Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson on foster care in the state:
Gov. Phil Bryant is unequivocal in his stand to reform the foster care system in Mississippi. He recently appointed then-Supreme Court Justice David Chandler to lead the Division of Family and Children's Services with the dictate to do what it takes to fix the program. The governor is also asking that the division director's position be elevated to cabinet-level.
And, most pointedly, Bryant is aggressively pursuing approximately $35 million in additional funding for the agency, something mandated by a federal court order to raise the salary of current social workers and hire additional ones. The governor has continually warned lawmakers that a failure to fund the court-ordered increases would most likely lead to a federal takeover of the state's foster care system — something no one wants to see.
However, legislative leaders so far have balked at offering their full support for the funding.
House and Senate Appropriations Chairmen Herb Frierson and Buck Clarke both told The Clarion-Ledger that they doubt the state can fund that much in one year.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves called it "a complicated issue but certainly one we need to ensure that the staff at (the Department of Human Services) and others are more responsive to the needs of these vulnerable kids." But Reeves also stopped well short of supporting the funding measure, citing funding woes facing the state. This hasn't stopped him from actively supporting tax cuts, which would decrease state revenue and lead to an even tighter budget reality.
It is true that the Legislature has increased the DHS budget over the last few years, but it has done so at a paltry rate and well below what was agreed upon in a federal court settlement in 2008. We might find more sympathy for lawmakers had they not been dragging their feet for the past seven years; however, the only sympathy we have now is for the children residing in a foster care system full of horror stories.
Regular quarterly reports from a court-appointed monitor detail shocking results that illustrate a worsening problem, even since the settlement. The most recent report detailed the tragic death of a young child who was placed with a foster family that was never screened. Had social workers screened the couple, it would likely have been discovered that one of the parents' biological children also had died and that two sibling groups had already been removed from the home because of reports of mistreatment.
The reality is that DFCS is grossly understaffed, and the division does not have the funds to hire additional workers. Too, the average salary for social workers there is $3,000 below the average of workers in other state agencies.
Enough is enough. House and Senate leaders need to make funding the court-ordered agreement their absolute top priority. For one thing, our state is legally bound by the agreement. More importantly, children are suffering — even dying — in a broken system. They are the most vulnerable of our citizens, lacking parents or loved ones advocating on their behalves. Perhaps they can find solace in the handful of attorneys, the governor, Chandler and a few others who are fighting for them, even if they may never see or know these people.
At least for now, the power to save the lives of these children lies with lawmakers who seem more concerned with political agendas. Thankfully, the real power — the ultimate decision — will be wielded by the conservative federal judge enforcing this order. But if it comes to that, it will likely cost the state far more, both in the short term and over the next several years.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on House elections:
Although all of Mississippi's congressmen face challengers in this year's elections, it is easy to predict with confidence that all four incumbents will return to Washington for another term.
Unlike 2014, which featured a captivating U.S. Senate primary between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel, the 2016 congressional elections look rather bland. There is no Senate election in Mississippi this year, and the state's voters are sure to pay more attention to the presidential election, as it will be far more closely contested than the campaigns for the four House seats.
In this part of the state, 2nd District Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state's longestserving and lone Democratic member of the House, has fielded a token challenger, Republican John Bouie II. Not only does Bouie have zilch in the way of name recognition, but he lives in Gulfport, some 150 miles away from the southernmost edge of the predominately Delta district. Although technically congressional candidates do not have to live in the district they hope to represent, normally voters aren't too keen on the idea.
As for the three incumbent Republican congressmen — Steven Palazzo on the Coast, Gregg Harper in the Jackson area, and Trent Kelly of Northeast Mississippi — all should also win reelection handily. Most interestingly, Kelly, who won a crowded special election last year to replace the late Alan Nunnelee in the 1st District, has only one Republican and one Democratic challenger.
It's more proof that in Mississippi, once you get into office, you tend to stay there.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on Gov. Phil Bryant's second term:
Gov. Phil Bryant's second inauguration Tuesday on the south steps of the Mississippi Capitol sets in motion the processes for the next four years leading to new policies and plans whose development and implementation is assigned to the governor and Legislature.
Bryant, a former state auditor and lieutenant governor, was elected in 2011 to succeed two-term Gov. Haley Barbour, like Bryant, a Republican.
Bryant's new term comes on the heels of a general election campaign in which the gubernatorial race was among the tamer questions.
A referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment revamping how Mississippi funds public education drew top billing during most of the fall campaign. Those who supported an amendment that would have strengthened funding mandates lost to those supporting to keep the constitution the way it's worded now, but the ballot was confusing and made voting complex.
Despite the loss, supporters of additional funding, which backers believe has a constitutional mandate, indicate their fight is not finished. On one part of the ballot question they prevailed, and moving ahead spins off that result and the general closeness of the referendum.
The Parents' Campaign, a private-sector, non-profit coaltion strongly backing progressive views on education, is offeirg a service that will notify users of local legislators' votes on education issues every time a vote is recorded.
Visit http://www.msparentscampaign.org for more information.
Mississippi cannot expect progress in public education without adequate funding, a situation that will crack all the fiscal foundations of schools if continued indefinitely.
Other important issues include tax-cutting proposals supported by many Republicans, even in the face of revenue tightening and needs for additional investment in programs like education and transportation.
On the opposite side, many remain unconvinced by the GOP's rhetoric about tax cuts offering a means for economic salivation.
While tax reduction proposals may sound appealing, they should be passed only if they are affordable and pose no harm to essential public programs and services, such as schools, universities and programs essential to the most helpless and disadvantaged Mississippi citizens.
The Legislature convened last week, but historically nothing of substance begins in a new-term year until the governor's inauguration.