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April 28, 2016

Rep. Kimberly Campbell to Leave House of Representatives

By adreher

Rep. Kimberly Campbell, D-Jackson, will leave the Mississippi House of Representatives by the end of May. She broke the news on her Facebook page last night, announcing that she had accepted the role of state director of AARP in Mississippi.

Campbell represents District 72, which includes parts of northwest Jackson, and she served in the House for almost nine years. In her Facebook post, Campbell said she was leaving on he own terms. Parts of Campbell's Facebook post is reproduced below:

"Having held Vice-Chairman roles under both Democratic and Republican leadership in the House, I have been committed to working across partisan lines to better all of the citizens of MS. However, there are seasons we all find ourselves. This is my season for change. My work at the State House is complete. It's time to release the reins for someone else to have an opportunity to serve and lead District 72. I will ALWAYS love the citizens of House District 72. But when God says, 'move'... You must heed his call! There are some offers, you just CANNOT refuse! I'll be resigning from the House of Representatives by the close of May."

April 26, 2016

Prominent LGBT Attorney Gives State May 2 Deadline Before Lawsuit: HB1523 Raises 'Serious Concerns'

By adreher

New York-based attorney Roberta Kaplan, who litigated and won the case to end Mississippi's ban on same-sex marriage, sent a letter to Mississippi leaders regarding House Bill 1523 on Monday, Slate reported, saying she and her legal team at Paul, Weiss LLC had "serious concerns" about the bill violating a permanent injunction issued last July in the Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant case.

The letter states that "the July 2015 injunction requires that Mississippi, in accordance with the dictates of the United States Constitution, treat any gay or lesbian couple that seeks to marry the same as any straight couple that seeks to do so." The letter was addressed to Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood and Judy Moulder at the State Registrar for Vital Records. Kaplan asks that they ensure that the 2015 injunction is complied with and that those state officers provide them with:

  • notices for any individual who has filed recusal notices pursuant to HB 1523
  • a full and complete explanation of all steps that each individual seeking recusal (or any person acting on behalf of that individual, including in a supervisory capacity) will take to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are not impeded or delayed when seeking to marry in the relevant county
  • whether the individual seeking recusal intends to continue issuing marriage licenses to straight couples, while at the same time refusing to participate in issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples

Kaplan also asks Mississippi leaders to "agree to provide us with this same information in connection with any clerks who seek to recuse themselves in the future within one week after such information becomes available."

In her letter, Kaplan sets a deadline of May 2, 2016, for state officers to comply with their request "either in whole or in part, so we can be in a position to evaluate whether we will need to seek further relief from the Court."

April 26, 2016

MDE Report: Mississippi Graduation Rate Swells, Dropout Rate Falters

By sierramannie

The Mississippi Department of Education reports that Mississippi's graduation rates have seen significant improvement between 2011 and 2015.

"Districts showed a four-year graduation rate of 78.4 percent for the 2014-15 school year, up from 74.5 (percent) in the 2013-14 school (year)," an April 26, 2016 MDE press release said. The press release also reports America's high schoolers as having graduated at a rate of 82 percent for the 2013-2014 school year.

Dropout rates were down to 12.8 percent in the 2014-2015 school year from 13.9 percent the school year prior. National Center for Education Statistics reports the percentage of high school dropouts as 6.8 percent in 2013.

Mississippi's graduation and dropout rate figures are based on students who entered 9th grade for the first time as of the 2010-2011 school year.

“Those efforts, as well as the Mississippi Department of Education providing more technical assistance to districts and school counselors to help students explore multiple pathways to college and careers, have contributed to dramatic decreases in students leaving school and increases in graduation,” Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education said in the press release. “However, there are districts in the state that still struggle to keep students on the path to a high school diploma, which means we have more work to do.”

The graduation rate for students with disabilities was 27.5 percent.

"We are far from where we need to be when it comes to graduation rates for students with disabilities. The MDE will continue to provide technical assistance to districts to help them support the educational needs of all students,” Wright said in the press release.

Read the full press release, which includes a link to MDE's full report, here.

April 23, 2016

Traffic Delays for First Lady's Commencement Speech

By Maya Miller

It's graduation day for Jackson State University, and First Lady Michelle Obama will be the featured speaker for the commencement ceremony. 55,000 people are expected to attend, and with large numbers comes major traffic delays.

Below is a verbatim statement from The Fondren Renaissance welcoming the First Lady and warning residents of traffic delays:

*55,000 people are expected to attend Jackson State University‘s commencement on Saturday, a ticketed, not “general admission” event. First Lady Michelle Obama will be the featured speaker for the ceremony that begins at 3pm at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium.

As with any visitor of Mrs. Obama’s caliber, major traffic delays will begin on Saturday as early as 9am. (No streets will be affected on Friday).

Jackson Police Department District Commander James McGowan said by phone Lakeland Drive should not be affected but the interstate, from the airport to Woodrow Wilson (on to West Street) will be. Streets immediately surrounding the stadium will be blocked. This, he says, will not affect the streets of the historic Fondren business district. “If you have a business, you should have a captive audience to sell to Saturday as cars will be all over the neighborhood.”

One place they will NOT be allowed to park is Woodrow Wilson. McGowan says, “Vehicles will be towed if left parked along this route.”

It is believed the First Lady will speak shortly after 3pm and leave the stadium around 4pm. Street closures from earlier in the day will once again occur. Expect heavy traffic congestion most of Saturday. “In this area, no one should expect to get anywhere in any hurry on Saturday, period,” he noted.

A University of Mississippi Medical spokesman says hospital employees are advised to anticipate delays. “We don’t know how bad (delays) will be but we’re planning as best as we can. We are opening extra lots on campus to allow to them to park here instead of at the stadium.”

They also advise calling 911 in an emergency. “Persons experiencing a condition such as a heart attack, a severe laceration or other potentially life-threatening condition or obstetrical emergency on Saturday should not attempt to reach any of the three hospital emergency departments in a private vehicle if at all possible.”*

http://fondren.org/news/fondren-welcomes-first-lady-michelle-obama-to-jsu-commencement

April 22, 2016

Belinda Carlisle Will Perform in Mississippi, Despite HB1523

By adreher

Solo artist Belinda Carlisle, the former lead vocalist of the Go-Go's, has decided to go ahead with her Mississippi concert as scheduled, despite having strong objections to House Bill 1523.

On Tuesday, the singer posted an open letter to Gov. Phil Bryant on her Facebook page and GLAAD's website, saying that while she originally planned to cancel her shows in Mississippi, after speaking with local LGBTQ groups, she changed her mind. Carlisle contrasted her pop song "Heaven is a Place on Earth" to the "hell on earth" that House Bill 1523 creates for LGBT Mississippians.

"As the very proud mother of a gay child I can't imagine anything less Christian than using the law as a weapon against others," Carlisle wrote.

Carlisle is scheduled to perform on Saturday night in Biloxi and is holding a candlelight vigil after her concert.

Carlisle's letter is reproduced verbatim below:

Governor Bryant,

I am scheduled to perform in your great state this Saturday, however given the very recent anti-LGBTQ attacks that your administration has leveled against some of your own citizens I very nearly cancelled my appearance. After discussion with various LGBTQ groups, however, I've decided to go forward with the show in order to say a few things to those who live in the Magnolia State -- and I want to start off by addressing you directly.

As the very proud mother of a gay child I can't imagine anything less Christian than using the law as a weapon against others. Because of my career as a performer and the privilege that has brought to our family, my son will be all right, but the pain you're causing LGBTQ Mississippians is devastating, especially the transgender folks and LGBTQ people of color who will be most directly impacted by these attacks. Brave organizers like Kaylee -- a black transgender Mississippian -- and Brandiilyne -- a lesbian pastor in Mississippi -- are just two of the people who will be directly impacted by hateful bills like these. Their bravery in organizing against these attacks is stunning.

Nearly 30 years ago, I released a song titled "Heaven Is a Place on Earth." I was proud of the message of that song then and I continue to be proud of it today. Unfortunately, Governor Bryant, you and those around you are making life hell on earth for many Mississippians.

So I'll go forward with my show on Saturday and I'll use it as an opportunity to speak the truth about the bravery of people like Kaylee and Brandiilyne and so many others across your state who are resilient and loving and brave. Finally, it is my call, as a mother, that you bring a little bit of heaven to Mississippi by repealing HB1523.

Belinda Carlisle

April 22, 2016

JPS Adopts LGBT-Inclusive Employment Policy

By Todd Stauffer

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement praising the Jackson Public School District for voting unanimously to extend workplace protections to gay, lesbian and transgender employees.

April 20, 2016

Governor To Cut $25 Million from Agency Budgets

By adreher

Most state agencies will have to take a $25 million budget cut spread across the board due to low revenue, a letter from Gov. Phil Bryant states.

The budget cut will mean a .43% cut to most state agencies' budgets except Vocation and Technical Education, Student Financial Aid, Schools for the Blind and Deaf, Veterans Affairs and Military will be excluded as well as "agencies excluded due to court orders or statutory exemptions."

The governor is also taking $10 million from the state's rainy day fund to stabilize the fiscal-year 2016 budget. In his letter to Kevin Upchurch at the Department of Finance, Gov. Bryant says he is hopeful that $35 million is "will be sufficient and that no further action will be necessary in FY 2016."

Revenue collections through March have been $122 million below the revenue estimates used when the FY2016 budget was adopted, the letter states.

April 18, 2016

MAEP Funds Same As Last Year, House Ed Committee Chairman Says

By sierramannie

When Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford told him that classroom supply funds at $12 million were $24 million less than they should be as mandated by Mississippi Code, House Education Committee Chairman Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, told him he wouldn’t “stand there and be attacked.”

“I don’t care about the formula,” he said. “I care about how much we had to appropriate.”

With a vote of 119-2, the House adopted the conference report for HB 1643, which outlines the budget for the Mississippi Department of Education. Though the general education fund falls $398,000 below what it was last year, Moore said, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program or MAEP formula is funded at exactly the same figure it was last year: $2,311,438,000 “and some change.”

Moore also says that the Mississippi School for the Blind and the Mississippi School for the Deaf would operate at a little less than $300,000 than they had last year, but that classroom supply funds and reading coaches funds would not be cut.

Read the legislation and the conference reports here.

April 15, 2016

City of Jackson Reports Lead Levels Below Legal Limits

By toddstauffer

Testing on the City of Jackson's water collected from water towers show lead limits that are below the threshold for concern, which city officials say suggests that lead-level problems repeated previously are a problem with the pipes in local homes, not with the distribution system.

April 15, 2016

Planned Parenthood Southeast Denounces Second-Trimester Abortion Method Ban

By Maya Miller

Today, Gov. Phil Bryant signed House Bill 519 which outlaws a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation. The bill also outlines tools that cannot be used to perform an abortion.

Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America released this verbatim statement in response to the signing of the bill:

“Planned Parenthood and health care providers across the country are deeply concerned with this legislation. This bill is not based in medicine, Governor Bryant just signed a clear attack on women’s health care as part of a plan to ban abortion across the board. Planned Parenthood will continue to fight to protect the rights of our patients and their access to safe medical care, no matter what.

“Let’s be clear that the true intent of this legislation is not to protect women. This type of law does nothing to make abortion safer for women and is nothing more than elected officials playing doctor by legislating medical procedures,” said Felicia Brown-Williams, Director of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast. The legislators who supported this bill clearly do not trust women to make these very personal decisions in real life situations.”

April 14, 2016

Charter School Expansion Bill Becomes Law

By sierramannie

This afternoon Gov. Phil Bryant signed SB 2161 into law. The bill amends the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013 to allow students who live in C, D and F districts to cross district lines to enroll in charter schools.

Currently, the only two charter schools in the state are open in the city of Jackson. Jackson Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Sharolyn Miller said today at a public hearing on public education funding held by the Black Legislative Caucus in conjunction with House and Senate Democrats that charter schools billed JPS's local tax contributions $565,000 for the 221 JPS students enrolled this school year.

“The law requires that for every child who goes to a charter school who lives in Jackson, we have to send a certain amount of dollars to fund charter schools," she said at the hearing this morning.

Sierra Mannie is an education reporting fellow for the Jackson Free Press and the Hechinger Report. Email her at sierra@jacksonfreepress.com.

April 11, 2016

5th Circuit Dismisses Google's Lawsuit Against AG Hood

By adreher

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed the Google lawsuit against Attorney General Jim Hood.

The 5th Circuit struck down a lower court's injunction that prevented Attorney General Jim Hood from enforcing the administrative subpoena or bringing any civil or criminal action against Google “for making accessible third-party content to internet users.” The 5th Circuit said that Google's case against Hood should be remanded to the lower court and dismissed as well as the preliminary injunction removed.

The Court did not rule on the merits of Hood's subpoena, which sought "sought information on Google’s platforms, advertising practices, and knowledge of and efforts to police 'dangerous' or 'illegal' content such as prescription or illicit drug sales, drug abuse, credit card leaks, fraudulent identification documents, human trafficking, and copyright infringement."

AG Hood will hold a press conference today at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the lawsuit.

April 9, 2016

JXN Trailblazers - New 'Museum Trail' Video

By Todd Stauffer

The JXN Trailblazers is a group dedicated to encouraging and promoting the building a multi-use trail from the Farmers' Market in downtown Jackson to the Lefleur's museum district centered at Lakeland Drive just east of I-55.

April 7, 2016

Crossroads Film Society Issues Statement on HB 1523

By Todd Stauffer

(Verbatim) Statement from the Crossroads Film Society Board:

It is ironic that on the heels of our very diverse, inclusive, and kind-hearted film festival, those of us who cherish open dialogue and respect the contributions we each make to our State find ourselves at another kind of crossroad.

Recent and confounding action by our State government to legitimize discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and to institutionalize fear of an open and diverse society, challenges Crossroads Film Society to show even more resolve to promote, nurture, and attract diverse and creative artists and film lovers to Mississippi.

We at Crossroads believe that the arts are tools, not weapons, and that we have a responsibility to promote a culture of respect for those who agree or disagree with us.

We do not fear diversity and we are now challenged to stay the course "to celebrate the art of filmmaking in all of its diversity and depth" and embrace that diversity in all aspects of our lives.

April 7, 2016

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson Asks U.S. AG Lynch to 'File Suit' Against Mississippi for HB1523

By adreher

Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking her to review the House Bill 1523, file a lawsuit against Mississippi and declare the bill unconstitutional, which Gov. Bryant signed into law on Tuesday. Below is the press release and the letter reproduced in full.

“Today, I sent a letter to United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking her to examine Mississippi House Bill No. 1523, the so-called “religious freedom” act, and file suit against the State of Mississippi for the overreaching, unconstitutional, and blatantly discriminatory piece of legislation.”

“The discriminatory bill that the governor signed into law yesterday places a dark cloud over the State of Mississippi and will harm the state in business, industry, academics and reputation. I implore the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to act swiftly on my request and work to make sure justice and equality prevail.”

Letter text below:

April 6, 2016

The Honorable Loretta E. Lynch Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Lynch:

On April 5, 2016, Governor Phil Bryant of the State of Mississippi signed into law the so-called “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.” This law purports to protect Mississippians from discrimination by government officials for practicing/observing their religious beliefs. A cursory review of MS House Bill No. 1523, reveals that this bill does no such thing: instead, it gives employers, business owners, and any other person or entity in Mississippi the explicit right to discriminate against anyone with a lifestyle they disagree with in the name of religion. Simply put, this is government-sanctioned discrimination.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. Here, an entire state has sanctioned discrimination against an entire LGBT population in MS. Moreover, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against an individual because they are associated with a person of a particular race, color, religion, sex or national origin. There are countless other laws and regulations on the books that prevent discrimination in one way or another. MS House Bill No. 1523 clearly violates all of those laws. Therefore, I strongly urge DOJ to institute a lawsuit to declare MS House Bill No. 1523 unconstitutional and in violation of the United States Constitution and the previously identified and other civil rights statutes, regulations and executive orders.

A copy of MS House Bill 1523 is enclosed. Again, I strongly urge DOJ, as soon as possible, to file a law suit and take any other appropriate action against the State of Mississippi to strike down this discriminatory law. If you have any questions, please contact Trey Baker, Counsel in my Washington, D.C., office at 202-225-5876 or at trey.baker@mail.house.gov. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Bennie G. Thompson Member of Congress

April 5, 2016

Jackson Mayor: 'We Will Not Discriminate'

By Todd Stauffer

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber issues a statement this evening in the wake of the passage of HB 1523 and city council action.

April 5, 2016

AG Hood: HB 1523 'Will Not Protect' State Officials from Federal Lawsuits

By adreher

Several organizations have issued statements responding to Gov. Phil Bryant signing House Bill 1523 into law. Mississippi law professors from both the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College law schools and legal scholars issued this memo, saying the bill violates the First Amendment.

Vermont, New York, Seattle and Washington D.C. have issued travel bans to the state as a result of the bill being signed. Attorney General Jim Hood issued a statement warning that House Bill 1523 will not protect state officials from federal lawsuits if they violate federal statutes.

Attorney General Jim Hood “Any lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 1523 will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. We would caution government officials and others that House Bill 1523 does not override federal law or constitutional rights. If a person or government official violates a federal statute or constitutional provision, House Bill 1523 will not protect that official from a federal lawsuit or from potential personal liability under federal law.”

Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Moss Point

Rep. Anderson released a statement on Twitter regarding HB 1523 which was signed into law by Governor Phil Bryant today:

“In high school, I was educated about Jim Crow laws and practices, I never once thought, I would be a part of a state legislature that would create such discriminatory and unethical practices based on Christian beliefs or religious practices, the same Christian beliefs that encourage you to love your neighbor and not to pass judgment. We use religion as a shield to discriminate. The work this state has invested to progress past our dark past was challenged today when the Governor signed this discriminatory bill. Not only is this a setback to our State’s economy but it is also a setback for our young bright and talented Mississippi children who call Mississippi their home. First an underfunded public education system, crumbling infrastructure and now a discriminatory bill into law. Mississippi has to rise above and not continue to make national news for all the negative impacts on Mississippians. I firmly believe that an inequality for one is an inequality for all. I will continue to fight to ensure equality for all.”

The Democratic National Committee Verbatim Statement on HB1523 below:

Upon news that Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has signed the discriminatory House Bill 1523 into law, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued the following statement:

“It’s embarrassing, shameful, and truly perplexing that the Republicans still don’t get it. LGBT Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, just as everyone else. No exceptions. No allowances for discrimination. That we’re even still debating this in 2016 boggles the mind.

“‘Right to Discriminate’ measures signed into law by Republican governors are proof that the Republican Party’s leaders are stuck in the dark ages when it comes to equality and that they've been on a divisive path toward destruction since long before Donald Trump ran for president. In fact, the Republican National Committee has ...

April 5, 2016

An Evening of Communal Support After HB 1523

By amber_helsel

St. Andrew's Cathedral has just announced that it will have an evening of communal support on April 24 in response to Gov. Phil Bryant signing HB 1523, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act. The church says all are welcome regardless of religion or other factors. The event, which will be located in the cathedral's nave, begins at 5:30 p.m. For more information, email Ann Phelps at aphelps@standrewscathedral.org.

April 5, 2016

Gov. Bryant Has Signed HB1523 Into Law

By adreher

Gov. Phil Bryant has signed House Bill 1523 into law. He made the announcement on Twitter this morning.

His full statement is available on his Twitter feed and reproduced in full below:

"I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning. This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

This bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizen of this state under federal or state laws. It does not attempt to challenge federal laws, even those which are in conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, as the Legislature recognizes the prominence of federal law in such limited circumstances.

The legislation is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people from which all power to the state is derived."

For more coverage on this bill visit jacksonfreepress.com/lgbt.

April 4, 2016

Video: Mississippians Lance Bass and Mary Elizabeth Ellis Call for 1523 Veto

By toddstauffer

Lance Bass, the Mississippi-born pop-singer, actor and producer who rose to fame as a member of NSYNC has joined actress Mary Elizabeth Ellis to encourage Governor Phil Bryant to veto HB 1523, the anti-LGBT "religious conscience" bill.

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