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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.

August 1, 2016

U.S. District Judge 'Passes Baton' on HB 1523 Case, Denies Stay Motion

By adreher

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves has denied Gov. Phil Bryant and executive director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services John Davis' motion to stay the preliminary injunction Reeves initially issued, which blocked House Bill 1523 from becoming law.

In his 6-page order, Reeves says that the state did not prove irreparable injury in their motion.

"A Mississippian – or a religious entity for that matter – holding any of the beliefs set out for special protection in § 2 [of HB 1523] may invoke existing protections for religious liberty, including Mississippi’s Constitution, Mississippi’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the First Amendment to the United State Constitution," Reeves wrote. "HB 1523’s absence does not impair the free exercise of religion."

Reeves' order means he has officially passed HB 1523's fate into the hands of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The motions are denied," Reeves concludes. "The baton is now passed."

Gov. Bryant and Davis have also appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals separately, asking them to lift Reeves' preliminary injunction. For more stories on HB 1523, visit jacksonfreepress.com/lgbt.

August 1, 2016

Jackson Man Arrested for Conspiracy, Bribery of Hinds County Assistant DA

By Tim Summers Jr.

VERBATIM:Attorney General Jim Hood announced today that a Jackson man was arrested Friday for bribery of a public official and conspiracy following a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the FBI.

Robert Henderson, 44, is accused of offering a former Hinds County assistant district attorney $500 in exchange for dismissal of charges against three criminal defendants. Henderson is charged with one count of bribery of a public official and one count of conspiracy to bribe a public official. Henderson was booked into the Hinds County Jail. Hinds County Justice Court Judge Frank Sutton set Henderson's bond at $5,000 for bribery of a public official and $5,000 for conspiracy for a total of $10,000.

Henderson is alleged to have offered the bribe to then-Hinds County Assistant DA Ivon Johnson on or about June 15 of this year. Henderson is accused of seeking Johnson’s assistance in having cases dismissed involving three criminal defendants.

As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

July 29, 2016

Jackson Launching New Water Bill Portal Aug 1

By Todd Stauffer

Verbatim release:

City of Jackson Launches Self-Service Portal for Water Customers

The City of Jackson will launch the new customer self-service portal on Monday, Aug. 1, providing convenience and useful information to the City’s water customers. The portal allows water customers to pay bills online, view account balances and copies of previous months’ bills, and monitor and track water usage.

Customers can visit https://waterwebcss.jacksonms.gov/OUCSSPortal to set up an account.

Users of the self-service portal will see the same data that is available to the Water Department as they generate monthly bills. Data is available in near real-time and is supplied from the automatic water meter on your property. If customers need more information than what is available on the portal, they can contact the Water Sewer Business Administration at 601-960-2000.

Customers can take simple steps to reduce water consumption and water bills:

Five-minute showers use about 10 gallons of water, or about 75% less water than baths.

Turning off the water while you brush teeth can reduce your water usage to less than 1 gallon, whereas letting the water run for 2 minutes will waste as much as 4 gallons of water.

Watering your lawn uses about 2 gallons per minute; consider how much time you need to water your lawn—and whether the lawn really needs it.

If you wash dishes by hand, you can use as much as 27 gallons of water. Consider scraping dishes first, letting them soak in soapy water before rinsing, and not letting the water run the entire time you’re washing.

July 25, 2016

DOJ Charges Two More People in Epps Case

By adreher

The Department of Justice charged two more people involved in the former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps' case today. Both press releases from the DOJ are reproduced verbatim below:

Texas Man Charged with Conspiracy to Bribe Former Corrections Commissioner

Mark Longoria, 53, of Houston, Texas has been charged in a Criminal Information with conspiracy to pay bribes to former Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Commissioner Christopher B. Epps, announced Acting United States Attorney Harold Brittain and FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Donald Alway. Longoria will appear for arraignment on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball. The maximum penalty for conspiracy is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Deputy Criminal Chief Darren LaMarca, Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Lemon, and financial analyst Kim Mitchell.

The public is reminded that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Teresa Malone Charged with Conspiracy to Bribe Former Corrections Commissioner

Teresa Malone, 54, of Carthage, Mississippi has been charged with paying kickbacks to former Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner (MDOC) Christopher B. Epps in exchange for receiving a consulting agreement involving the MDOC and its operations, announced Acting United States Attorney Harold Brittain and FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Donald Alway.

Malone will appear for arraignment on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, at 2:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Ball. She faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine for the conspiracy count, and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000.00 fine for the bribery count.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is being prosecuted by Deputy Criminal Chief Darren LaMarca, Assistant United States Attorney Patrick A. Lemon, and financial analyst Kim Mitchell. The public is reminded that an indictment is merely a charge and should not be considered as evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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.

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