Bryant to resist Pentagon call to give Army NG benefits to spouses in gay marriages

JACKSON, Mississippi– Gov. Phil Bryant says he has no choice but to reject a soon-to-be-delivered order from the Pentagon for Mississippi to grant same-sex spouses of Army National Guard members the same benefits as other spouses.

The Pentagon is set to order Mississippi and eight other states to drop their bans on Army National Guard benefits for spouses in same-sex marriages.

The Pentagon is set to order Mississippi and eight other states to drop their bans on Army National Guard benefits for spouses in same-sex marriages.

Bryant’s stand sets up a showdown with the Pentagon at a time Mississippi is trying to hang on to its military installations and is seeking to show it is a strong partner of the military.

The governor is refusing to lift the state’s Army National Guard ban on spouses in gay marriages being eligible for IDs necessary to obtain benefits — a circumstance Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says he will not abide.

Bryant says he does not have the constitutional authority to lift the ban. “The Mississippi Constitution clearly defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and expressly prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions,” Bryant said through a spokesman.

The state’s stand on same-sex marriage benefits could affect Mississippi’s chances for keeping military bases in a new round of base closings, though Mississippi won’t be alone. Eight other states have taken the same stand and could face the same consequences. The Pentagon has cited Mississippi and the other states as violators of Pentagon policy on issuing ID cards to same-sex spouses of Army National Guard members.

The other states are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, the Associated Press reports.

The issue is arising as states with a significant military presence such as Mississippi brace for the likelihood of a new round of military installation shutdowns through a Base Realignment & Closure Commission. Though neither the president nor Congress has fully decided on when the next round of closings will occur, officials in Washington and Mississippi expect a new BRACC in the next couple of years as the nation trims expenditures across the board.

Defense Secretary Hagel sent a strong message Thursday concerning the reluctance of the states to grant benefits to spouses of National Guard members. Specifically, he criticized states that are defying the Pentagon by refusing to allow National Guard facilities to issue ID cards that enable same-sex spouses of military members to claim benefits.

“This is wrong,” Hagel said in a speech in New York reported by the AP.

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligation under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” he said.

This is causing division among the military ranks, AP reported Hagel saying.

Oklahoma has taken a particularly hard stance against the military’s same-sex benefits policy. Gov. Mary Fallin ordered her state’s National Guard to stop processing requests, making legally married gay couples apply for benefits on federal facilities such as Tinker Air Force Base. Oklahoma in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting giving benefits of marriage to gay couples.

Hagel said these states’ policies are unfair and ordered the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, to “take immediate action to remedy this situation.”

It was not immediately clear what legal authority Grass has to force the states to change course.

Hagel said he instructed Grass to meet with the adjutants general from the nine states where the ID cards are being denied at state facilities. He said those adjutants general, who work for their states’ governor, “will be expected to comply” with Pentagon policy on this issue.

The American Military Partner Association, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian military members, praised Hagel’s remarks, the AP reported.

“Secretary Hagel has made it clear the National Guard in these few rogue states are failing to live up to their obligations to military families under federal law,” said Stephen Peters, the association’s president. “We applaud him in showing strong leadership by ordering the National Guard in these states to comply and follow lawful direction and DoD policy.”

Defense officials estimate there are 18,000 same-sex couples in the active-duty military, National Guard and Reserves and among military retirees. It’s unclear how many of those are married. The Pentagon policy on equal access to benefits does not apply to unmarried gay partners of military members.

The question for Mississippi and the other targeted states is whether they are willing to maintain their stands on same-sex marriage benefits at the risk of receiving a lower BRACC rating in the all-important “compatibility” with military policy category.

Mississippi recognized the stakes in the last legislative session when it included $2 million in the 2013 bond issue to ready Mississippi’s military communities for the likelihood of a BRACC return in 2015.

Under BRACC, a panel appointed by the president and approved by Congress selects bases for closing and submits a list to Congress for an up-or-down vote. No changes can be made to the list after submission.

The state’s $2-million allocation is likely to be only a down payment as the intentions of the president, Congress and the Pentagon become clearer.

The state spent a reported $60 million to $65 million in the 2005 round of base closings, an effort that helped to save such Mississippi military mainstays as Keesler Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Meridian, Camp Shelby and Columbus Air Force Base. The state, however, lost a Navy installation in Pascagoula and Air National Guard Air Wing in Meridian.

Even without a formally appointed BRAC panel, key members of Congress from both parties have acknowledged that significant cuts in defense spending, especially in the military’s domestic infrastructure, are ahead.

Manning McPhillips, chief administrative officer of the Mississippi Development Authority, is coordinating the state’s military current installation defense efforts. In an interview earlier this year, he said the state’s main focus will be to enhance the mission of the bases.

In preparation for BRACC, each part of the state that is home to a military installation has a military communities council. Each council sends a representative to a state council chaired by retired Army National Guard Maj. Gen. William “Bill’ Freeman Jr., a Newton County banking executive.

 

 

 

Insurance chief says Bryant call for hearings on BCBS is premature

blue-crossJACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney says in a letter to Gov. Phil Bryant that he thinks Bryant exceeded his authority in directing the Insurance Department to hold hearings on a reimbursement impasse between Health Management Associates and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi.

“I am deeply disappointed that you did not rescind Sections 1,2,3 and 6 of this order to the extent to which it directs action by the Mississippi Insurance Department,” Bryant wrote in the Oct. 31 letter.

Bryant waded into the reimbursement dispute last week with an executive order for Blue Cross and Blue Shield to reinstate the Health Management Associates hospitals whose contracts it severed on Sept. 1. With a loss in a court challenge from BCBS, Bryant backed off the reinstatement order. But he kept the part of the order that directed the Insurance Department to investigate Blue Cross’ provider viability and to conduct hearings on the issue.

Chaney said he is investigating the viability of Blue Cross Blue Shields’ provider network on his own volition. But he added that Bryant’s order for the hearings “contradicts certain provisions of the Mississippi Insurance code.”

A hearing can’t be held unless the investigation concludes a violation of the Unfair Trade Act has occurred, according to the commissioner.

“If violations are proven, we will make all remedial action available,” Chaney said in his letter.

Chaney noted that he wants to know specifically what violations the governor had in mind when he alluded in his executive order to a violation of “other laws.”

“We have requested that you provide us with any evidence of such violation and any evidence of an Unfair Trade Practice violation,” Chaney wrote.

He promised Bryant a copy of the report on his examination of BCBS’s provider network.

He further promised that the investigation will be “an in-depth and vigorous review.”

Health Management Associates sued BCBS in June on a claim the insurer owes it $19 million in additional reimbursements. BCBS reacted by severing its ties with HMA. The hospital group is continuing to treat the tens of thousands of BCBS policyholders at in-network rates but insists it can’t continue do so for much longer.

A crack recently occurred in the impasse when Blue Cross agreed to readmit four HMA hospitals –Gilmore Memorial Medical Center in Amory; Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center in Clarksdale; Tri-Lakes Medical Center in Batesville; and Woman’s Hospital in Flowood – to its provider network. HMA initially balked at the reinstatement, saying it did not like the terms under which BCBS made it.

Bryant said he believes he could have prevailed against BCBS’s attempt to invalidate his order had he received a hearing the full court. He noted, though, that he thinks more progress can be made on the issue outside of court.

 

 

Gaming executive to build “The Lube” restaurants on Gulf Coast

I-10 HOSPITALITY, LLC QUAKER STEAK & LUBE BEST WINGS USABILOXI, Mississippi — Louisiana-based I-10 Hospitality, LLC, a restaurant, hotel and gaming management company founded by former Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc. and Caesars Entertainment, Inc. executive, Geno M. Iafrate, has signed a deal with Quaker Steak & Lube to develop branded restaurants along the I-10 Corridor from Beaumont, Texas, to Destin, Fla. — including the Biloxi/Gulfport area.

Founded in 1974, Quaker Steak & Lube — commonly referred to as “The Lube” — is a family-friendly restaurant with a motor-themed atmosphere. It has more than 60 locations throughout the United States and Canada. The restaurant franchise has won the title “Best Wings USA” and has won other awards for its wings and signature sauces.

“We are so excited to expand our brand presence throughout the I-10 corridor and introduce more guests to our unique motorsports-themed dining experience,” said John Longstreet, president and CEO of Quaker Steak & Lube. “Our continued strong growth would not be possible without our dedicated area developers at I-10 Hospitality who are committed to the company’s success.”

In addition to Biloxi/Gulfport, other markets include Beaumont, Lake Charles, La., Lafayette, La., Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Gulfport/Biloxi, and Mobile/Pensacola/Fort Walton with an option to develop additional locations in the Shreveport/Bossier, Alexandria and Monroe markets. “We are thrilled to bring The Lube concept to the coast,” said I-10 Hospitality president and CEO, Geno M. Iafrate.

I-10 Hospitality, LLC is partnering with Sulphur, LA, based KAP of Louisiana to oversee construction projects. Other key partners include Montgomery Roth Architecture & Interior Design from Houston, Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana based Gremillion & Pou Marketing.

BOBBY HARRISON: Politics sometimes creates strange bedfellows

blue-crossBy Bobby Harrison

At least one positive in the current dispute between insurance company BlueCross & BlueShield and private hospital company Health Management Associates is a rare glimpse of bipartisanship in the state.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood – often at odds – are joining forces to try to force Blue Cross to reinstate 10 HMA hospitals across the state, including Gilmore in Amory, to its network.

Bryant issued an executive order to force BlueCross to reinstate the hospitals and Hood is defending in court the governor’s authority to undertake such a bold move. Among the entities opposing Bryant’s effort is Republican Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney

Chaney’s main contention is that the governor is usurping his authority and wading off in an area where he has little or no expertise.

The make matters even a little more interesting is that thus far Bryant’s efforts to force BlueCross to reinstate the hospitals is being blocked by U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate of the Southern District of Mississippi, an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan.

While Wingate is trying to determine whether BlueCross’s actions hinder health case access for its policyholders, at the very core the dispute is centered around money. HMA, a giant Florida-based company, wants Blue Cross, a behemoth Mississippi mutual insurance company, to reimburse its hospitals at a higher rate for the services they provide to patients insured through BlueCross.

Ultimately, unless something dramatic happens, the issues will be worked out by the courts.

What may be of more interest is the dynamics of Hood defending Bryant’s right to intervene in the dispute and essentially to trump the elected insurance commissioner and even order the commissioner to undertake certain actions.

In the 1990s when then-Attorney General Mike Moore filed his lawsuit against the tobacco companies, that effort was opposed by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice. And more recently, then-Gov. Haley Barbour and his appointees opposed Hood’s lawsuit against drug manufacturers, whom he accused of overcharging for drugs provided to Mississippi Medicaid recipients.

In each instance, the elected AG persevered with the lawsuit despite opposition from the state’s chief executive officer – the governor.

Has Hood had a change of heart about the role of the governor in terms of influencing actions of other statewide officeholders?

Hood says no. He said the difference between the attorney general and the insurance commissioner is that his office is “a constitutional” position. Besides the office of governor and lieutenant governor, the posts and the duties of attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer are spelled out in the Constitution. Such is not the case for the two other statewide elected posts – insurance commissioner and agriculture and commerce commissioner.

For instance, recently elected Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith had to make a decision about whether to try to prevent a building under her authority from being rented for the purpose of a same-gender commitment ceremony. While she disagreed with the ceremony, she ultimately allowed it to take place because to do otherwise most likely would have violated U.S. constitutional protections, such as the right to assembly

What if the governor had objected and issued an executive order to stop the ceremony?

Or what about the issue of transportation? State highways are under the supervision of a three-member elected commission. What if the governor was not satisfied with the priority of the commission and felt its actions or inaction were creating an emergency? Could the governor issue an executive order to take over highway construction or maintenance?

Those are just some issues for the new Hood-Bryant alliance to ponder. Who knows where that alliance could lead.

 

» Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.

UPDATE: Nissan sales up 14.2 percent in October, a record for the company

nissan-logo

UPDATE:

Full sales numbers are below. Here is an outline Mississippi-built products …

»  Frontier sales jumped 71.8 percent in October to 5,242 units, thanks in part to the popularity and increased availability of fuel-efficient 4-cylinder models.

»  Sentra sales rose by 49.3 percent to 8,399 units.

»  Xterra sales were up 11.4 percent to 1,114 units.

» Armada sales increased by 22.2 percent to 1,187 units.

» NV sales climbed by 30.6 percent to 1,006 units.

 

 

ORIGINAL STORY …

Here are Nissan’s top line sale numbers for the month of October.

 

» Nissan Motor Co. sales in the U.S. were up 14.2 percent to 91,018, an October record. (Oct. 2012 total sales were 79,685.)

» Nissan Division sales also set a new October record, up 15.4 percent to 81,866. (Oct. 2012 sales were 70,928.)

» Infiniti sales totaled 9,152 for the month, up 4.5 percent over the prior year. (Oct. 2012 sales were 8,757.)

 

Nissan model highlights:

» Rogue sales jumped 53.1 percent to 12,919, an October record. The all-new 2014 Rogue, now in production at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn. assembly plant, goes on sale later in November.

» Sentra sales gained 49.3 percent to 8,399.

» Pathfinder sales were up 90.4 percent to 5,793.

» Sales of Nissan LEAF finished October at 2,002, up 26.8 percent over a strong Oct. 2012 total of 1,579.

» Frontier pickup sales gained 71.8 percent to 5,242.

» October records were also established by JUKE (3,328 sales) and the NV full-size van lineup (1,006).

 

Quote from Erik Gottfried, Director, Nissan Electric Vehicle Sales and Marketing

“LEAF sales in October set a monthly record for the eighth month in a row with improved availability of the popular S trim driving further sales in new wave markets such as Houston and Boston. Atlanta held on to the title of No. 1 LEAF market for the third month in a row, narrowly edging out San Francisco. As LEAF sales continue to diversify geographically, we saw particularly strong sales in the Central Region led by Denver and Salt Lake City.”