In a 5-3 vote, the state Ethics Commission cleared six Republican lawmakers who had potential conflicts of interest to vote on Medicaid funding, reauthorization and against expanding the program on Friday morning.
Gov. Phil Bryant and the legislative GOP leadership hope the lawmakers – who had abstained from voting because they work for Medicaid providers – will give them enough votes to end a legislative stalemate that threatens to shut Medicaid down July 1.
The six GOP House members who didn’t vote and requested Ethics opinions are: Donnie Bell, who does PR for a hospice provider; Bubba Carpenter, a paramedic; Becky Currie, a nurse for a home-health company; Mac Huddleston, a veterinarian who’s married to a doctor; Sam Mims, who does marketing for a regional health firm; and Margaret Rogers, whose father is a retired doctor.
An Ethics opinion doesn’t bind a lawmaker, but following it would provide them legal cover. Failing to follow an opinion’s advice could set them up for legal action and fines from the commission or courts.
The Ethics ruling appears to contradict one from 2012, which said lawmakers who work for private Medicaid providers should not vote on Medicaid funding and regulations.
But supporters of Friday’s ruling said it matches one from 2005, which allows lawmakers whose spouses or other family members are teachers to vote on education issues and funding.
And a state Supreme Court ruling from 2002 said two lawmakers who were pharmacists and received money from Medicaid could vote on the program.
Ethics Director Tom Hood and Ethics Commission Chairman Ben Stone noted before Friday’s vote that ruling against the lawmakers voting on Medicaid would require the commission to go back and do the same for lawmakers with family members who are educators.
Filed under Democrats, Entitlements, Ethics, Governor, health, Legislature, Medicaid, Mississippi, Mississippi State House, Mississippi State Senate, Obamacare, Phil Bryant, Politics, Republican, State Government
The state Ethics Commission has issued many opinions over the years about lawmakers with health care jobs voting on Medicaid. They’re all over the map because the particulars of each lawmaker’s case are different. But in general terms, the rulings have trended that those who work for public hospitals and providers can vote on Medicaid; those working for private companies cannot.
GOP leaders argue that none of the six lawmakers are owners or high officers of the companies for which they or their families work and wouldn’t see any direct personal benefit from voting on Medicaid.
They also note that a court ruling trumps an Ethics opinion and point to a 2002 state Supreme Court ruling. That ruling said that state Reps. Bobby Howell of Kilmichael, a pharmacist, could vote on Medicaid, overturning a lower court ruling. The high court noted that the state Legislature doesn’t set or control Medicaid payments to providers, the federal government does.
State Ethics Director Tom Hood said the commission will take the court ruling into account, but noted the issue is difficult and gets into “uncharted water.”
“They have to look at what will happen if such a bill passes and what would happen if a bill doesn’t pass — and nobody really knows what will happen if (Medicaid is not reauthorized),” Hood said. “Avoiding a loss can be the same as receiving a benefit. If it didn’t pass, how would that affect their employer? That’s a really hard question to answer.”
Filed under Entitlements, Ethics, health, Legislature, Medicaid, Mississippi, Mississippi State House, Obamacare, Politics, Public Safety, Public Service, State Government
Mississippi sheriffs can ban people from openly carrying guns into courthouses, state Attorney General Jim Hood said in a legal opinion Thursday.
Hood issued the document in anticipation of a law that starts July 1. The opinion clarifies that people may openly carry guns in Mississippi without a concealed weapon permit. Some people had previously interpreted state law to say people couldn’t carry a visible gun on the streets without a permit.
Attorney general’s opinions aren’t legally binding, although they provide legal protection to officials who follow them.
Deputy Attorney General Mike Lanford, writing for Hood, said courthouses are “the scene of emotionally charged disputes such as child custody battles, criminal prosecutions, property forfeitures, tax sales, etc.” He wrote that a ban on openly-carried guns “is reasonably tailored to serve the governmental interest in preserving security for courthouse proceedings and personnel.”
The opinion reaffirms that private property owners can prohibit guns and says guns remain illegal on school and college campuses. It also says that police officers can approach people carrying guns in public and ask them questions, such as if they are a convicted felon banned from carrying guns, but said that people don’t have to answer.
Rick Ward of Brandon, a concealed weapon permit instructor, was among the advocates of the bill. He attended a Wednesday meeting of law enforcement officers to discuss the law, and said he believes many police chiefs and sheriffs are hostile to it.
“We are now an open-carry state,” Ward said. “They are just going to have to deal with it.”
Within a month, almost any Mississippian will be able to openly carry a gun in public places with or without a permit.
This has some law enforcement officials concerned.
One Wednesday, several agencies gathered at the Old Capitol Museum to discuss and prepare for the bill to take effect on July 1, asking questions and mulling implications.
The next week could determine if Minor League Baseball is coming to Biloxi or if it’s game over before the stadium is ever built.
Groups such as the Steps Coalition and Biloxi NAACP chapter, calling for a referendum on a $21 million city-issued bond to help build the stadium, have until June 18 to collect 1,500 signatures on a petition.
A referendum would delay the project by 60 to 90 days and could kill the deal, said Ron Peresich, city attorney.
He said the city has worked “earnestly” for the last five months to bring a team and stadium to Biloxi. Gov. Phil Bryant pledged $15 million of BP money to the project and Peresich said an owner’s group is ready to pay $14.5 million to buy a team, move it to Biloxi and start playing in April.
Democrat George Flaggs says he’ll resign from the Mississippi House on June 30, the same day he’s being inaugurated as the new mayor of Vicksburg.
Flaggs has served in the Legislature since 1988. He was elected mayor June 4 and will succeed Paul Winfield, a Democrat who has served one term at City Hall.
After Flaggs leaves the House, Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special election to fill the seat for District 55, which is entirely in Warren County.
House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, will officiate at Flaggs’ swearing-in as mayor. The ceremony is set for 6 p.m. June 30 at Vicksburg City Auditorium.
Petal School District administrators, principals and assistant principals are spending this week undergoing intensive training in the Common Core State Standards as the district prepares to implement the rigorous curriculum in all grades in the upcoming school year.
About 25 Central Office and school level officials have been gathering at the Center for Families and Children since Monday for seven hours of daily training that will continue through Friday.
“It gives our administrative team the opportunity to come together to focus on areas that we need with Common Core implementation,” Petal School District Superintendent John Buchanan said.
The district has been teaching the Common Core State Standards to kindergartners through second-graders, but it is taking off a big bite by expanding the curriculum all the way through 12th grade in 2013-14, according to Buchanan.
Retired military leaders and Mississippi Sen. Brice Wiggins are in Washington to release a national report that shows the Administration’s state-federal early education proposal could lead to two million more high school graduates nationwide and $150 billion in net economic benefits to society.
The graduation rate boost estimates are conservative, they said, and the economic benefits are based on the fact that high-quality early learning programs produce average net savings to society of $15,000 for every child served.
The savings result from schools avoiding the costs of an extra year of education for children who are held back, lower special education costs, fewer children in detention facilities, fewer adults in prison, fewer expenses for crime victims and savings from lower welfare costs.
Filed under Brice Wiggins, Democrats, Education, Federal Government, Legislature, Mississippi, Mississippi State Senate, Politics, Republican, Spending, State Government
State leadership committees for the Mississippi Republican and Democratic parties are staking out opposite positions on Medicaid expansion.
Resolutions adopted by the two groups in the past few days reflect what their own elected officials have been saying for months.
Democrats say they support Medicaid expansion as a way to help lower-income working people. Republicans say they oppose expansion because they don’t like the federal health overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.
The parties are weighing in as deadline pressure is building: Unless something changes, Mississippi’s entire Medicaid program is scheduled to go out of existence on July 1.
Expanding Medicaid to cover the working poor, as Obamacare proposes, is not the only solution. Mitt Romney built a universal coverage plan for Massachusetts. California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maine, Vermont, and Pennsylvania pursued other options prior to Obamacare.
It was encouraging to see Governor Phil Bryant move off his money focus recently and begin to look at non-Medicaid options. At the same time, it was encouraging to see Democrat leaders propose an Arkansas-type Medicaid expansion.
Identifying and researching other options is a first step towards finding common ground. There’s time to do more. Both sides should agree to hold a special session to reauthorize Medicaid for one year, then work hard together to find a solution to the real issue. That’s the kind of enlightened leadership our founders envisioned.
Filed under Democrats, Entitlements, Federal Government, health, Legislature, Medicaid, Mississippi, Mississippi State House, Mississippi State Senate, Opinion, Politics, Public Service, Republican, Spending, State Government