- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Mar. 2

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on foster care in Mississippi:

The Mississippi House on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would lead to establishing a free-standing Division of Child Protective Service and, in the process, apparently end a federal lawsuit first filed in 2004 alleging inadequate administration of the state’s foster care system.

The vote Monday passed with a 115-3 margin. It was bipartisan and had the backing of Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

Settlement of the lawsuit, which stemmed from alleged mistreatment of a 4-year-old child in 2003 in Waveland, apparently would allow the state to retain control of the foster care system and avoid receivership into federal hands.

The young girl in Waveland was joined by 12 other children in what became a class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit supposedly was settled in 2008, but the state did not keep its part of the settlement, and now finds itself back in court and in the Capitol seeking a legislative solution to avoid becoming the first state with a foster system seized and taken over by the federal government.

Agreement within the Legislature on a proposed bill is a major step, but the bigger step will come later when it is time to fund the law. Legislators said this week the cost is expected to be about $34 million, which will allow hiring of more social workers and other improvements to meet terms a final settlement.

The New York Times reported, “(A)t a time when 19 states are facing systemwide lawsuits that claim high rates of abuse and neglect of children and serious foster home shortages, Mississippi has become a case study in just how long and egregiously a state system meant to protect children can continue with substandard care that is out of compliance with a court order.”

Mississippi’s foster care system, like those in other states, is designed to protect children who have been removed from their homes by a court order. Ideally, children are placed with licensed foster families, who receive between $684.90 and $1,546.50 per month per child. But according to data provided by the state agency, The Times reported Mississippi had 1,486 licensed foster homes for 5,142 children in its custody as of December.

Mississippi officials acknowledge the challenges. In addition to the 5,142 children in foster care, 4,367 are being monitored by the state but have not been placed in custody.

Foster care is supposed to protect children, and if the system is not adequate the sole reason for the law and policy fails.

Funding and implementing a new law must remain a priority for passage in 2016.

Online:

http://djournal.com/

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Mar. 2

The Oxford Eagle on learning cursive handwriting:

Mississippi elementary students are now required to learn a new art form - cursive handwriting.

We’re glad the state’s new College and Career Readiness Standards for English Language Arts requires Mississippi educators to teach cursive handwriting to students until the sixth grade. Doing so ensures students will be able to read handwritten notes and historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence, and sign their signature on a receipt or document.

Cursive writing also enhances motor skills, muscle development and comprehension. It can help synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, something that is missed when using print or typing on a computer.

We’re also glad our community seems to feel the same way - from the 252 “likes” and 14 “loves” our Facebook page received after posting the article, it’s evident parents appreciate cursive writing being taught in our schools.

The Lafayette County School District currently teaches cursive in two third-grade classes, and the Oxford School District teaches cursive in grades two through six. We appreciate the initiative our schools and educators have taken to ensure students learn this important form of communication.

Online:

http://www.oxfordeagle.com/

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Feb. 28

The Greenwood Commonwealth on campaign finance laws:

The nerve of some Mississippi officeholders to push for tightening up laws they themselves are skirting is astounding.

So it is with Attorney General Jim Hood, who this legislative session is teaming up with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann in encouraging state lawmakers to require the itemization of expenses charged to campaign credit cards.

The proposal is still alive, although an even more important measure - to clearly ban using campaign funds for personal benefit - died last week, leaving Mississippi one of only six states to allow this form of legalized bribery.

How much campaign money is being converted to private benefit is hard to measure in part because of this creditcard trick, in which public officials and candidates load up credit cards with expenses, pay off the balances from their campaign funds but don’t break down what the expenses actually entailed.

Among the biggest practitioners of this hiding game is Hood himself. According to a recently published exposé by The ClarionLedger on Mississippi politicians’ questionable use of campaign funds, Hood paid himself and two campaign credit cards more than $268,000 over nearly four years, including during offelection years. Hood has refused to give an accounting of that money, other than to say he is complying with all state laws and that he is paying all applicable taxes if any of the money is used for his personal benefit.

Hood and State Auditor Stacey Pickering, another serial devotee of campaign credit cards, are supposed to be the ones who make sure that politicians are properly using and reporting campaign contributions. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been particularly zealous about that aspect of their job. Kind of hard to hold others accountable for using campaign contributions to supplement their income when you may be doing it yourself.

If Hood were really interested in campaignfinance reform, he would do more than just propose a new law. He’d lead by example, voluntarily turning over his campaign credit card statements and itemizing the expenditures on them and those reimbursed to himself.

The attorney general refused to do so when challenged about it by his reelection opponent last year.

It is only by perverting the intent of current campaign finance laws that Hood, Pickering and others like them hide what they are doing with their campaign donations. The law says that candidates are supposed to itemize any spending of $200 or more. Paying off a credit card balance for numerous transactions, then treating it as if it were just one campaign expenditure, is deceitful.

We wouldn’t need more campaign finance laws if politicians would just follow the clear purpose of what’s already on the books, rather than constantly looking for loopholes to avoid disclosure of what they’re doing with the money.

Online:

http://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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