Health

Governor Reeves line-item vetoes $50 million earmark for UMMC

Reeves indicates more line-item appropriation vetoes could be forthcoming.
Late Tuesday, Governor Tate Reeves announced via social media that he had partially vetoed Senate Bill 3010, an appropriation bill for the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC).
Reeves did not veto the entire bill, choosing only to veto Section 24, lines 153-214 in SB 3010.
READ MORE: Governor Reeves wins partial veto court fight

The line-item veto power of the Governor pertaining to appropriation bills has been upheld by the state Supreme Court in recent years. In 2020, Speaker Philip Gunn challenged the Governor’s authority to take such an action. A lower court ruled in Gunn’s favor, but the case went to the state Supreme Court where the Justices ultimately ruled in Reeves’ favor.

In his message, Governor Reeves indicates that this UMMC line-item appropriation veto will be the first of a few to be rolled out in the days ahead.
Tuesday’s veto pertains to $50 million appropriated from the State Treasury to the credit of the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund for UMMC. The stated purpose was for the completion of capital improvements to the patient care facilities and operating suites of the Adult Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center as allowable under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Governor Reeves took issue with the special earmark.

“Today I vetoed a $50 million set aside in a special earmark for facility improvements in UMMC’s adult hospital building. I think it’s important to give clarity on why I did,” Reeves wrote on Facebook.
The Governor says that UMMC’s teaching center is largely funded by the state, yet the hospital is not.
“They are responsible for their own operational budget—just like other hospitals. They do receive certain competitive advantages that are not afforded to other hospitals and physician groups around Mississippi, such as waivers of ‘certificate of need’ requirements,” Reeves noted, adding, “There is little reason that Mississippi taxpayers should radically increase the commitment to further subsidize the operations of UMMC to the detriment of competitors.”
Reeves states that UMMC currently has enough money to “willingly turn away patients on private insurance, clearly indicating that they have no need for the state to underwrite their ambitious building/spending goals.”
With all the health care challenges in the state, Governor Reeves says he does not think that more building improvements are the best expenditure of $50 million of the people’s money.
“That money would be better served in one of the programs that I recently signed to incentivize more training around the state for doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals,” the Governor writes. “After all, throughout COVID, we always had adequate bed capacity for patients. The central challenge was always the hospitals’ inability to properly staff the beds.”

Governor Reeves concludes his social media message by saying it is important to ensure that “your money” is invested wisely.
“This is the first of several spending vetoes that we will share and answer questions on in the coming days,” Reeves concluded, indicating that more line-item vetoes could be on the way. […]

Health

Nancy and Zach New plead guilty to state charges

(Nancy and Zach New – AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis – March 18, 2021 – Copyright 2021. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
These charges are connected to a state investigation involving more than $77 million in misspent welfare funds.
On Tuesday, Nancy and Zach New plead guilty to charges of wire fraud, fraud against the government, and charges of bribery of a public official in Mississippi’s welfare fraud case, the state’s largest ever public embezzlement case.
[embedded content]
These charges are connected to a state investigation involving more than $77 million of misspent welfare funds.
Nancy and Zach New each pleaded guilty to four counts of Bribery of a Public Official, two counts of Fraud Against the Government, and five counts of Wire Fraud. Nancy could face up to 100 years in prison and Zachary could face up to 75 years in prison.

“Today’s plea represents a joint victory for the District Attorney’s Office, U.S Attorney’s Office and the State Auditor’s Office,” said Jody E. Owens II, Hinds County District Attorney. “This plea sends a message to those in positions of power, that they will be held accountable for preying on the poor and abusing government funds.”
State sentencing in the case will be scheduled after Nancy New and Zachary New are sentenced in federal court. Both have already pleaded guilty to federal charges for their involvement in multiple accounts of welfare fraud.
READ MORE: NANCY, ZACH NEW PLEAD GUILTY TO FEDERAL CHARGES
“Today Nancy and Zach New pleaded guilty to the largest public fraud scheme in state history,” State Auditor Shad White said. “I will avoid extensive commentary because there is still a gag order in one case, but as I said today, I’m proud of the work my investigators and the prosecutors did to get us here.

White said he pledged to both state and federal prosecutors that they will help them obtain any information they need as they decide on others they will charge.
“In February 2020, I gave the FBI access to all the evidence we had. Since then, we’ve worked hand in glove each day with them to move this case forward. Between us, the FBI, and the Office of the Inspector General, this case will be fully investigated. Period,” White continued. […]

Health

State Rep. Bomgar will not seek re-election to House District 58 in 2023

The Madison County state representative is turning his attention to the private sector.
State Representative Joel Bomgar (R), who has represented Mississippi House District 58 since 2016, announced today that he will not be seeking re-election in 2023.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Bomgar said he was making the announcement to give any candidate who wanted to run time to make that decision.
“I wanted to let you know that I will not be running for re-election during the upcoming 2023 legislative elections,” Rep. Bomgar wrote. “Even though the qualifying deadline is not until February, I wanted to make this announcement now so that anyone interested in serving would have enough time to make that decision.”

Bomgar says he has thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the privilege to represent the district in the Mississippi House of Representatives for the last seven years.
“From the 11 years I spent building Bomgar Corporation to the 7 years I have spent in the House of Representatives, my passion has always been to honor God and make our state and country a better place,” he continued.
Bomgar writes that he has an opportunity to make a positive impact in the private sector as President of Próspera.

According to BusinessWire, Prospera is “a digital governance platform and business ecosystem with a legal and regulatory environment designed from the ground up to unleash entrepreneurship and innovation.” Próspera is built in a Special Economic Zone in Honduras where they are “working with some of the world’s best architecture firms to build a prosperous charter city on the gorgeous Caribbean island of Roatan.”
Bomgar writes that his ever-increasing demands at the venture as well as increased international travel has led him to move back into the private sector.
He thanked his family and constituents for allowing him to serve in the Mississippi House, adding that he plans to complete his current term of office.
“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wife Rachel and my children for allowing me to serve as their representative and yours. I have made many, many new friends along the way, learned so much, and am proud of the public policy contributions I was able to make.I look forward to continuing to serve you through the remainder of my term,” Bomgar concludes. […]

Health

Speaker Gunn recaps 2022 session at Stennis Press luncheon

Gunn provided a run-down of the Legislature’s accomplishments.
On Monday, Speaker of the Mississippi House Philip Gunn spoke at the Stennis Capitol Press Forum where he provided a run-down of the 2022 Mississippi Legislative session.
Gunn touched on “tremendous legislative accomplishments,” including: cutting the state’s income tax, significantly raising teacher pay, allocating $1.5 billion in ARPA funds, establishing a Medical Marijuana program, and much more.
Speaker Gunn acknowledged that the accomplishments he would be discussing were because the Mississippi House and Senate worked together to get it done.

The first thing that Gunn discussed was the passage of House Bill 531 which will deliver the largest tax cut in the state’s history. Signed by Governor Tate Reeves on April 5, 2022, Gunn addressed that it was “one of the biggest things” they did in session this year.
“This tax plan will give $525 Million back to the people who earned it. But, this isn’t the end of our efforts to eliminate the tax on work – it’s a bold beginning,” Gunn said on Twitter following the signing of HB 531.
Highlights of the income tax compromise plan include:

Eliminating the 4% tax bracket by 2023
Single income taxpayers do not pay taxes on first $18,300 of income
Married filers do not pay taxes on first $36,600 of income
5% bracket cut to 4.7% by 2024, 4.4% by 2025 and 4.0% by 2026
Provides tax relief of $525 million per year by 2026

READ MORE: GOVERNOR REEVES SIGNS LARGEST TAX CUT IN STATE HISTORY INTO LAW
The Speaker of the House also discussed the approval of the largest teacher pay raise in Mississippi history. The new law gives teachers, on average, an over $5,000 raise and will provide assistant teachers with an average of a $2,000 raise.
Other elements of the plan include:

Class A teacher with a baccalaureate degree would start at $41,500.
Teachers would receive annual step increases of between $400 and $600 at most every year, including in the first three years of teaching.
At five-year marks in a teacher’s career up to Year 20 teachers would receive a larger increase between $1,200 and $1,350 based on their certification. At Year 25, they would receive a $2,500 increase.
The base salary schedule does not include any local supplements or state supplements, like extra compensation to locate in certain critical needs areas or become a National Board Certified Teacher.

READ MORE: GOVERNOR REEVES SIGNS LARGEST TEACHER PAY RAISE IN MISSISSIPPI HISTORY
Speaker Gunn spoke on the $1.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that the state of Mississippi received and how lawmakers allocated about $1.5 million of those funds, leaving a total of $295,307,846 in unallocated funds.
All funds must be obligated between March 3, 2021, and December 31, 2024, and expended to cover such obligations by December 31, 2026.
READ MORE: MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE ALLOCATES $1.5 BILLION IN ARPA CORONAVIRUS STATE FISCAL RECOVERY FUNDS […]

Health

Senate Democrat Leader Simmons among group suing MS State Election Commissioners over Supreme Court boundaries

The group, represented by the ACLU and SPLC, claim the current election districts don’t give black voters equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, a Democrat and Senate Minority Leader, is among a group of activists who have filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Election Commissioners claiming that the district boundaries used in Mississippi’s State Supreme Court elections dilute the voting strength of black Mississippians, violating the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP on behalf of individual black civic leaders, including Dyamone White, Ty Pinkins, Constance Slaughter Harvey-Burwell, and Senator Simmons. The group is suing Governor Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Michael Watson and Attorney General Lynn Fitch in their official capacities as Mississippi’s Board of Election Commissioners.
The group says the state Supreme Court district lines, which have gone unchanged for more than 35 years, should be redrawn “so that Black voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

“As it stands, none of the three Supreme Court districts are drawn with a Black voting age majority. But current District 1, which includes Jackson and part of the Mississippi Delta, could easily be redrawn, consistent with traditional principles, to have a majority of eligible Black voters,” a release from the ACLU announcing the lawsuit states. “Especially in light of the high degree of racial polarization in voting in Mississippi, such a change is needed to ensure that Supreme Court elections comply with federal law and allow Black Mississippians a fair and equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing.”
The group’s main contention is that Mississippi’s population is almost 40% black and yet in the 100 years that Mississippi has elected its Supreme Court, there have only been four black justices ever to sit on the Court, and never more than one at a time.
“It has been nearly 20 years since a Black jurist won election to the Court in a contested election,” the ACLU release states, adding, “The reason for this state of affairs is that the current Supreme Court districts dilute the voting strength of Black Mississippians.”

“Thirty-five years ago, Black lawmakers objected to the current districts. The lack of proper representation today is evidence that they were right in their objection. It’s past time to correct these unlawful maps,” said Jarvis Dortch, Executive Director of ACLU of Mississippi.
The Mississippi Supreme Court consists of nine justices elected for eight-year terms in staggered years. Three judges are elected from the three election districts.
MS Supreme Court Districts lawsuit by yallpolitics on Scribd […]

Health

Governor Reeves vetoes four bills including ones related to shifting Ethics Commission authority, criminal voting rights

Reeves also allows bill creating Mississippi Healthy Food Families Program to become law without his signature.
Governor Tate Reeves has vetoed four bills from the 2022 Mississippi Legislative Session. The vetoes range from provisions pertaining to campaign finance reports to restoring voting rights to criminal convictions.
The vetoes include:

SB 2306
SB 2336
SB 2530
SB2536

SB 2306:
Authored by State Senator Jeff Tate, Senate Bill 2306 sought to transfer the authority of the Mississippi Ethics Commission to assess a civil penalty against any candidate or political committee for failure to file a report to the Secretary of State. It would also delete the provisions that provide for a hearing for a candidate or political committee before the State Board of Election Commissioners.
The bill also sought to provide for an appeal procedure for those candidates who are assessed a civil penalty by the Secretary of State.

SB 2336: 
This was a straightforward veto, as the language from the bill was added to HB 155, and therefore the bill was not needed. As Governor Reeves noted in his veto, it was a duplicate bill.
SB 2530: 
This bill, authored by State Senator Scott DeLano, would have allowed the Mississippi Department of Information and Technology Services to compile and record incidences of demand for payment as a result of ransomware attacks that are made against state agencies and other governing authorities. A report would then be generated to the Legislature.
In Governor Reeves’ veto letter, he acknowledged that the cyber-attacks like ransomware are evolving and escalating. However, he says that “the risk of publication or disclosure of the reports and related work on such potential vulnerabilities, even from inadvertent dissemination, can lead to further threats and exploitations of such vulnerabilities.”

Reeves said the goals set in SB 2530 were important, but he was still compelled to veto the bill at this time. He said he hopes stakeholders will come together again to address the issue in the future.
“I look forward to the Governor engaging in policies that protects private information and tax dollars from all cyber threats. Nationally, we know Ransomware attacks cost taxpayers millions of dollars and Mississippi has had its fair share of these cyber attacks. Right now, there is no way of knowing how much these attacks are costing taxpayers because there’s no requirement for public entities to report the costs to anyone. This bill sought to change that. While I’m disappointed in the veto, I look forward to working with the Governor on this matter.” said Senator DeLano.”
SB 2536:
SB 2536, which was authored by State Senator Jeremy England, originally created a public fund offender registry in Mississippi, but was vetoed by Reeves after additional language regarding suffrage rights was added to the text.
The language, given by State Rep. Nick Bain, would have reinstated the right to vote for individuals convicted of crimes that had been expunged.
Currently, state law requires that suffrage rights are only restored by a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate, or a Gubernatorial pardon on a case-by-case basis.
“I’ve been working on getting a public fund offender registry in Mississippi for 3 years now, and to have the bill reach the Governor’s desk and be vetoed is obviously disappointing and frustrating,” said Sen. England. “According to the veto message, the issue the Governor had with the bill relates to the section that returned suffrage rights for those that had a disenfranchising crime expunged from their record – which is language that was added to my bill in conference. I’ve talked to members of the Governor’s staff, and I hope to get the public fund offender registry bill back to his desk next session. It’s my understanding that he had no objection to that portion of the bill.”

Senator England added that the expungement language that was looked at in conference was essentially “clean up language.” He said what they ended up with allows those that have had a disenfranchising crime expunged from their record to re-register to vote as long as they are otherwise eligible to vote, meaning those persons cannot have any other disenfranchising crimes in their record.
“With all due respect, Senate Bill 2536 is not an attempt to ‘clarify’ existing law, but rather an attempt to affect a significant and unwise change to Mississippi’s voting laws. Thus, I am compelled to veto Senate Bill 2536,” Reeves wrote in the message.
England said he disagreed with the Governor and his team’s assessment that the bill would “automatically returns voting rights to criminals.”
“The idea being that the purpose of an expungement is to return a person to their same status as before their conviction of a disenfranchising crime. The crime is expunged from their record, giving them a clean slate essentially, so they could have then re-registered to vote,” said England.
Bill left unsigned but that becomes law
Governor Reeves also left SB 2077 unsigned, allowing it to become law without his signature. That bill created the Mississippi Healthy Food Families Program.
View the Message from Governor Reeves below: 

2022 Governor Veto Message by yallpolitics on Scribd […]

Health

MS Dept. of Public Safety reminds CDL drivers to check their medical cards

The federal waiver for medical certificates expired in February 2022.
In March 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) issued a waiver allowing Commercial Driver License (CDL) holders to continue holding CDL privileges with expired medical certificates as a result of the ongoing COVID pandemic.
This federal waiver applied to “all Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) holders, CDL holders, and non-CDL drivers whose licenses were issued for less than the maximum period… and was valid on February 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020, and whose medical certification or medical variance expired on or after December 1, 2021,” according to FMCSA.
Similar waivers were issued over the last two years, with the last being coming in February 2022, when the final waiver expired. After which, drivers were given a 45-day grace period to comply.

As of March 31, 2022, the Mississippi Department of Public Safety reports that approximately 5,600 Mississippi drivers were affected by the April 15, 2022, federal waiver expiration.
CDL drivers wishing to regain compliance must update their medical card and pay a $100 reinstatement fee. Both transactions should be completed in person at any Driver Service Bureau location.
For more details regarding the federal waiver, CDL drivers should visit the FMCSA website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov or one of the Mississippi Driver Service Bureaus, the locations of which can be found here. […]