- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Nov. 4

The Sun Herald on a state legislative committee’s investigation of systems to keep personal information confidential:

The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance, Evaluation and Expenditure Review recognized the urgent need to fix a broken system that failed to protect the privacy of thousands.

And we commend them for quickly investigating the security gaps that led to thousands of pages of documents containing sensitive information being strewn across the Bay St. Louis bridge.

It began in May when two women driving across the bridge ran into a virtual storm of pages.

“There were so many of them,” said Nikki Frost. “It almost caused two accidents because people couldn’t see where they were driving.”

The documents were traced to the defunct Gulf Coast Community Action Agency, which failed to follow proper procedures when disposing of the thousands of pages that eventually wound up being carried off by the wind. The agency, which operated under the authority of the state Department of Human Services, closed in 2015 after it lost federal funding. By 2016, it had assured DHS all its documents had been properly disposed of. Then, more than a year later, thousands of them fell off a truck.

Since then, thousands of people have been notified that their sensitive information may have been compromised.

It took PEER just five months from the day those documents hit the bridge to find flaws in the state’s system for storing, disposing of and sanitizing sensitive documents. That’s an impressive turnaround, and the PEER leadership - Chairman Rep. Richard Bennett of Long Beach, Vice Chairman Sen. Videt Charmichael of Meridian and Secretary Sen. Lydia Chassaniol of Winona - have our appreciation.

They found the state was using a paper-oriented system in the digital age, and there is no uniform system for storing documents, destroying them when they had outlived their usefulness and scrubbing them of Social Security numbers and the like. And they found agencies were collecting unnecessary information - full Social Security numbers rather than the last four digits, for example.

Now, the Legislature must act on PEER’s recommendations. We would hope there are bills ready to go when it convenes in early January. We agree with PEER that the state needs a uniform and carefully crafted system for keeping confidential information confidential.

Online: http://www.sunherald.com/

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Nov. 5

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on an initiative to encourage postsecondary education:

It’s no secret that a significant portion of today’s jobs require postsecondary education.

That number will continue to grow.

It puts Mississippi - which dramatically trails the nation in the percentage of its adults with degrees - at a significant disadvantage.

And that’s why the state’s higher education leaders are working together on an initiative to help more Mississippians earn those degrees.

“Complete 2 Compete” targets adults who are close to finishing a two-year or four-year degree, but who have not yet done so. It is a partnership of Mississippi Public Universities, the Mississippi Community College Board and the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.

Only about 20 percent of Mississippi residents have a four-year degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That total barely outpaces Arkansas and West Virginia. The national average is more than 28 percent.

During a meeting with the Daily Journal’s editorial board on Friday, Higher Education Commissioner Glenn Boyce noted that Mississippi could “grind it out” and try to raise that number in gradual increments. The problem, he said, is that approach would do little to make the state more competitive.

“This is all about a desire to exponentially grow attainment in Mississippi, so we don’t grind our way up the ladder,” Boyce said. “We can never catch up unless we get a lot of people across the finish line in a hurry.”

Indeed, the statics show the opportunity is ripe for moving a lot of people across that line. State officials have said more than 2,400 residents can earn a bachelor’s degree with no additional work, and more than 28,000 can earn a two-year associate’s degree with no additional work. More than 100,000 Mississippians can earn a degree with some additional work.

These are the individuals “Complete 2 Compete” hopes to reach.

The initiative includes a website, http://msc2c.org, to help residents discover how close they are to getting a degree. It has sent individualized letters to targeted Mississippians notifying them the path to a degree is in reach. Coaches at each university will help them get there.

Meanwhile, it has also brought higher education leaders together to develop “common sense” solutions to barriers keeping many adults from finishing their degrees. The four-year institutions have each developed “general studies” degrees that have the same rigor but less specialization.

We applaud such creative collaboration that will make a dramatic, positive impact on so many individual Mississippians, and on the state as a whole.

And we encourage similar efforts to follow-up with those who have completed this program and help them find the jobs that match their newly acquired credentials.

Both approaches will open doors for Mississippi’s citizens and put the state’s workforce on a much stronger footing.

Online: http://www.djournal.com/

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Nov. 5

The Greenwood Commonwealth on an online sales tax:

People who own stores in Mississippi, drive on its roads, send their children to its public school or use any other state service will benefit from a Mississippi Department of Revenue initiative to make many online retailers collect the state sales tax.

The Department of Revenue filed notice last week, as it promised months ago, that starting Dec. 1, it will require online stores without a physical presence in the state that have sales of at least $250,000 per year in Mississippi to start adding and remitting a 7 percent tax on these transactions.

If this mandate survives the likely court challenge, it will help restore balance to a system that has unfairly given internet retailers a 7 percent price advantage over their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Internet retailers contribute nothing to Mississippi communities. They don’t employ anyone. They don’t own land or buildings here, so they don’t pay property taxes. They don’t sponsor youth sports teams. They don’t join the chamber of commerce. And up until recently, they didn’t pay the sales taxes that their competitors were required to extract from customers.

That’s un-American. The ideal of this country is to allow a free system where everyone operates under the same laws. Yet internet companies have avoided paying sales tax through an obscure 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said out-of-state merchants aren’t required to collect it.

Twenty-five years ago, neither U.S. Supreme Court justices nor anyone else could have anticipated what internet retailing would become. That ruling is hopelessly outdated and will eventually be overturned. The Associated Press said Alabama, Tennessee, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont and Wyoming are already challenging it. Amazon.com, by far the largest online seller, has seen the writing on the wall and been proactive by agreeing to collect sales tax already in Mississippi and other states.

Anti-tax zealots have erroneously claimed that a tax on e-commerce is new. It is not. It’s only the collection mechanism that is new.

Mississippi consumers have long been legally required to pay the 7 percent tax on these purchases as well as those from catalog companies. There’s even a place on the state income tax form for them to report the tax and remit it. Though many businesses follow the law, few individual shoppers do because they know it’s practically unenforceable. The AP reported Mississippi only collected $250,000 in 2016 from consumers out of an estimated $100 million to $150 million per year that should have been paid.

State Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson simply wants to collect money that is already owed the state by requiring online stores to do the same thing as all other stores. At the same time, he would be helping traditional stores that have been hurt by internet competition. How is that a bad thing?

If there is a court challenge to Frierson’s decision, it’s a fight worth having. If he loses, he should then adopt a different approach and require these online retailers to provide state tax officials with the list of their Mississippi customers and amounts of purchases so that the state can go after the consumers itself. We bet the online retailers would rather just collect the tax than have to do that.

Online: http://www.gwcommonwealth.com/


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