- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

April 5

Sun Herald, Biloxi, on stopping abuse of the innocent:

If you suspected or witnessed a homicide, you wouldn’t call Mothers Against Murder. You’d call the police or the sheriff’s office. And you’d do it as if it were a matter of life or death.

The same should apply to spousal and child abuse, because it too can be murderous. It certainly kills love and trust and innocence. And it can tragically escalate to a fatal wound or blow.

Domestic violence - whether it is the abuse of an adult or a child - is a crime, and you should report a crime by dialing 911.

Nonprofit organizations, social service agencies and advocacy groups have their roles to play in preventing and coping with such violence.

But their involvement is often too late.

This plea for immediate intervention - by law enforcement - is prompted by April being Child Abuse Prevention Month.

April has been Child Abuse Prevention Month since 1983, just as October has been Domestic Violence Awareness Month since 1981.

Yet after more than three decades of awareness, too many of us still accept lame excuses for cuts and scars and bruises on friends and co-workers and children.

Ah, yes. The children.

As this is April, we will focus on the children.

The Coast can be a dangerous place for a child. According to the Mississippi Department of Human Services, there was evidence 8,282 children in Mississippi were the victims of abuse during fiscal year 2013. Nearly 20 percent of them - 1,568 - lived in the three coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison and Jackson.

What if there were an equal number of murders in our coastal communities? Or even half that many? Would we simply observe Murder Awareness Month, hold a few fundraisers and move on?

Of course not. We would be furious with anyone and anything we thought might be responsible or could take responsibility.

So why not the same outrage and action with domestic and child abuse?

Why do we permit the perpetrators to work and worship among us? Why do we drink and dine with them and put out of mind what happens out of sight?

Of course, it isn’t all hidden. Sometimes there are bandages covering the slashed skin or casts to mend the broken bone.

And sometimes the awkward answer of the victim to the question - How did that happen? - reveals more than a bandage can conceal.

We cannot dispel the dark shadows that hang over so many households along the coast. As we said, public and private social service agencies have been dealing with abusive behavior for generations and have yet to put an end to it.

What we can do is urge an end to any tolerance of it and any rationalization for it.




April 6

Greenwood Commonwealth on education funding:

Public education advocates in Mississippi have a right to feel frustrated over the Legislature’s chronic failure to live up to its promise on school funding.

Only twice since the Legislature adopted the Mississippi Adequate Education Program in 1997 has it followed through and appropriated the full amount of money the formula says the schools should receive. For several years in a row now, lawmakers have been shorting the formula $200 million or more a year.

To be fair, some of the shortfall has been the result of the economic downturn that pinched spending for all manner of government responsibilities. But some of it is also the result of lawmakers’ deciding to put money elsewhere or foregoing revenue through tax breaks.

A newly formed group has launched an initiative to force lawmakers to fully fund MAEP. It hopes to gather enough signatures to put a constitutional referendum on the 2015 general election ballot that, if passed, would require Mississippi to put annually at least 25 percent of all new growth of general fund revenue into MAEP until it reaches full funding.

The group - Better Schools, Better Jobs - has the best of intentions. It also has some highly respected public education advocates in its ranks, including Dick Molpus, the former secretary of state and onetime gubernatorial candidate, and Claiborne Barksdale, CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute, which has invested a hundred million of private dollars trying to bolster public education. We have our doubts, though, whether this initiative could work, even if it passes, and whether it might set a bad precedent.

Molpus should know from history that there are many ways the Legislature can bypass reformers’ best intentions when it comes to funding. During the 1990s, Molpus helped lead the charge for a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax on the assurance that the money it generated would be dedicated to public education. After the tax increase was enacted, though, the Legislature diverted other sources of public education funding to different purposes, leaving the schools not a whole lot better off than they were before the tax increase was enacted.

In the case of this proposed initiative, conceivably the Legislature could respond to its enactment by altering the MAEP?formula to make it easier to meet the constitutional provision’s mandate.

Moreover, if other groups whose priorities have been terribly shorted by the Legislature - Medicaid, highways, community colleges, just to name a few - were to follow the lead of Better Schools, Better Jobs and try to legally force the Legislature to give their causes more money, think of the fiscal havoc that could create.




April 4

Natchez Democrat on texting while driving:

Mississippi lawmakers gave the green light Wednesday night for thousands of state drivers to pay no attention to the road for at least another year.

That’s right; lawmakers put their own wild imaginations and urgent need for instant communication ahead of public safety and plain common sense.

In a baffling display of ignorance as the final minutes of the 2014 legislative session ticked away, Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson, made a procedural motion that allowed House members to re-vote on a bill banning texting while driving.

Both the House and Senate easily had passed the bill the day prior and the governor had already said he planned to sign it into law.

The new vote, accompanied by all sorts of excuses as to why the law shouldn’t be enacted, killed the bill.

The excuses ranged from comparing texting to other driving distractions that are not banned - eating or adjusting the radio.

Further, lawmakers said they didn’t want to restrict individual freedom. That argument falls short since a texting driver’s individual freedom should not be allowed to endanger the public by having one hand on the wheel and the other fingering a tiny keyboard.

But the most ridiculous of all was Rep. Ed Blackmon’s argument, suggesting the ban on texting would lead to unjustified traffic stops by police officers.

Law enforcement officers can pull over practically any motorist already with little to no cause. A law banning texting behind the wheel isn’t going to change that.

We can only hope that common sense and perhaps peer pressure from family, friends and others will provide the sense of safety and respect for the lives of others we all need to put both hands on the wheel and watch the road, not our phones.



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