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Archive for March, 2012

Hood: Justices in the majority have to agree: Barbour pardons an abuse of power

March 9th, 2012 No comments

Attorney General Jim Hood entertained questions from reporters in his office Friday afternoon about the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the scores of pardons issued by former Gov. Haley Barbour.

He didn’t reveal much beyond what he said in a statement Thursday afternoon. He was disappointed with the ruling. He thinks it sets a dangerous constitutional precedent regarding the separation of powers among the three branches of government. And, he plans on pursuing a ballot initiative to strengthen the newspaper publication requirement related to the pardon process.

Hood did say that if various victims’ rights and law enforcement organizations would prefer a pardon review board be put in place — something several states have — instead of using the ballot initiative to simply force the state’s high court to enforce the publication clause, he would go along with that. He also said more than once that folks who think that Barbour was within his rights to issue as many pardons as he did, would be hard-pressed to deny that it wasn’t an abuse of power.

“Even the justices who voted with the majority realize that,” Hood said.

As for the initiative, Hood wasn’t sure which ballot would be the earliest the initiative could potentially be on. With roughly 120,000 signatures from the five old Congressional districts needed, it would be impossible to get the issue before lawmakers for them to put on November’s ballot before the session ends in late April. After November, Mississippi’s next statewide election will be in 2015.

There is one remedy still available to Hood. He could file a motion for re-hearing, which would entail asking the same court that ruled against him Thursday to reconsider its decision. Hood didn’t slam the door shut on that possibility; he didn’t sound very likely to actually do it, either. Such motions are almost never granted.

State Supreme Court rules Barbour’s pardons are valid

March 8th, 2012 No comments

In its list of hand downs Thursday, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld former Gov. Haley Barbour’s pardons.

The Court, split 6-3, ruled that it had no jurisdiction to review Barbour’s decision, because doing so would violate separation of powers.

“This case is about whether this Supreme Court has the right, authority, and power to declare itself superior to, and above, both the other two branches of government in all matters of constitutional compliance. While this Court clearly has the constitutional duty to interpret the content of laws passed by the Legislature and executive orders issued by the governor, we decline – as have so many other courts before us – to assume for ourselves the absolute power to police the other branches of government in fulfilling their constitutional duties to produce laws and executive orders, unless there is alleged a justiciable violation of a personal right,” Justice Jess Dickenson, writing for the majority, said in the opinion.

In all, Barbour issued 198 pardons, 26 of which applied to inmates who were incarcerated at the time. Some of those 26 received conditional clemency or were released to keep the state from having to pay their extensive medical bills. The others had already completed their sentences, and had been free in some cases for several years.

Attorney General Jim Hood argued that only two dozen or so of the pardoned had met the newspaper publication requirement, which required notice 30 days in advance that an inmate was seeking a gubernatorial pardon. He made that the centerpiece of his argument in January in front of Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green, who issued an injunction temporarily invalidating the pardons, and in early February in front of all nine of the Supreme Court justices. Green’s injunction ordered those who were incarcerated to remain in custody until appeals were exhausted.

Hood concentrated on five inmates who served as trusties at the Governor’s Mansion during Barbour’s time there, all of whom had been convicted of murder. They had already been released from confinement by the time Green issued the injunction. Each was ordered to maintain regular contact with the Mississippi Department of Corrections while the appeals played out. One, Joseph Ozment, remained missing for several days before being found in Wyoming.

Alcohol content bill advances, alcohol sales bill dies

March 6th, 2012 1 comment

House Bill 1422, which would raise the alcohol-by-weight limit in beer made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent to 8 percent, had the motion to reconsider taken off it Tuesday afternoon.

It now heads to the Senate.

The bill cleared the House late last week, but had been held on the motion to reconsider since then.

This is more of a technical hurdle than anything else; the bill was never in danger of dying in the House because 22 representatives would have had to change their vote.

Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, who presented the ABW bill, didn’t have similar luck with HB 928, which would have given blanket permission for cities in dry counties to pursue an alcohol sales referendum, given that 20 percent of the electorate signed a petition to do so. It failed by one vote, 59-60.

That bill would have effectively stopped the parade of municipalities in dry counties that converge on the Capitol every year looking for permission to hold a referendum on the sale of alcohol. (A good example of that is Senatobia, which sits in dry Tate County. Senatobia got what it wanted; the bill allowing referendum procedures to move ahead passed the House right after 928 failed, and now heads to the Senate.)

That’s a perfect illustration of the point Zuber made presenting the alcohol sales bill.

“We decide which cities will be winners and losers when it comes to alcohol, and it’s usually based on which city has political connections,” he said. “Let’s stop that practice and let the people back home decide.”

Hosemann ‘hopeful’ last two business law reform bills meet committee deadline

March 5th, 2012 No comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is batting almost .1000 on his business reform proposals making it out of committee before Tuesday’s deadline.

Of Hosemann’s half-dozen or so bills, all but two have already been sent to the House floor. The two that haven’t – a relocation tax credit for businesses that move their headquarters here, and an expansion tax credit for businesses already headquartered here — were both double referred. They have cleared the Workforce Development Committee, and currently sit in the Ways and Means Committee. If they don’t clear Ways and Means by tomorrow, they’ll be dead for this session.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps, Hosemann said he was “hopeful” both would clear committee deadline by the end of tomorrow.

“We’ll be at the capitol (Monday and Tuesday) to do our best to make sure they both make it out,” Hosemann said.

Among the proposals that have already cleared committee are bills that would:

  • Offer businesses that contract with Mississippi universities for research a 7 percent tax credit, to be applied toward the amount of the research contract
  • Allow companies that have earned job-creation tax credits but have no earned income to actually, to pass those credits through to employees
  • Amend the Mississippi Business Incorporation Act to adopt changes in the Model Business Act; incorporates electronic technology concepts; and addresses indemnification and reinstatement of foreign companies.

Ways and Means will hold a meeting Monday at 3, one hour before the House of Representatives convenes. I’ll be at the meeting and will file an update when it’s over, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: With no discussion on either, the committee approved the bills, sending them to the House floor.

Craft beer supporters finally experience success at the Capitol

March 1st, 2012 No comments

The House of Representatives voted Thursday afternoon to send HB 1422 to the Senate.

The bill would raise the alcohol-by-weight content in beer made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent to 8 percent. The current 5 percent cap is the lowest in the U.S.

The bill cleared the House 67-45, with only moderate opposition shown while Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, was presenting it. Most of that opposition had to do with whether beer with a higher alcohol content could lead to an increase in alcohol-related deaths and/or DUIs. Zuber cited data from Ohio and Alabama that said neither was the case. The bill was held on a motion to reconsider, which will delay it being sent to the Senate, though it’s not very likely that will keep it from passing because 22 representatives would have to switch their votes once the bill is called up again.

Similar bills with Republican authors and co-sponsors have cleared committee and await debate on the Senate floor. Gov. Phil Bryant told the MBJ about a month ago that he was “not necessarily opposed” to the notion of raising the ABW cap to 8 percent.

While the bill is a long way from becoming law, this is no small victory for supporters of this measure. Raise Your Pints deserves a huge amount of credit for sticking with the issue, which has been dead on arrival once it reached committee the past few sessions. This is a textbook example of how to sell a piece of legislation. Supporters made this about economic development — specifically, tourism and sales tax revenue – and not alchohol. Once they did that, the longstanding opposition to it gradually faded.

I have messages out to a few Raise Your Pints people and Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who as a member of the Senate the past few years has made this one of his pet projects. I’ll update this post when I hear from either.

UPDATE: Raise Your Pints president Butch Bailey, who just called, was surprised the House even took up the bill today, seeing as how it had already met the committee deadline and was on the House floor comfortably before the next deadline.

“I was up here for the committee vote in the Senate,” Bailey said, referring to a similar bill clearing the Economic Development Committee earlier Thursday, “but I stayed around on the off chance that the House would take it up.”

He’s glad he did. “This is just one step in the process, obviously, but I’m grateful. Really grateful, especially since it passed by the margin (22 votes) that it did.”

Bailey said he and other folks connected to RYP are still making their case to Senators, who could take up their own version of the bill Friday.