Tupelo Daily Journal. July 14, 2021.
Editorial: Lawmakers don’t need gifts to pass good laws
Mississippi has some of the weakest laws in the nation governing lobbyist spending on lawmakers. There are no limits on how much lobbyists can spend on gifts for lawmakers. Lobbyists have to file reports, but those reports are largely ignored, evidenced by the fact that so many of them are incomplete or incorrectly filled out. And lawmakers are not required to report any gifts they receive.
About the only rules are that cash gifts are not allowed, and no gift can be given in direct exchange for a vote or action.
But let’s be real. Lobbyists shower lawmakers with gifts to influence their votes on issues important to the lobbyists’ clients. The entire reason for the lobbying industry is to help influence lawmakers to vote certain ways. That is not a bad thing. It is how our system works. But our system has been corrupted by the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are being spent every year to lavish key state lawmakers with freebies – all of which are designed to curry favor with legislators in hopes they will vote certain ways.
The Daily Journal recently reviewed lobbyist spending on behalf of public universities in Mississippi. Over the last two years, lobbyists for universities gave out almost $100,000 in gifts to select lawmakers. These gifts included tickets to sporting events, high-dollar dinners and sporting apparel. In some cases, we don’t know what the money was spent on because lobbyists failed to provide that information, even though it is required.
And while public universities represent one of the largest groups in lobbyist spending, they are by far not alone. Public entities and private industries spend millions of dollars lobbying state lawmakers. It is a grotesque aspect of our political system, but it goes largely unseen by the general public.
But this needs to change. Several states have outlawed any spending by lobbyists on free gifts for lawmakers, and Mississippi should follow that lead. At the very least, lobbyist spending should be limited to food and beverage at a capped amount and in group settings that are open to a large number of lawmakers. This would end the private dinners and booze-filled nights at upscale bars in Jackson that are so popular during the legislative session.
After all, most lawmakers make at least $40,000 annually for their legislative work, which is considered part-time, with the bulk of it taking place during the three-month session each year. That should be sufficient to cover their costs. If it’s not, then lawmakers can adjust their compensation as part of lobbying reform.
But perhaps the best argument for lobbying reform comes from a lawmaker who called our reporting a hit piece.
“I can tell you that none of my colleagues can be bought for 6k,” Sen. Joel Carter, R-Gulfport, said on Facebook.
If the spending is not doing any good, as Carter says, then there is no need for it. It’s just a perversion of our political system. And when you look at how budgets for public universities have fared no better than other state budgets – while tuition costs have been raised to cover shortfalls and expenses – then you have to question the wisdom of throwing good money after bad.
Policy should be decided on merits, not on lobbyist spending. It is time for the Legislature to do a little self-governance and pass strict lobbying reform that ends the free giveaways that are corrupting our political system.
The (Columbus) Dispatch. July 20, 2021.
Editorial: Schools should consider vaccine mandates for staff
In a few weeks, thousands of kids will return to in-person learning in the Golden Triangle’s public schools, and school boards/administrators want parents to believe that safety will be the highest priority.
As area school officials prepare for the new school year, they have relied on guidelines provided by the state’s education department for establishing COVID-19 practices and protocols. Those guidelines include reducing personal space mandates from six to three feet, along with changes to mask requirements even as the American Pediatric Society recommends mask-wearing for all students, even if they have been vaccinated.
While we believe it is wise for our local schools to follow state guidelines, we encourage our schools to take even stronger measures to guard against COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant that has shown a spike in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
Children are, by a wide margin, the least vaccinated group of people in the nation. There is no approved vaccine for elementary school-age children, and the vaccination rate in Mississippi for children ages 12-to-15 is just six percent and 12 percent for ages 16-17.
Without the protection afforded by the vaccination, the most likely major outbreak of COVID is likely to begin in our public schools.
Data from the state health department shows that counties where the overall vaccination rate is less than 50 percent are particularly susceptible to outbreaks. The vaccination rate in Lowndes County is 32 percent while the rate in Oktibbeha County is 38 percent. Clay County’s vaccination rate is 33 percent while Noxubee’s rate is 37 percent.
Those numbers strongly suggest that more stringent requirements be established.
One measure would be to require all school employees be vaccinated as a condition of employment, something the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled was within an employer’s authority to require.
This, we believe, would send a strong message to parents that schools are taking strong measures to prevent an outbreak. It also sets an example for parents who may have yet to have their age-eligible children vaccinated.
Mississippi has had a great record when it comes to school vaccinations — a 99 percent vaccination rate since 2014 — that prevent Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Chickenpox. As a result, those illnesses are virtually non-existent in our schools.
Required student vaccinations can only be mandated at the state level, and it seems obvious that the state should add COVID-19 to its list of vaccinations.
If parents are willing to sacrifice “personal choice” to prevent Mumps, isn’t it more than obvious that the same sacrifice should be made to prevent a virus that has killed 625,000 Americans and 7,500 Mississippians during the past 18 months?
Until the state follows that common sense approach, we hope our local school districts will do as much as possible. That means requiring their employees to be vaccinated.
McComb Enterprise-Journal. July 16, 2021.
Editorial: Prepare for a viral hurricane
We have been warned. Health officials in Mississippi, around the country and even around the world are telling residents in this state, if enough of us would just bother to listen, what is coming in the next phase of the pandemic.
The delta variant of Covid-19 is here. It’s more contagious than any strain of the coronavirus this country has experienced to date. And while it may be less lethal, it appears to sicken younger adults worse than did previous strains.
“I think people have no clue what’s about to hit us,” Dr. James Lawler, a health expert in Nebraska, told The Associated Press.
Already, Mississippi is seeing the first inklings. Cases and hospitalizations are rising quickly. If past patterns are a guide, death increases will follow.
Should the predicted surge materialize, it probably won’t be as deadly as the one experienced last winter, before vaccinations became widely available and treatments for the illness were still being refined.
But whatever is coming, its severity could be reduced if the unvaccinated would get over their hesitance or resistance to getting inoculated against an infection that has been blamed for more than 600,000 deaths in the United States over the past 18 months.
Mississippi’s vaccine rate has been lagging the rest of the nation from the time that the shots first became available. Less than a third of the state’s residents have been fully vaccinated. As of Tuesday, only six counties in the state had a vaccination rate of 40% or more.
That just not good enough.
Certainly some believe they already have immunity because they’ve contracted Covid-19 in the past, or suspect that they have. Natural immunity, however, may not be strong enough against the delta variant.
Researchers in France recently reported that naturally acquired antibodies — from an actual infection instead of from a vaccine — were only one-fourth as potent against the delta variant than against previous strains of Covid-19. However, just one vaccine shot (two are still recommended for the most common serums used in the United States) dramatically increases the person’s protection, not only against the delta variant but two other mutated strains.
We’re all tired of the virus. No argument there. But the fatigue — not to mention the infection rate — is only going to worsen if people don’t pay attention to what the health experts are forecasting.
When meteorologists tell Mississippi that a hurricane is coming, all but the foolhardy take precautions. They board up their property, and some even evacuate. They hope the forecast is wrong, and that the weather system will weaken or change course. But they are prepared if it doesn’t.
Mississippi has been given a very similar advanced warning about the delta variant. Ignore it at your peril.
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