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MSNAACP Release Statement: Tyla Tucker Salutatorian Situation

2016/05/17 – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP is deeply concerned with the current plight of Calhoun County District School senior Tyra Tucker. The Calhoun County School Board informed Tyra, who holds the number two GPA in her class, that she would share the title of co-salutatorian with Taylor Collums, a junior who would be graduating early. Then only two weeks later, Tyra was informed that she would not be a co-salutatorian, and, in fact, would be no salutatorian at all.

The timing and circumstances of the Board’s abrupt change of position raises concerns and questions that this decision was not based on student merit, but on racial motivations. “This new decision is especially disturbing in the light of new information that indicates that Tyra’s GPA was miscalculated because two of her grades were not included in her final GPA” says Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. “When the missing classes are added to the calculation, Tyra’s GPA increases. This is significant because the miscalculation resulted in Taylor’s GPA being only hundredths of a point higher than Tyra’s.”

The NAACP wants only to ensure that the process of graduation honors and class ranking has only been determined by merit and not ulterior motivations, that the awards and titles have been given for achievement and on the correct calculation of GPAs. Johnson continued stating that, “the naming of a graduating class’s valedictorian and salutatorian should always be fair and balanced. That is what we want to see here and that is what Tyra Tucker deserves.”

Source: MSNAACP Writers

MS-Rally-HB1523-share1200

Hundreds March on Governor’s Mansion to Repeal HB 1523

2016/05/10 – The Mississippi State Conference NAACP joined the Human Rights Campaign and hundreds of people, both in and out of state, in a passionate protest against House Bill 1523.  The bill promises state legal protection to religious groups and some private businesses that deny services to same-sex couples and transgender people.  The new law also allows an employer or government or private school to restrict a person’s bathroom privileges to the gender he or she was assigned at birth.  This means that if you were told you were a male as a child, but as an adult you identify as a woman, you could be restricted to the male bathroom no matter how inaccurate the classification is.

HB 1523 takes effect July 1 and hundreds marched upon the Governor’s Mansion demanding that the governor and the legislature voluntarily nullify the impending law.  The Human Rights Campaign organized the May 1 event.  Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the bill essentially closes Mississippi for business.

“We’re gathered here today because a few weeks ago Mississippi lawmakers and Gov. Bryant inflicted a great injustice on this state and on its people.  In doing so, Gov. Bryant sent a message to this country and to this world that the state of Mississippi is closed for business,” Griffin said.  “And I bet he’s hearing that every day, because every day another CEO and another business speaks out (against the law).”

Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and Speaker Philip Gunn, he said, had firmly planted themselves on the wrong side of history – a darker side of history.  “They’ve added their names to a list of disgraced southern politicians who have used fear throughout history to divide us,” Griffin said.

Susan Hrostowski, vicar of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Collins, made a similar argument, claiming that shallow, cynical lawmakers had passed the bill specifically to divide the public and keep them from uniting against them in upcoming elections.  She said the law perfectly mimics similar laws used against minorities in the past.

“This is a smokescreen,” Hrostowski told the energetic crowd.  “Watch what happens now that our health department is cut, now that our mental health systems are cut, now that our social service system is gone, and our education (system) goes unfunded.  Ladies and gentleman, Lyndon B. Johnson once said during the Civil Rights Movement that when we help the white man feel superior to the black man then he won’t scream so much while we’re picking his pocket.”

Other speakers also noted the unsettling similarity HB 1523 shares with past efforts by Mississippi politicians to use disingenuous, moral high-ground arguments to mask their more insidious attempts to manipulate voters Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, warned the crowd to recognize the law for what it is.

“In a state steeped in a history of discrimination and racial division, with leaders that use the politics of division to maintain power, we must stand united,” Johnson urged.  “This so-called religious freedom act has nothing to do with any religion that I’m aware of.”

Johnson lambasted the lawmakers’ effort to hide their bigotry behind the Bible.

“It was interesting that they said they’re doing this because of some ‘sincerely held religious and moral beliefs.’  I’ve heard this language before.  This is the language used to justify slavery. …  This is the language used to justify women being second-class citizens. …  This is the language used to divide individuals and justify a racist symbol in our state flag,” Johnson said.  “If we want to stand as a united community, we must stand to fight against this bill.  We must stand with Planned Parenthood when they attack women, and we must stand with the NAACP to remove the state flag.”

Other speakers attending the rally opined that proponents of the bill were merely trying to use the controversial law to distract the public from their miserable voting records and political impotence.  American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Strategist Erik Fleming was one of many who felt legislators backing the bill had plenty of incompetence to hide.

“It’s more pandering than anything else,” said Fleming, a former Democratic State Representative from Jackson.  “This state is the poorest state in the nation, but instead of dealing with how to advance us they’re taking the lazy way and trying to distract us from the problems that they’re failing to fix.”

Jody Owens, a Jackson attorney who also works with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the new bill, should it become law in July, would set off a volley of lawsuits against the State.

“A few weeks ago we asked (a certain politician) not to sign this bill and he (still) did it. …  We said ‘we promise you that if you sign this bill we’re going to take the fight to the courthouse,’ and that’s exactly what we intend on doing,” Owens told the crowd.

Owens said he and his affiliates were already on the lookout for plaintiffs in the upcoming suit.

Source: MSNAACP Writers

One Person, One Vote

Democracy Spring Met with Media Silence

2016/05/11 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined more than 100 organizations in a massive protest in Washington, DC last month.  The expansive sit-in culminated in noise, marches, shouting, and arrests – and you probably never heard about it.

The NAACP joined hands with hundreds of followers and members of sister organizations protesting the corrupting power of money in politics.  Public Citizen, People for the American Way, AAUW, American Postal Workers Union, Common Cause, Greenpeace, Communications Workers of America, Democracy Initiative, and countless other pro-democracy organizations participated in the three-day event that began with a 140-mile walk from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to the U.S. Capitol.

“Every American deserves an equal voice in government.  That is our birthright of freedom, won through generations of struggle, but today our democracy is in crisis,” according to Democracy Now’s website.

“American elections are dominated by billionaires and big money interests who can spend unlimited sums of money on political campaigns to protect their special interests at the general expense.  Meanwhile, as the super-rich dominate the ‘money primary’ that decides who can run for office, almost half of the states in the union have passed new laws that disenfranchise everyday voters, especially people of color and the poor.”

The coalition and the NAACP point to anti-democratic efforts to stifle votes in states by enacting new disfranchising laws, including new voter registration deadlines and restrictive identification requirements.

The U.S. Supreme Court aided the effort to lock out voters by nullifying the section of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal permission before states could do anything that might tamper with voting.  Within weeks of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, North Carolina and Mississippi began passing new laws imposing voting restrictions.

Protestors criticized the emerging American oligarchy, wherein the rich and powerful have more say in politics than the voters.  Examples, according to protesters, include the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United v. FEC case, which opened the floodgates to new money in politics by enabling new political action committees (Super PACS) that can raise limitless amounts of cash from any source and buy influence with elected politicians. One of the more obvious examples of influence-peddling includes House

Democrats’ attempts to jettison an Obama administration plan to reduce drug prices for regular Americans, spurred by wealthy doctors and the pharmaceutical industry who donate heavily to their campaigns.

Participants in the protest included NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks, as well as actress Rosario Dawson and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, among others.  The event was a protest, in every sense of the word, meaning many participants participated in what amounted to civil disobedience and were consequently rounded up and charged with “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding,” according to DC police.

Despite the arrest of nearly 1,400 individuals, however, the media largely ignored the event.  Rebecca Lenn, outreach director for media watchdog group Media Matters for America, told the Mississippi NAACP that the national press never gave the event coverage because wealthy media owners don’t want money out of politics.  The media is, they claim, part of the establishment that wants moneyed interests to retain political power.

“Thousands gathered in Washington last week to protest the outsized influence of money in politics and unprecedented restrictions on voting rights, yet most broadcast evening programs and the top five Sunday shows failed to take notice.  This election cycle, too many network hosts and pundits have prioritized horse race campaign coverage over the substance of issues that matter most to their viewers,” Lenn stated.

She went on to explain that a huge majority of Americans believe that money matters more than voters in shaping U.S. policy and that money’s corrupting influence ranks as a top concern.
The Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening demonstrations weren’t the only ball that large media dropped, however.  Lenn explained that her organization’s “last analysis revealed that six years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the same networks have largely neglected to cover the need for campaign finance reform,” with publicly owned PBS being the lone exception.

“This lack of coverage often presents the problem as intractable and the new status quo and disregards the growing movement of Americans working to implement solutions that can reverse it  – a movement reflected in both Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening,” Lenn said.

The coalition remains stalwart in its demand for Congress and the President to pass laws such as the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which restores the protections against voting discrimination that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Shelby County v. Holder decision, as well as the Voter Empowerment Act, which will modernize voter registration and stop “deceptive practices” that turn voters away from polls.

Source: MSNAACP Writers

jackson-airport

Capitol Complex Bill: A No-Fly Zone

2016/05/11 – While state leaders seem thrilled to starve Mississippi’s revenue by approving $575 million in tax cuts (amid a $50 million shortfall, no less), they are not so eager to sacrifice tax cuts for the City of Jackson.  So say City representatives contending with a brutal 2016 legislative session that saw GOP legislators raid the City’s management of its own airport.

“They put a poison pill in the Capitol Complex bill.  Even Jackson’s own delegation couldn’t support it, and I was originally for the bill,” said Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson.

House Bill 1564 originally allowed the state to divert tax money to the state’s capital city in order to fix potholes, pave streets, and pay for safety and infrastructure improvements.  The newly created district would sit in the area between Mayes Street in its northernmost portion and just south of Jackson State University in its southernmost territory.  The Pearl River and Bailey Avenue would set its western and eastern borders.  All territory within would see the benefit of up to $21 million in additional revenue granted by the State.

Well, not granted, actually.  All municipalities pay money to the State in the form of sales and property taxes, but the State allows all municipalities to draw back about 18.5 percent of their annual payment to the State.  House Bill 1564 would have allowed the City of Jackson to take back an extra 12.5 percent, on top of its 18.5 percent allotment.

Local political leaders in Jackson were already skittish about the State having considerable input in how exactly Jackson spent its own money deferred by the State, but amendments to the bill also created a new judge overseeing criminal cases in the local court.  While many judicial watchdogs have been lobbying for extra judges to help the City or County clear some of their backlogs of criminal cases, locals were alarmed at the prospect of the proposed new judge being an unelected official appointed directly by the governor.  Critics complained that the legislature and the governor were trying to create a GOP fiefdom within the majority Democratic central city.

A second, even more infuriating, change in the bill arrived “in the middle of the night on the last night of the session,” according to Jackson City Council President Melvin Priester, in the form of a drastic reduction in the tax deferment.

“The original deferment was 12.5 percent, giving us back about $21 million a year of our own money, but on the Senate side, in conference, they lowered that deferment down to where the new figure was only about $8 million,” said Sykes.  “It just wasn’t worth keeping it anymore, not for what we had to give up.  In addition to the governor-appointed judge and the bond reduction, it was just a paper title.  The Hinds County delegation united against it and it died.”

State leaders were happy to pull resources from the central city, even as GOP legislators passed SB 2162, which removes City governance from the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport located on City-owned and annexed property.

Senators voted 29-14, mostly along a party line split, to eliminate the governing board over the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority and replace it with a regional one.

Legislators in the powerful, white-majority suburbs of Rankin County want control of the airport, which sits on Jackson property surrounded by Rankin County.  Critics argue that affluent whites have been abandoning the central city for four decades, but now want to take Jackson property with them on their way out.

SB 2162 author Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, insists, somehow, that the bill is not a power grab.
“It is not a takeover, it is an expansion of the board,” said Harkins.  “Jackson will maintain the majority of spots on the board.  They will maintain all the revenue.”

Jackson Sen. John Horhn, who opposes the takeover, said the City and its allies will take the fight all the way to the Federal Aviation Administration and further, if necessary.

Airport Authority board member Evelyn O. Reed said this is not the first time white suburbs have invaded minority-run airport authorities.

“Charlotte, North Carolina, experienced the same thing as Jackson,” Reed said, and warned that even now, three years after the state’s general assembly approved transferring the airport to a regional authority in 2013, the case is still in court.

“We’ll go to court, and – depending on the results – we’ll appeal,” Reed said.
Even though Rankin County Republican Gov. Phil Bryant quickly signed the takeover bill, Councilman Priester said the FAA has the final say on whether or not it will award a license to any new board arising from the law.

“The FAA generally frowns on changing operators,” Priester said.  “They don’t like giving new licenses.”
It should be noted, however, that there is no predicting an FAA decision if a Republican administration enters the White House next year.

Source: MSNAACP Writers

Fencing surrounds the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove, Mississippi, U.S., on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. In Mississippis four privately run prisons last year, the assault rate averaged three times as high as in state-run lockups. None was more violent than the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, And Local Officials Are ‘Devastated’ By The Loss Of Revenue

2016/04/14 – County officials across Mississippi are warning of job losses and deep deficits as local jails are being deprived of the state inmates needed to keep them afloat. The culprit, say local officials, is state government and private prisons, which are looking to boost their own revenue as sentencing and drug-policy reforms are sending fewer bodies into the correctional system.

In the late 1990s, as the overcrowded Mississippi prison system buckled under the weight of mass incarceration, the state asked local governments to build local correctional institutions to house state prisoners. It was billed as a win-win: The Mississippi Department of Correction would foot the bill for each prisoner, and the counties would get good jobs guarding them. The state guaranteed that the local jails would never be less than 80 percent occupied, and the locals would get a 3 percent boost in compensation each year.

After a few years, say local officials, the state offered a new deal: Instead of the 3 percent bump, they would give the locals more and more prisoners, thus boosting total revenue. Today, the state pays $29.74 per day per prisoner to the regional facilities, a deal that worked for everybody as long as the buildings were stuffed full with bodies.

Scott Strickland, president of the Stone County Board of Supervisors, said reforms at the state and local levels have shrunk the prison population. “Federal laws took some part in that — allowing prisoners to serve only a certain percentage of their term,” he said. “Also, they’ve reduced prison sentences for certain drug-related offenses.”

As the wave of mass incarceration begins to recede, the Mississippi controversy has local and state officials talking openly about how harmful locking up fewer people up will be for the economy, confirming the suspicions of those who have argued that mass incarceration is not merely a strategy directed at crime prevention. “Under the administrations of Reagan and Clinton, incarceration, a social tool used for punishment, also became a major job creator,” Antonio Moore, a producer of the documentary “Crack in the System,” wrote recently.

“I don’t think it necessarily started out this way, but the inmate population has become the backbone of some of these counties that are involved,” said Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher as the controversy heated up.

The prisoners have value beyond the per diem, county officials add, when they can be put to work. State prisoners do garbage pickup, lawn maintenance and other manual labor that taxpayers would otherwise have to pay for. Convict labor has made it easier for local governments to absorb never-ending cuts in state funding, as tea party legislators and governors slash budgets in the name of conservative government.

The state knows it, and now demands that local jails house state convicts who perform labor for free, George County Supervisor Henry Cochran told The Huffington Post. The counties take the deal. “You’re either gonna go up on everybody’s garbage bill, or you’ve gotta house those inmates,” Cochran said. “You’re using that inmate labor, so [taxpayers are] getting a little good out of that inmate for their tax dollars. You either gotta hire a bunch of employees or keep that inmate. It’s like making a deal with the devil.”

State lawmakers can claim to be acting conservatively, Cochran said, but they’re not responsible for the consequences of their decisions. “The state’s dumping responsibility on local government,” he said.

“The department has had to reduce spending by $5 million to comply with Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent order,” Fisher said in a February statement, citing the budget constraints as the reason for the prisoner transfers.

Fisher added that he was re-evaluating the agency’s spending, given “low pay, high turnover, critical staff shortages, and aging facilities.”

The state was paying prison guards so little that it couldn’t even find staff for its community work centers, which run the convict labor program, Fisher said. Mississippi, in other words, couldn’t even afford free labor. “I don’t like having to close community work centers, but we simply don’t have the staff to keep some of them operating. Until we improve the pay of corrections officers, staffing will continue to be a critical issue,” Fisher said.

Like Mississippi, neighboring Louisiana, as well as Kansas, have recently become laboratories for conservative policy, with hard-line Republicans slashing taxes and dramatically cutting spending. The argument was that the tax cuts would fuel growth. Instead, the states have become economic basket-cases — Kansas actually performed worse economically than its neighbors. Deficits in Kansas and Louisiana both soared and basic services have been cut beyond the bone.

The next to fall in Mississippi will be workers at regional jails that have lost 20 percent of their inmates. Officials in Stone County and George County said that around 40 employees in each would be laid off if the jails were forced to close, a necessity if the inmate population or the state reimbursement doesn’t increase. The counties are losing $72,000 per month each, officials said. Both counties still owe significant sums on boncompds that financed the jails, so even if they shut them down to stop the bleeding, taxpayers will still be on the hook.

“It’s a game,” said Scott Strickland. “The commissioner of corrections wants raises for all his state employees, so he’s trying to cry wolf.”

Strickland noted that it costs the state roughly $43 per day to lock people in Mississippi facilities, and that none of the inmates in Stone County were looking forward to being moved. “They treat them rough up there,” he said of the state prisons.

Jeffrey Schwartz, a consultant who has advised jails and prisons, said Mississippi’s battle is a strange turn of events. “It is a state that has had lots of problems within corrections. This is quite a new twist,” he said. “In the great overcrowding days, there were battles between the counties and the state over whether the state had to take inmates from the counties, and the states said we’re not taking any more, and the sheriffs said, well you have to.” A sheriff, Schwartz recalled, once dropped inmates off at a state prison, handcuffed them to the fence, and drove off.

But local officials are investigating whether the state inmates are instead winding up in private prisons. “According to their reports, they have some private prisons that they are actually paying up to $80 a day. I think it’s political favors going around, the reason they’re doing that, but that’s neither here nor there,” Strickland said.

Mississippi contracts with a Utah company called Management and Training Corp. to house some of its prisoners. Stone County Supervisor Dale Bond questioned why the state would send inmates to the private prison at more than double the cost of transferring them to a county facility. “Some of these private prisons have got 1,000 inmates and they’re getting that large per diem,” he lamented.

“None of the offenders from the regional jails are being moved to the facilities we operate. We house approximately 4,100 inmates at the four facilities,” said Issa Arnita, spokesman for MTC.

“By the end of May, we’ll be well over a quarter-million in the red on that facility,” said Bond of Stone County’s facility. “If they do not send us our inmates back, we can’t make it.”

Bond said the county supervisors have asked for permission to bring prisoners from out of state to cover the shortfall, but he worried red tape will slow the flow of human traffic. “I don’t know how reliable that is. By the time we get that approved, we’re gonna be broke,” he said.

At a recent meeting with state officials, Bond said, the state Corrections Department offered to pay off one sheriff’s bond and close the county facility, but he turned down the offer. “No, we don’t want that, we want the jobs,” the sheriff said.

For Strickland, something has to give. “In a way, we were sort of devastated. That revenue needs to be made up,” he said.

Source: Ryam Brim Huffington Post

Lead_pipe

Jackson’s Lead Problem Goes National

2016/04/08 – The city of Jackson is getting old and like a senior citizen with a lifetime of heavy smoking and alcohol abuse, it’s facing expensive age-related illnesses.  The most obvious, outside of the numerous car-eating-size potholes found in some areas, is the recent news of lead-tainted water.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality discovered last June that 22 percent of homes in Jackson contained water that exceeded the dangerous level of 15 parts per billion.  Mississippi officials didn’t notify the City of Jackson of the results until January, however, and it was only this February that the state issued a warning for pregnant women and small children.

Lead lingers in the bones and can get released into the physiology of a developing fetus and into a mother’s breast milk after birth, according to the EPA, causing brain damage, low IQ, and anemia in infants, among other problems.

Thankfully, a follow-up sampling of 101 homes in January and February of this year revealed just 11 percent of homes were above the federal lead limit, but it should be noted that the number is liable to fluctuate and remains a concern for residents.

The problem comes down to money and circumstance.  The EPA only started regulating lead in tap water in 1991 in the wake of numerous health studies that linked lead in drinking water to cases of severely elevated blood lead.  Prior to that, almost every city in the country had spent the last 70 or so years happily installing water pipes made of cast iron, but with lead joints to prevent leakage.

Aside from being an insidious neurotoxin, lead is malleable and has a low melting point.  It also tends to bend before it breaks, and — up until the federal government wisely halted its use — the heavy metal made a wonderful plug for joints and bends in high-pressure water pipes.

Unlike most contaminants, lead doesn’t naturally occur in an untainted water supply and, therefore, doesn’t usually follow the water out of its source, be it a well, lake, or river.  In fact, it usually gets into your baby’s bottle only after it leaves the city’s water treatment plant, often through cast iron pipes with lead joints.

Cities all over the country know about their lead joints, but they’ve worked to keep lead particulates out of your water with a mineral coating they put inside your pipes through chemical additives in the water.  Usually this tactic works so well that the issue only shows its face when water treatment changes back at the water plant chemically melt the mineral coating in your pipes, leeching lead into your water.  That was the case in Flint, Michigan, where the governor’s administration ordered the city to save money by changing its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which contained enough toxic and corrosive elements to obliterate the mineral coating inside Flint’s pipes.

Unlike Flint, the city of Jackson has been using the Pearl River as its source for decades, but Jackson Public Works Director Kishia Powell admitted that the city, like many others, was originally built with cast iron water pipes that contain lead joints.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) warns that even though the majority of home lead tests in Jackson revealed no lead, or lead below EPA warning levels, its special precaution toward homes with pregnant women or young children remains intact for “at least six months while the city of Jackson makes the necessary changes required to stabilize the pH levels in its water system that contribute to corrosion.”

The agency also demanded the city submit to a compliance plan, forcing the municipality to hire an engineering service to handle its water issues, as well as submit a corrosion control plan and create a map of lead-affected homes, among other requirements.

Last month, the city council refused to accept a $400,000 contract proposed by Mayor Tony Yarber with Trilogy Engineering Inc., after council members realized that Houston, Texas founder Thessalonian LeBlanc held an unreported campaign fundraiser for the mayor in 2014.  Council members accused the mayor of cronyism and criticized LeBlanc’s education, pointing out that she received her degree through an online college.

While the city does battle with the lead issues on its end, homeowners are left to deal with the lead that pipes in their own homes may be dosing them with, because lead doesn’t have to leech into your water lines through city-owned pipes.  In February, Powell described the lead contamination issue as a “home-dependent event,” and though her statement has an element of blame passing, there may actually be some truth to it.

“Water chemistry is reacting with lead-based plumbing.  The control that we do have is to treat the water to a point where we have as little reaction across the city as possible and that’s the point that we’re trying to get to,” Powell said.

If your own home is older than 30 years (as many Jackson homes are), you may have lead water service lines leading into your house from the ground level.  Look for telltale solder “bulbs” just beneath the shut-off valve on your water’s main line.  You can also perform your own test on the pipes by lightly scratching pipes in your house.  Lead is a soft metal and will scratch easily.

 

jackson_lead

https://www.epa.gov/il/advice-chicago-residents-about-lead-drinking-water

 

While individual residents are left to replace their pipes as personal finance allows or to rely on city employees to get the water chemistry correct, replacing miles of long-buried city pipes is even more difficult, particularly in a city facing insurmountable infrastructure costs already.  In 2012, the City of Jackson had to submit to an expensive Clean Water Act settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) because of unauthorized overflows of raw, untreated sewage spilling into the Pearl River from the city’s wastewater treatment plant in south Jackson.  In addition to catching national attention, the consent decree required Jackson to pay a civil penalty of $437,916 and implement a supplemental environmental project valued at $875,000.  This does not include the costs of making the necessary upgrades to the city’s aging sewer plant (which caused the headache in the first place), and that cost could easily reach into the millions.

To make matters worse, credit rating company Moody’s Investors Service imposed a four-level reduction of the city’s bond rating last December because of falling revenues as parasite communities in Madison and Rankin counties continue to siphon off Jackson residents and businesses.  Moody’s points out that city reserves plummeted 60 percent in fiscal year 2015, and it expects another plummet in 2016, even as the city faces a $1 billion bill to repair and fill potholes and replace water and sewers lines.

Jackson is not alone in its suffering, however.  The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that there are more than one million miles of water mains in the United States, and it rates them all at a dismal “D+” on its 2013 report card on U.S. infrastructure.

“At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life,” the report claims.  “There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States.  Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion.”

ASCE points out that capital spending hasn’t kept pace with water infrastructure needs and that a trend toward state and local governments assuming the bulk of the investment requirements in the coming decades will continue, with local governments paying an increasing share of the costs.

“In 2008, state and local governments estimated their total expenditures at $93 billion annually for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.  Congressional appropriations have declined over the five-year period 2008 to 2012, totaling only $6.9 billion — an average of $1.38 billion annually or $27.6 billion over 20 years, 8% of EPA’s identified needs over 20 years,” ASCE’s report claims.

The organization warned that failing to meet the investment needs of the next 20 years could actually reverse any environmental, public health, and economic gains of the last three decades.

Ward 4 Councilman De’Keither Stamps said he is optimistic that the trend will reverse, at least a little, and that the city will be able to reach out to the state of Mississippi to help offset the capital city’s failing infrastructure.  He said lobbyists representing the city are currently working with legislators and making them aware of the serious issues facing the city.

“Those conversations have been happening and hopefully we’ll see the fruits of them when the legislative session is over,” Stamps said.

Source: MS NAACP

Gerrymander

Gerrymandering Makes Many Officials Untouchable

2016/04/08 – Last month, State Rep. Karl Oliver offered a galling example of how protected Mississippi legislators are and how broken state-level democracy remains to this day.

Gulfport resident Becky Guidry sent emails to House members in March urging them to reject a new corporate-friendly bill that would cut more than $570 million in state revenue because the state already was in a $65 million budget shortfall – due, in part, to even more recent tax cuts.

Oliver, a Republican, responded to Guidry in an email, pointing out that she has not always lived in Mississippi and should go back to where she came from.

“I see you are not a native to the great state of Mississippi nor do you and I have similar political views,” wrote Oliver, who owns a funeral home in Winona, MS.  “… I appreciate you going to the trouble to share yours with me, but quite frankly, and with all due respect, I could care less.  I would, however, recommend that there are a rather large number of like-minded citizens in Illinois that would love to see you return.”

Olivers’ cohorts in the House, rather than chide or censure him for his insensitivity, merely snickered.  Twitter account #FedUpWith50th reported that Rep. Jeff Smith, another Republican, “wanted to congratulate and recognize the junior gentleman from Winona on making national headlines, and his notoriety.  We’re so proud of him.”

However self-incriminating state politicians like Oliver act, many are shielded from consequences by undemocratic politics.

“Legislators in this state have a long history of ignoring voters, whether it’s black voters who were utterly removed from the democratic process by disfranchisement, despite comprising a large percentage of the state, or poor voters who can’t afford to buy their representative’s ear,” said MSNAACP President Derrick Johnson.

The MSNAACP has already discussed how unethical gerrymandering by both Republican leaders and black Democrats has successfully insulated many incumbents from replacement in a fair election.

Oliver’s District 46, for example, was similarly carved up by legislators in 2012 to exclude black residents living in the city of Greenwood, who typically vote Democratic.  The top map below outlines Oliver’s district in blue, while the dot representation offered by the map beneath it reveals just how much of that area is comprised of white voters.

 

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Answer: all of it.

 

Fighting the injustice of gerrymandering is difficult because the gerrymandered districts also draw support from the opposite side of the political aisle, from Democratic members of redistricting committees.  It turns out that many black Democrats are also insulated from political upset because of the higher percentage of black voters the gerrymandered districts give them and, as a result, offer little complaint when the maps are submitted for approval.  Rep. Willie Perkins, Sr., for example, represents District 32, which contains the south Greenwood black population cast off from Oliver’s district.  The arrangement gives Perkins a district that is 80.58 percent black and virtually assures his re-election.

The state House has 42 majority-black districts out of a total of 122, but a large percentage of those black districts are more than 65 percent black.  Some, like District 69, are as high as 86 percent black, representing clear evidence of voter “packing,” which reduces black political influence in surrounding districts.

Legislators are protected by more than just friendly election maps created by their buddies in the legislature, however.  Many of the lawmakers at the state Capitol are financially dependent upon out-of-state lobbyists to fund their campaigns, rather than individual Mississippi voters.

Oliver, for example, received $750 from oil and gas lobbyists Koch Industries and $500 from payday loan company Tower Loan in 2014.  In 2015 he received $1,000 from Empower PAC, among many other business-related contributors.

Source: MS NAACP

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School Consolidation: PR Without Solutions

2016/04/08 – Legislators are using self-inflicted revenue shortfalls to push for major consolidation of state schools, despite consolidation’s limited national success.

House Education Committee members voted to consolidate the municipal district of Winona into its neighboring Carroll County and Montgomery County districts last month.  While legislators have since narrowed that consolidation effort down to Montgomery County Schools and the Winona District, committee chairman Rep. John Moore, R-Brandon, said he and his cohorts are already hammering away at larger consolidation efforts in upcoming years.

“I think you’re not going to see 82 (school districts) but something around 50 or less school districts,” Moore told the Jackson Free Press. “All of these consolidations are being done (now) for low performance or an inability to operate financially.”

Mississippi Association of Educators Director Frank Yates pointed out that Moore failed to detail the small amount of savings gathered from the consolidation venture.

“When it came to the financial savings, all they had to offer were generalities,” Yates said.  “All they can say is ‘you save money on administration cuts,’ but it remains to be seen how much savings that really is.  Let’s say you put Winona and Kilmichael (schools) together.  Well, you might save what you’re paying out for one superintendent’s salary and one or two secretaries.  But the schools are still going to be there and they’re going to be open, so some form of oversight is still going to be necessary.  So are you going to add an assistant superintendent?  Well, he’ll make $20,000 less than the superintendent, so when you boil it down, you can’t say you’re going to save a ton of money.”

Yates added that Moore also neglected to point out in his debate that many of the districts are failing financially due to K-12 opponents in the legislature who have voted to underfund state schools by more than $1.3 billion over the last two decades in order to finance multiple corporate tax giveaways.  The state cut general funding per student for K-12 schools by 9 percent and funding per student for higher education by 23 percent since 2008.  Most notable is the legislative handout of $1.3 billion to the state’s Nissan plant in Canton — the estimated total deficit those same politicians imposed on state schools.

In addition to obvious corporate giveaways, Mississippi legislators also gave corporations more than $300 million in tax breaks and tax credits during the last four years.  Last year legislators altered tax calculations for businesses, saving them about $100 million by providing sales tax breaks for developers to build suburban strip malls and sales tax holidays for items such as hunting equipment.  Legislators also handed out a reduction in the tax on a business’s inventory, robbing the state general fund of $126 million.

More tax cuts appeared during this year’s legislative session and, though there was already a $65 million revenue shortfall, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves offered an additional $577 million tax cut proposal.  His critics compare that to “fixing” stratospheric credit card debt by quitting your second job.

While legislators struggle to finance tax cuts for their corporate friends by cutting services and reducing schools, public education advocates are arguing that consolidation efforts in other states are having a negative impact on impoverished and minority students.

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Source:  http://www.wpaag.org/Rural%20Trust%20-%20ACT%20and%20School%20Size.htm

The Rural School Community Trust (RSCT) of Arkansas discovered that while students in more affluent districts tend to do better in larger districts, students in poorer communities produce better test scores while attending smaller districts.

“The achievement gap between students from the wealthiest and the poorest communities is much greater among those who attend large districts (ACT score 21.0 for the wealthy, 17.7 for the poor) than among those who attend small districts (20.3 for the wealthy, 18.4 for the poor),” RSCT reported.

The study also revealed that poor students in smaller districts tended to deliver more test scores, in general.

“…[T]he small districts are testing more kids than the large (districts), especially at the poorest income level.  At each income level, the student participation rate on the ACT test was either as high or higher in small districts as in large districts,” stated RSCT.  “For small districts the participation rate was either 9 or 10 percent for communities at every income level.  Small districts with above-average poverty had the highest rate of participation at 10 percent.  By contrast, the participation rate in large districts fell as the level of poverty increased.  In the poorest communities, large districts got only 6 percent of their students into the test room.”

A Penn State College of Education study concluded that the benefits of consolidating rural schools were limited.

“An extensive account of West Virginia students and their families depicts the experience as inflicting considerable harm,” the study reported.  “After the school consolidation (closures), students attended larger schools where they received less individual attention, endured longer bus rides to and from school (and hence longer days), and had fewer opportunities to participate in co-curricular and extracurricular activities (a result of both increased competition for limited spots and transportation issues).”

The university added that students’ families experienced fewer opportunities to participate in formal school governance roles through associations like the Parent Teacher Association and other methods.  It noted that increased travel times “proved a barrier to volunteering, visiting classrooms, and taking part in parent-teacher conferences.”

Critics express considerable concern at the possibly of consolidation leading to school congestion.  Author Kathleen Cotton observed that stuffing students into bigger schools further alienated students who are already struggling with their studies.

“We know that the states with the largest schools and school districts have the worst achievement, affective, and social outcomes.  We also know that the students who stand to benefit most from small schools are economically disadvantaged and minority students,” Cotton wrote, adding that the nation may be acting against the interest of minorities by funneling high proportions of minority youngsters into large schools within very large school districts.

The National Education Policy Center made the same argument in an extensive 2011 report, explaining that “impoverished places, in particular, often benefit from smaller schools and districts, with more teacher interaction, and can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs.”

Like Yates, the report dismissed many state-level consolidation proposals as merely serving “a public relations purpose in times of fiscal crisis, rather than substantive fiscal or educational purposes.”

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State Withholds Childcare Subsidies for Minority Mothers, Report Says

2016/04/08 – Carley Dear has a four-year-old son, Tailon, who is lucky enough to attend North Jackson’s Richard Brandon Head Start Center every weekday morning.  Soon after the sun peeps over the horizon, his mom drops him off and at the center Tailon eats a good breakfast, tackles his study skills, and learns to get along with other small humans with equally squeaky voices.

The young mother is still a high school student, however, who is finishing her senior year at Murrah High School.  After graduating she plans to attend USM and pursue a media degree and a career as a reporter.

The Head Start Center in Jackson, like Head Start centers throughout Mississippi, hosts children at a fraction of the cost of traditional day care.  This leaves a monumental impact upon the life of Dear and many young women like her who are trying to struggle over the 20-year speed bump that teen pregnancy often produces.

“Before my son started coming here, I was having to pay $130 every two weeks for daycare,” Dear said.

A $260 monthly childcare bill would decimate most young mothers, especially since many traditional teen jobs pay only about $500 or $600 a month — if the boss even gives them a full 40-hour work week.  Owning a car to get you to work might be out of the question under those circumstances.  Rent, most likely, would also be impossible without a long collection of roommates — and many roommates don’t care for kids.

“With Richard Brandon Head Start, Tailon can go to school in the morning, and I can go to school, too.  It really helps,” Dear said.  “Without affordable daycare I wouldn’t be able to afford … well, I couldn’t afford much, I guess.  I’d have to be home and missing out on school.”

As essential as affordable childcare services are, Dear and her son are actually among the very few eligible Mississippians who manage to receive it.  The vast majority of state residents who qualify for some form of government-subsidized childcare will never get it, thanks to uncommitted legislators and their insensitive policies.

Mississippi is so oblivious to the value of childcare aid that the state earned the notorious “honor” of recently being recognized by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) for its insensitivity.  The organization issued a report earlier this year on the harmful impacts of the state’s apparent indifference to low-income working families of color.

In 2015, USCCR’s Mississippi State Advisory Committee voted to investigate discrimination claims against recipients and providers of childcare services based on race or color by the federal low-income childcare subsidy program in Mississippi.  What they found was surprisingly bad, especially since any poverty-reducing program should be welcomed in Mississippi, which has a childhood poverty rate of 29 percent.  The situation is even worse for African-American children, like Tailon Dear, with almost half of black Mississippi youth (47 percent) living at or below the poverty level in 2014.

“The Mississippi State Advisory Committee Memorandum found that far too many eligible children are not serviced by the subsidy program and that the money that should support this eligible population of children is redirected elsewhere,” the Commission stated.  “… Instead of finding appropriate ways for working families to have full access to this transformative program, it appears that ill-explained barriers prevent childcare providers and parents from access.”

These barriers are terribly effective.  While 124,426 children in Mississippi under the age of six were eligible for Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) funding in 2013, only about 18,300 (14.7 percent) actually received assistance each month.

The problem lies in the state’s management of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants, which ultimately feed into the CCDF.  In 1996, then President Bill Clinton signed a rule to alter a pre-existing national childcare grant program that reduced it from a federally managed disbursement system helping low-income parents pay for childcare to a block grant program managed by individual states.  Almost immediately, some states proved more apathetic to child poverty than others.

The federal government mandates only three stipulations for state officials to meet:  (1) benefi­ciaries must earn no more than 85 percent of the state’s median income of $2,917 per month, (2) parents must be able to choose their childcare providers, and (3) providers must charge beneficiaries the same amount they charge other patrons.  These underdeveloped federal requirements leave plenty of room for states to monkey with the program and erect countless obstructions to its operations.

And monkey, they have.  On top of the list of documents and requirements the state of Mississippi requires to prove eligibility (including a mandatory number of hours of weekly work and a poverty-level income cap), the state also requires single parents to verify either the existence of child support from an absent parent or that the parent is taking advantage of MDHS’ Child Support Services to recoup that child support.

With the help of every barrier the state could legally erect, the number of children receiving child care assistance through Child Care and Development Block Grants between 2006 and 2013 declined by 53 percent — a decline larger than all but four states, the report claims.

“Legislators in this state have never acted as if affordable childcare can make a difference,” said Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative Executive Director Carol Burnett, who advocates heavily for the state to open the doors to more childcare funding.

Burnett explained that affordable childcare for low-income mothers and their children could mean the difference between a productive future and a life of poverty, as mothers like Dear no longer have to weigh the pros and cons of paying for childcare vs. abandoning the prospect of work or education entirely in order to take care of their children.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services operates the program and Gov. Phil Bryant holds sway over MDHS.  Burnett said the governor, therefore, ultimately has the power to bring relief to minority women who are disproportionately affected by poverty in the state.  But so far, Burnett said, Bryant’s voice is silent and cold.

Source: MS NAACP

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Press Release: MS NAACP Responds to Gov. Bryant’s Signing of the “Religious Freedom Act”

2016/04/06 – Once again, Governor Phil Bryant has proven that his legacy will be one built on hate and the discrimination of others.

The innocuous sounding HB 1523 Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, also known as the “Religious Freedom Act” has nothing to do with freedom or conscience and everything to do with discrimination. A bill that aimed to legalize hatred was signed into law today by Governor Bryant.

And it is hatred. It is discrimination.

Governor Bryant and legislators argued that this law only provides protection to those who want to discriminate against others based upon their “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” But this language isn’t new.

There was a time when the idea that African-Americans were only suited for slavery was once a sincerely held religious belief and moral conviction for citizens in Mississippi.

There was a time when the idea that the intermarrying between whites and blacks was prohibited which was considered a sincerely held religious belief and moral conviction for citizens in Mississippi.

And now this same language is being used to deny another group of people what is their basic and legal right.

“It truly troubles me to know that Mississippi has yet to learn from its past as it continues to discriminate and divide its citizens,” says Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP.

“I call on those citizens of conscience who have a sincerely held belief and a moral conviction not to discriminate others, I ask you to join us and not to patronize any business that seeks to discriminate against others under the cover of this law” stated Johnson.

Source: MS NAACP