Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Daily Leader on the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the Public Records Act:
It is unfortunate that the state agency tasked with incarcerating those found guilty of crimes has so little regard for the law — at least certain parts of the law.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections would like the state Legislature to exempt it from parts of the Public Records Act. The act is state law, and it requires the government to release to the public the documents and records that it uses in the course of operations. There are exemptions, but generally speaking, any document used by a body of the government is open to public inspection.
The act allows the public to keep tabs on its government. It forces transparency.
But governments, generally speaking, don’t like the act. It makes it harder for government agencies and boards to do their work, they complain. It is a waste of time, they say. Those documents are no one’s business, they gripe.
“There should be some limits on what you are transparent about,” MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall said.
Really? The government functions only to serve the public, yet some think the public has no business peeking behind the curtain.
To make matters worse, MDOC has been under scrutiny for years due to a public corruption scandal that sent the former MDOC commissioner to prison. Nearly $1 billion into MDOC contracts were called into question due to the bribery and kickback scheme.
And this same agency has the gall to say that there should be limits on transparency.
If MDOC’s commissioner does not value state law or does not believe in transparency or works to keep the scrutinizing public eye away, the state should find another commissioner.
Only someone who understands the importance of transparency in an agency plagued by scandal should be charged with leading it.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant last State of the State Address:
As he begins his final year in office, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant spoke to lawmakers and the general public in his last State of the State Address.
The speech looked back at Bryant’s accomplishments of the past seven years, but it also looked ahead, highlighting a number of policy proposals he would like to see accomplished before his tenure ends. The governor, in his second term, is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
Those proposals included:
— A pay raise for the state’s teachers
“Send me a bill to authorize a pay raise for these most critical guardians of Mississippi’s future, and I will sign it,” Bryant said.
Although the speech did not offer specific details, Bryant’s budget proposal called for the state to spend $50 million, split over two years, on a measure that would increase teacher salaries by about $790 per teacher in each of the next two years.
— School safety
“Unfortunately, a problem exists in our schools today that threatens children of all ages,” Bryant said. “It has become commonly known as the active shooter..To help protect our students and those who teach them, I will ask you to pass a comprehensive plan to keep our school children safe.”
To date, however, not much is known about the specifics of this proposal.
— Improving the state foster care system
“One of our most pressing tasks is caring for Mississippi children in the foster care system,” Bryant said. “We can and must do more to support the foster children of this state by providing the necessary funding to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and ending the Olivia Y legal action against the State of Mississippi once and for all.”
— Criminal justice reform
“Imagine if we could help lead the nation in criminal justice reform, while reducing our prison population and saving more than $40 million for Mississippi taxpayers,” Bryant said.
While several bills addressing criminal justice issues have been filed, it is not yet clear the precise package of reforms that Bryant is advocating.
Each of Bryant’s proposals are ideas that have attracted bipartisan support in the past, although there may be debates on the specific policy proposals. Nonetheless, those are healthy debates to have. Rather than focusing on the growing partisan gridlock that is gripping the country, it was refreshing to hear Bryant focus on ideas that can forge compromise, result in action and move the state forward.
State lawmakers have recently begun a legislative session that is expected to be overshadowed by this fall’s elections, without any significant policy debates. Bryant’s State of the State speech, however, provided a road map to spur legislators to take meaningful, bipartisan action.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on efforts to change the Mississippi state flag and the legacy of Mississippi Sen. John Stennis:
Efforts to change the Mississippi state flag have received attention from The Washington Post, which did a profile of Laurin Stennis, who came up with a proposed redesign.
Stennis gets more attention than other flag-change proponents because she is the granddaughter of legendary Mississippi Sen. John Stennis, who had a regrettable history, as did almost all white Southern politicians of his era, on the issue of racial segregation.
As the Post reported, Stennis was a co-author in the 1950s of “The Southern Manifesto,” which opposed the Supreme Court ruling that forbade racially segregated schools. And in 1983, he voted against a national holiday for Martin Luther King’s birthday.
Stennis deserves criticism for decisions like those. But he also should be praised for the many things he got right. His racial views moderated over time, and he supported renewal, for instance, of the Voting Rights Act in 1983.
Separately, he helped people in this state of all races by the influence he had on federal spending as chairman of powerful Senate committees. He played an especially key role in allocating defense spending, which produced many contracts for shipbuilders and other defense contractors in this state. NASA’s giant space center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast bears his name in recognition of his legacy.
As the senator was 71 when his granddaughter was born, it is no surprise that the pair’s experiences in Mississippi are vastly different. Laurin Stennis, an artist by trade, has come up with an appealing alternative to the current controversial Mississippi flag and its Confederate emblem.
The Stennis Flag, as it is called, features a large, attention-grabbing blue star in the center. It is surrounded by 19 smaller stars in a circle, signifying Mississippi as America’s 20th state.
The stars are on a white background. The flag also has a vertical red band on either side.
Stennis said she put the blue star on a white background as an inversion of the Bonnie Blue flag, which Mississippi flew when the state seceded from the Union in 1861. She switched the two colors to acknowledge the state’s history without celebrating it.
A flag design consultant who prefers simple banners gave Stennis high marks for her design. She went public with it in 2015 after the killing of nine black people at a church in South Carolina started an effort to remove the Confederate battle flag from that state’s Capitol.
Lately Stennis has been passing out lapel pins of her flag to Mississippi legislators and lobbyists. But everyone knows it will take a lot more than that before anything changes.
Two-thirds of voters in a 2001 referendum supported the existing flag instead of an alternative that included 20 stars, just like the Stennis Flag does. It is hard to gauge how much public sentiment about the current flag has changed in the intervening 18 years, but probably not enough to adopt a new banner if it were put to a popular vote.
It will take leadership from the Legislature to make a change, if one is to be made. Some have made noble overtures in that direction, most notably House Speaker Philip Gunn. But with this being an election year, the effort is unlikely to get much further than the batch of bills filed most every year now to make a change.
The current flag is divisive, and it creates a disadvantage for Mississippi in the competition for commerce. Eventually it will be replaced, even if not this year.
Stennis deserves credit for respectfully nudging the state forward on this issue instead of encouraging its perpetual habit, no matter the cost, of looking backward.