- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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March 27

The Commercial Dispatch says Mississippi’s criminal justice reform law is a step in the right direction:

No one could rightly argue that this year’s session of the Mississippi legislature has been an effective one. As the session draws to a close, there has been no meaningful progress on education funding, road/bridge infrastructure or resolving our state’s recurring revenue shortfalls.

Yet that is not to say that the legislative session has been an absolute failure.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law HB 387, an important step in much-needed criminal justice reform.

The bi-partisan legislation, which drew the praise of such seemingly disparate advocacy groups as the ACLU and the conservative/libertarian Americans for Prosperity, addresses many of the conditions that perpetuate the revolving door nature of our state’s prison system.

One of the main features of the new law is how the state handles fines incurred by those who have been released on parole or probation. No longer will an inmate be ruled to have violated the terms of his/her release simply because that inmate was unable to pay fines related to their prosecution. By addressing that issue, our state will no longer have one standard for the poor and another for those who are more affluent.

The law also creates a task force to study inequities in sentencing and expand the number of inmates eligible for parole.

The law also allows for inmates to meet with their parole/probation officers at their work place, a change that will help prevent ex-offenders from missing work and, possibly, losing their jobs.

We believe that all of these changes represent an enlightened view of criminal justice, one that works in the best interests of the offender but the public at large.

When people are returned to prison for any reason other than committing another criminal offense, we all lose. Ninety-five percent of those who are sent to prison in our state ultimately return to our community. When those people are returned, re-integrated and re-established as productive members of our communities, we all benefit. Not only does the state not bear the costs associated with sending the prisoner back to custody, it also strengthens our community. When a person has paid his debt to society by serving his sentence, we should all be rooting for that person to be made whole and remove any arbitrary obstacles that prevent the person from doing so.

HB 387 does not address every inequity - most felons remain disenfranchised by being denied their right to vote. That is something future legislation can address, hopefully.

In the interim, this new law is a major step toward creating a humane and practical system of criminal justice in our state.

That is something all Mississippians should applaud.

Online: http://www.cdispatch.com

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March 26

The Sun Herald of Biloxi says people need to lean on lawmakers if they want the Coast to get money from BP:

Almost eight years ago, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, almost directly south of Gulfport. Millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf. Some of that oil ended up on Coast beaches. Some of it sank to the bottom of the Gulf, along with the chemical dispersant used to sink it. Tourists fled. Seafood was shunned. The Coast as a destination was shut down.

BP agreed to pay Mississippi $750 million for economic damage to the state.

Or to put it more clearly, for the damage to the Coast economy. It’s that simple.

Gov. Phil Bryant sees it. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves sees it.

So it’s mind-boggling that the Legislature has yet to pass a plan to send the bulk of the almost $700 million that remains in the settlement to the Coast. This year, a bill to do that is further along than any of the previous efforts. And yet, there remain three hurdles for the bill. If House and House conferees are able to work out differences in the versions of the bill passed by the two chambers and if the bill survives debates and votes of the full House and Senate, and if the governor signs it, the Coast can rest easy.

Then the Coast can begin the hunt in earnest for that “transformative project” many are fond of talking about. But it’s hard to devise a plan for spending that money when the Coast doesn’t know when and how much money it will get.

As it stands now, the state will receive a $40 payment next year and each year after that until 2030. In other words, without a bill that says otherwise, that money could be subject to the whims of the Legislature each year until it is gone.

Among state leaders, only House Speaker Phil Gunn has not unequivocally said he believes the money belongs on the Coast. That’s worrisome because last year the House let the BP bill die.

Our legislators should be trying to get that assurance from Gunn. And time’s wasting. We suggest they remind Gunn how important this decision is to the Coast.

If you agree, contact your House and Senate member and tell them.

Online: http://www.sunherald.com

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March 28

The Greenwood Commonwealth says candidates need to stop calling each other names:

For decades in Mississippi, almost every serious candidate running for statewide office has campaigned as a conservative. It didn’t matter what their party label, they all claimed to be “conservative,” and the contest was over who could out-conservative the other.

A variation on the theme is developing this campaign season, at least among the Republican Party, over the two U.S. Senate seats up for election. The GOP candidates are falling all over each other to show who is most closely allied with President Donald Trump.

Lining up behind the incumbent in the White House, no matter how erratic and contested he might be, is apparently still good politics in this state, which went heavily for Trump in 2016 and has stood by him despite his low national approval ratings.

But while these candidates are trying to profess how much they like Trump, let’s hope they don’t think that means they have to act like him and call their opponents by disparaging nicknames.

Recently, the campaign of Roger Wicker, who is running for re-election, stooped to this childish tactic when it referred to the incumbent’s short-lived opponent as “Lying Senator McDaniel.”

The disparaging words were used by Wicker campaign manager Justin Brasell in a prepared statement that questioned whether Chris McDaniel was still hedging his bets about which Senate race he would run in - challenging Wicker, as he first declared, or the seat being vacated by retiring Thad Cochran, as McDaniel says is now his intention.

Label McDaniel as an opportunist, as Gov. Phil Bryant has aptly described his former political ally. But Wicker should tell Brasell enough with the “Donald imitation.”

Name-calling is bad manners and reflects a limited vocabulary. It lowers the public discourse and turns off voters. Even when a surrogate does it, the name-calling reflects poorly on the candidate who authorized it.

These are going to be heated, tough campaigns between now and November. Fair enough. But let’s try to act like adults in the process.

Online: http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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