Director Jennifer Riley-Collins in response to the group of Mississippi House Republicans who have asked state Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright to step down if she follows the White House’s directive on protecting transgender students’ rights. Some Mississippi Republican Senators have also sent a letter to Wright, asking her to not follow the White House's directive:

“The Mississippi GOP Representatives’ response and threat to the State Superintendent is, yet, another step in the wrong direction. Transgender youth are entitled to the same educational opportunities, anti-harassment protections, and expressive freedoms as other students.

The Obama administration’s guidance is simply providing schools with clarity as to the legal obligations that they already had under Title IX. With this guidance, there should now be absolutely no question as to what schools need to do to ensure they are upholding their obligations under federal civil rights law regarding the treatment of transgender students.

Schools must enforce their dress codes equally and equitably. Schools should permit transgender students to comply with the dress code that reflects their gender identity. The obligation of schools to keep transgender students safe extends to bathrooms and locker rooms. A transgender student should be able to use the bathroom that reflects his or her gender identity. Isolating transgender students, as well as threatening a government official who is asked to follow the law (Title IX), sends, yet, another message that it is acceptable to discriminate in Mississippi.

The ACLU of Mississippi stands ready to defend any student treated differently because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. School should be a safe place for all students.”

May 18, 2016

Mississippi GOP Senators Call for Board of Education to Ignore White House Directive

By sierramannie

Following a letter from Mississippi House GOP members, 27 Mississippi Senate GOP members have signed a letter penned to the Mississippi Board of Education and state superintendent Dr. Carey Wright, urging them to resist the White House directive to protect the rights of transgender students.

This morning, Wright said that MDE would halt action on the directive pending a discussion with the State Board of Education.

Below is the text of the letter:

Dear MS Board of Education and Dr. Wright:

Members of the Mississippi Senate, along with our constituents and fellow Mississippians, stand with Governor Bryant and demand the Mississippi Department of Education disregard the joint guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice regarding Title IX funding and accommodations for students with gender dysphoria. The federal government is, in effect, trying to blackmail our state by implying that funding for public schools will be withheld should we continue to recognize biological sex when setting safety and privacy policies for our schools. Dr. Wright made the decision to usurp the board’s authority and unilaterally issue the policy decision to acquiesce to the illegal demands of the federal government. For this, the superintendent must be held accountable.

Section 203 of our state constitution establishes the Board of Education. The Board holds the sole responsibility to “formulate policies according to law for implementation by the State Department of Education.” Dr. Wright’s decision to forego the will of the Board and impose her political will on the entire state is fundamentally unconstitutional. It is the Board’s job to formulate policy, not the superintendent’s. Dr. Wright’s policy statement issued on May 13, 2016 is non-binding and should be immediately withdrawn.

Additionally, if Dr. Wright, in her capacity as State Superintendent of Education, does not recognize the danger that such an irresponsible policy decision will impose on the children of our state, then it is obvious that her ideals and values do not represent those of the state of Mississippi and the board should act accordingly. WE look forward to your swift and decisive action on the urgent matter and each of us stand ready to meet or speak with you if necessary.

Thank you in advance for your immediate attention on the issue.

Senate David L. Parker Senator Michael Watson Senator Kevin Blackwell Senator Jennifer Branning Senator Nicky Browning Senator Chris Caughman Senator Videt Carmichael Senator Lydia Chassaniol Senator Buck Clarke Senator Denise Dollar Senator Sally Doty Senator Joey Fillingane Senator Tommy Gollott Senator Josh Harkins Senator Angela Hill Senator Billy Hudson Senator Gary Jackson Senator Dean Kirby Senator Chris Massey Senator Chris McDaniel Senator Chad McMahon Senator Phillip Moran Senator Rita Parks Senator John Polk Senator Mike Seymour Senator Sean Tindell Senator Chuck Younger

May 18, 2016

Mississippi Department of Education Stalls on Directive to Protect Trans Students

By sierramannie

The Mississippi Department of Education said Friday that they would adhere to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as well as the joint guidance issued that day by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice to curb discrimination against trans students in order to "provide a safe and caring school environment" for Mississippi's students. A May 18 statement from state superintendent Dr. Carey Wright, however, is now directing the state's Department of Education to take no action.

"Pending a discussion with the Mississippi State Board of Education, I am instructing the Mississippi Department of Education to follow the lead of state leadership and take no action at this time regarding the non-regulatory guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education," Wright said in the press release.

This is a day after a letter from Mississippi House Republicans yesterday called for Wright to step down from her position if MDE honored the White House directive to protect transgender students, claiming that the "policy of allowing boys or men into bathrooms and locker rooms with girls poses a threat to the safety and well being of every school-aged girl in this state."

Gov. Phil Bryant also asked MDE Friday not to follow the directive, calling it the “president’s social experiment.

Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and The Hechinger Report. Read more at jfp.ms/education.

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