- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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July 20

The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus on colleges becoming tobacco-free:

By the end of the year, all three of our area’s college campuses will be officially tobacco-free. Mississippi University for Women implemented its new tobacco policy on July 1. Mississippi State implements a similar policy on Aug. 1 while East Mississippi Community College will go tobacco-free on Jan. 1, 2017.

All three policies prohibit tobacco use in all forms, including “vapes” or “e-cigarettes” from school property.

No doubt, the policies will take some getting used to for tobacco-users, especially smokers. Even so, as more and more public spaces are implementing bans, smokers have adjusted and generally conform.

The debate over the dangers of tobacco has long ended, of course, and those who choose to smoke or use tobacco in other forms understand and accept the risk that goes with that behavior.

We believe these bans are especially meaningful on college campuses, mainly because of the demographics found there.

Young people ages 18 to 24 are the most vulnerable to tobacco addiction and the stress-relieving effects of tobacco, whether real or simply imagined, comes at an age when young people are transitioning into independent lives, whether it’s in the workforce or in the college environment. It is an age where they begin to make choices for themselves and accept the responsibility for those choices.

That is why we are encouraged by what we are seeing in our society.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control, use of tobacco among the 18-24 demographic has decreased more than any other group over the most recent 10-year period for which that data is available.

In 2005, 24.4 percent of those ages 18 to 24, were smokers. Ten years later, that percentage has fallen to 16.4 percent.

The decline for this group is significant. Studies show that if you aren’t a smoker by your early 20s, you are unlikely to form that habit later.

We applaud our colleges for helping keep that momentum going. Peer pressure and support can be powerful influences on behavior. Creating an environment where tobacco use is discouraged can only produce a good result.

Online:

https://www.cdispatch.com/

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July 19

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo on the state’s road and bridge maintenance plan

Supporters of a comprehensive state road and bridge maintenance plan haven’t been able to persuade the state’s political leadership that it is important enough to become an urgent priority, but that situation may change.

The formation of working groups to recommend changes in Mississippi’s taxing and spending policies could open a way, or recommend one, that slows, even eventually stops, the deterioration of highways and bridges.

The non-partisan Mississippi Economic Council presented a plan for a $375 million per year program, but it never left the driveway in the 2016 legislative session. Speaker Philip Gunn, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant didn’t put their mark on the plan. Without that endorsement, the Legislature isn’t likely to act.

Scott Waller, executive vice president of the Mississippi Economic Council, says MEC is not going to give up.

It is instructive to remember that some legislative leaders, some state officials and hundreds among Mississippi’s civic leadership worked for decades before winning passage of the 1987 highway program, which built the first statewide four-lane system.

It is those roads, and others added by the Legislature in the Vision 21 program, we’re riding on now. The oldest of those are crumbling, including their bridges and thousands of others up and down the state.

Gunn acknowledged last week “we’re looking for a stream of revenue” to pay for the road and bridge needs.

Late in the 2016 session, House Transportation Chairman Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, and Ways and Means Vice Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, developed what was described as a “broad tax reform bill” that reportedly made numerous changes to the state’s tax laws while also raising additional money for transportation, presumably through an increase in the tax on gasoline and motor fuel.

Sensing a lack of support for the proposal, however, Busby never introduced it to the House.

In general terms, the proposal helped spur Gunn’s call for the formation of the working groups.

Gunn has indicated it might take the working groups two years to formulate some of their goals and make recommendations to the Legislature.

The MEC study and others have concluded the 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax on motor fuel, enacted in 1987 for that program, no longer produces enough revenue to pay for the growing and costlier infrastructure needs.

Our state has more highway miles and more cars and trucks traveling roads and highways than in 1987. Tax revenue is weakening because of fuel efficiency, and it is inadequate because of higher maintenance and construction costs.

The working groups appear to create an opportunity for transportation progress. We hope it can become passable legislation in sooner than two years.

Online:

https://djournal.com/

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July 17

The Enterprise-Journal of McComb on Mississippi’s charter schools:

At first glance, a lawsuit that claims Mississippi’s charter school program violates the state Constitution seems to be difficult to prove.

Section 201 of the state Constitution is a rare example of a straightforward legislative sentence: “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit last week in Hinds County, where Mississippi’s only two charter schools have opened. The suit claims the state law that directs money to assist charter schools “heralds a financial cataclysm for public school districts across the state.”

It’s hard to see an apocalyptic cataclysm being produced by only two charter schools, although there is no doubt that more of the charters will open in the next few years.

The lawsuit notes that state law requires a public school district to share local property tax collections with charter schools that open in its area. The SPLC says that violates the Constitution because the public schools must transfer the local money to institutions that they neither supervise nor control.

Section 201, however, says directly that the Legislature gets to set conditions and limitations on support for public schools. It’s pretty obvious that one of the limitations the Republican majority wishes to set is directing some education money to charter school experiments.

The SPLC might have had better luck in suing the Legislature in its decision not to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program - but Section 201 would seem to cover the Legislature there as well.

Though charter school advocates profess to be worried by the lawsuit, it’s hard to see how a chancery judge will overturn the charter school law. Mississippi is far from the first state with charter schools.

In fact, the state seems to be going about this business deliberately, with a charter school board wisely making sure the operators of the new schools are more doers than dreamers.

Online:

https://www.enterprise-journal.com/

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