- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Dec. 13

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on politicians hurting state:

Even as Gov. Phil Bryant implores the state’s business community to accentuate the positive, the governor’s own policies are hampering much of what’s wrong with Mississippi from being made right.

Bryant’s misguided approach to governing would be detrimental enough without a chorus of consent from fellow Republicans in the Legislature. But in combination with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the state Senate, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Bryant is riding high on a wave of support that may yet swamp the state.

Take just two of the state’s top priorities: education and health care.

During a recent visit to the Coast, state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright was notably optimistic Mississippi would receive a multiyear, multimillion-dollar federal grant to expand early childhood education. Last week, Mississippi’s application was denied — for the third time in four years.

Though details of the rejection have not been released, two assumptions can be reasonably made.

1. For all the talk about the importance of education, Mississippi spends just $3 million a year on preschool programs. Alabama spends $100 million. And Alabama, like the other three states bordering Mississippi, won a share of the federal money denied Mississippi. Could it be that even a federal bureaucrat figured out Mississippi’s commitment to preschool education is flimsy at best?

2. It also wouldn’t take a federal bureaucrat long to figure out that if Mississippi’s political leadership rejects the Common Core education standards, what confidence is there that they would embrace any others that were actually connected to the federal Department of Education?

Then there’s public health.

A major reason for the financial difficulties at Singing River Health System is the lack of compensation for indigent care. Much of the cost of that care could have been paid for by expanding Medicaid coverage in Mississippi.

But again, Bryant and his allies in the Legislature rejected anything connected with the Affordable Care Act, leaving thousands of Mississippians uninsured and millions of dollars out of reach of the state’s health-care community.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel’s surprising challenge to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran this year demonstrated the popularity of these anti-Washington positions.

In the course of the campaign, Bryant’s opposition to Common Core hardened and he has since undercut the authority of Superintendent Wright and the state Board of Education.

As for Reeves, his earlier support for Common Core finally crumbled and he recently announced his desire for a timely and costly revision of the standards.

We appreciate that politics is hardball.

We understand a candidate must not lose his or her base.

But once elected, public officials have an obligation to steer public policy in the right direction.

Of late, it seems those occupying the highest offices of state government are determined to steer the state off a cliff.




Dec. 17

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on juvenile detainees:

Lee County’s Board of Supervisors, responding to higher costs and deepening mandates for care of juvenile inmates, on Monday raised the daily price it charges other counties to house their juvenile prisoners to $130, up from $90 and only slightly higher than the state average of $125.

The higher rate, which includes much more than a simple cell, must pay for state and federal requirements for housing juvenile prisoners, who are children.

The law requires juvenile detention centers to provide education, health care, mental health care and dental services. Beginning in 2016, the juvenile centers will be required to have a full-time mental health care staff member, an issue pushed by the 85 percent rate of mental problems among juvenile detainees.

Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson said Tuesday the law requires a suicide evaluation almost as soon as a juvenile is transitioning into the center.

Thompson said the new rules in 2016 will be easier to meet with the increase in the rate for out-of-county service kicking in ahead of the mandate.

Juvenile prisoners fall under the Lee County Court unless there’s an extenuating circumstance. Judge Charlie Brett, who was re-elected in November, is in charge of the program.

The rate increase will allow Lee County to increase the hours a mental health professional is available. Transitional counselor Lisa Kwasinski evaluates children flagged for mental health evaluation during the intake process, provides counseling and connects children and their families with resources in the community.

Brett said cuts in federal grant funds put pressure on the financial side of mental health care.

Thompson said it is hard to consider not having a Lee County in-county juvenile facility because of the county’s population and growth.

In January, the board is expected to consider a proposal that would increase Kwasinski’s hours by up to 15 hours a week. Based on the number of juvenile detainees from outside Lee County from this past year, the increased fees will cover approximately $19,000 of the $21,000 needed to cover additional salary, benefits and payroll taxes for the expansion.

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said the counties resources must be kept to an adequate standard.

“We’re not fully addressing the 2016 mandates,” said Ronnie Partlow, juvenile detention center director.

The $130 daily rate is fair and will cover expenses for the time being, but as Thompson noted, “costs are rising all the time, that’s just a fact.”



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