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In statement, Barbour addresses pardons

January 11th, 2012 2 comments

Former Gov. Haley Barbour has just released a statement after a good 24 hours of sound and fury relating to his last-minute pardon/clemency binge.

Here it is, in full:

Some people have misunderstood the clemency process and think that all or most of the individuals who received clemency from former Gov. Haley Barbour were in jail at the time of their release. Approximately 90 percent of these individuals were no longer in custody, and a majority of them had been out for years. The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote. My decision about clemency was based upon the recommendation of the Parole Board in more than 90 percent of the cases. The 26 people released from custody due to clemency is just slightly more than one-tenth of 1 percent of those incarcerated.

Half of the people who were incarcerated and released were placed on indefinite suspension due to medical reasons because their health care expenses while incarcerated were costing the state so much money. These individuals suffer from severe chronic illnesses, are on dialysis, in wheelchairs or are bedridden. They are not threats to society but if any of them commits an offense – even a misdemeanor – they’ll be returned to custody to serve out their term.

Of the inmates released for medical reasons, a small number were placed on house arrest, and all still remain under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

In Custody at Time of Release

  • Medical Release/Remain Under    MDOC Supervision (13)
  • Suspended Sentence/ Remain Under MDOC Supervision (3)
26 (12 percent)
Previously Completed Incarceration at Time of Clemency 189 (88 percent)
Total 215

Source: Mississippi Department of Corrections

See related story on Barbour’s pardons:
Judge puts release of Barbour’s pardoned prisoners on hold
Categories: Haley Barbour, News Tags:

Next phase of tort damages cap fight? The waiting game

June 14th, 2011 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning about the constitutionality of the state’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases.

Magnolia Marketplace isn’t a lawyer, so you’re not going to find much in the way of legal analysis or a prediction here on which way the court rule.

What is clear is that there probably is no single issue for Mississippi’s business community more important than this one. It’s probably equally important to Mississippi’s plaintiffs’ bar.

The case that spawned Tuesday’s hearing – Sears & Roebuck Co. v. Lisa Learmonth – centers on a car wreck involving Learmonth, the plaintiff, who claims she was injured when she collided with a Sears van driven by one of the company’s employees. Learmonth was awarded about $4 million in punitive damages in the federal court trial, but the trial judge reduced that amount to conform with the $1 million cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to get the jury’s verdict as it related to the $4 million punitive damages upheld; Sears cross-appealed asking for a new trial, claiming it wasn’t liable for the accident in which Learmonth was injured. The Fifth Circuit then certified the constitutionality of the cap to our Supreme Court.

If you’re scoring at home, Chief Justice Bill Waller and Presiding Justice Jess Dickenson were the most active as far as questioning the attorneys from both sides. Both seemed a little more skeptical of the argument made by Sears’ attorneys, that the cap did not violate the right to a jury trial, and that the cap did not violate constitutionally outlined separation of powers among the branches of government.

Keeping intact the separation of powers and the right to a jury trial were the cornerstones of the arguments made by Learmonth’s attorneys.

Very little anecdotal observations of the cap were made. The one that stood out the most came from Justice Jim Kitchens, who asked Sears counsel, “Who is this cap working for? The business community? It’s not working for people with catastrophic injuries.” Kitchens, it should be noted, sounded the most unconvinced of the nine justices that the cap was constitutionally sound, even though he asked maybe six questions during the 90-minute hearing.

The cap was the centerpiece of 2004’s tort reform, which Gov. Haley Barbour made the cornerstone of his first campaign. Barbour and business associations and trade groups said the cap’s removal would return Mississippi to the reputation the state had pre-tort reform as a judicial hellhole. Opponents have built their rebuttal around the constitutionality of the cap, claiming that the Legislature has no authority to tell juries how much to award or not to award in civil cases.

For both sides, it comes down to money. Businesses don’t want their liability insurance premiums to rise with the removal of the cap. Plaintiff lawyers would love nothing more than for 8- and 9-figure compensatory damage awards to return.

And so now they wait.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Elevance heads to Natchez, brings 165 new jobs

June 7th, 2011 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour has just announced in Natchez that Illinois-based Elevance Renewable Sciences has purchased the old Delta BioFuels facility. The company will revamp and expand the 800,00 square-foot building so it can make its specialty chemicals for use in personal care products, detergents, plastics, lubricants and a few other things.

Magnolia Marketplace first reported Friday night that there would be a “major” economic development announcement in Natchez today. For Natchez, 165 new jobs over a five-year, multi-phased rollout would qualify as major. The Natchez and Adams County area has spent the past decade watching its major industries leave town, with probably the most crushing blow coming in 2001 when the International Paper mill shut down.

Here’s the full release from Barbour’s office:

NATCHEZ – Gov. Haley Barbour and executives from Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc., creator of high-performance renewable specialty chemicals for use in personal care products, detergents, plastics and lubricants, announced today the company has acquired the Delta BioFuels facility in Adams County. The company intends to convert the facility to a biorefinery and derivatives operation in a multi-phase project that will involve an investment of more than $225 million and will create 165 full-time jobs over the next five years, in addition to 300 construction jobs.
 
“Elevance’s decision to locate here in Mississippi results in a significant investment in the area and its economy, as well as in the local workforce,” Gov. Barbour said. “Job creation and retention is vital to a healthy economy, and I thank the company for creating these new jobs for southwest Mississippi’s residents. I am delighted to welcome Elevance to Natchez and Adams County.”
 
Elevance plans to expand the existing 800,000-square-foot refinery, which is located in Natchez, in multiple phases over the next five years. The result will be a world-scale biorefinery and derivatives operation.
 
“We are pleased to be coming to southwest Mississippi to build our first North American manufacturing facility. We plan on deploying Elevance’s innovative technology here to bring competitive manufacturing and high-value jobs back to the United States,” said K’Lynne Johnson, chief executive officer of Elevance. “These operations will complement our joint venture with Wilmar International in Asia and expand our global footprint. By building biorefineries in multiple geographies, we are responding to our customers’ demands for innovative environmentally friendly products in a cost-effective and scalable way.”
 
The Mississippi Development Authority worked with company and local officials to help facilitate the project. Through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund, MDA provided assistance for upgrades at the Natchez/Adams County Port, as well as a $25 million loan to the company. Additionally, the county provided assistance for upgrades to the port to support this project.
 
“Today marks a milestone for Natchez and Adams County, and I couldn’t be more pleased that Elevance has chosen to locate its newest operations here,” said MDA Executive Director Leland Speed. “This announcement reinforces the fact that Mississippi has a business climate in place to meet the needs of any company. I thank Elevance for its investment in Natchez, Adams County and the entire state of Mississippi, as well as for its confidence in and commitment to Mississippi’s workers.”
 
Headquartered in Bolingbrook, Ill., Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc. creates valued specialty chemicals from natural oils. Using a Nobel Prize-winning technology called olefin metathesis, the company creates high performance ingredients for use in personal care products, detergents, fuels, lubricants and other specialty chemicals markets. To learn more about Elevance, please visit the company’s website at
www.elevance.com.

Speed sues Hosemann to keep eminent domain off ballot (Updated)

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed has sued Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, in an attempt to keep the eminent domain petition off November’s ballot.

If you’ll recall, the petition seeks to prevent the taking of private land for private development. It keeps in place the state’s authority to seize private land for public-use projects, like streets or bridges.

Nearly 120,000 people signed petitions to get the issue on the ballot. Hosemann certified the results last year.

The Mississippi Development Authority and Gov. Haley Barbour were adamantly against the notion of eliminating the state’s authority to use eminent domain for private economic development. Barbour and Gray Swoope, Speed’s successor at MDA, warned that projects like Toyota wouldn’t be in Mississippi if the law were changed.

Following a failure to change the law in the Legislature, a petition drive led by the Mississipi Farm Bureau Federation commenced, and the issue was set for the November ballot, until Thursday afternoon.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 25 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Pamela Weaver, spokesperson for Hosemann, just told Magnolia Marketplace that he would not comment beyond a statement, in which he said he intended to follow state law and place the initiative on the ballot, unless otherwise ordered by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

We’ve left a message on the cell phone of an MDA spokesperson, which wasn’t immediately returned.

For what it’s worth, Magnolia Marketplace several months ago polled the major contenders in the governor’s race — Phil Bryant, Dave Dennis, Bill Luckett, Johnny Dupree and Hudson Holliday — and they were of one mind: Eminent domain should be employed only for projects of direct public use, and that doesn’t include private economic development. Bryant, Dennis and Holliday each signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

If and when we hear something from the MDA, we’ll post it. Rest assured, though: This is going to be a fight.

UPDATE: MDA spokesperson Melissa Medley just returned our call. She said that agency would have no comment on Speed’s lawsuit since he filed it as an individual, and not in his official capacity as interim executive director of the MDA.

We just got off the phone with Speed’s assistant, who said he was out of town and wouldn’t return until Monday around lunchtime. We’ll try to catch up with him then.

Burton: No political favoritism behind budget bill language

April 4th, 2011 1 comment

Monday morning, Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, got a text message from Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, in which Newton asked Moak to allow the conference report for House Bill 1095 to clear the House, which would have sent it to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk to await his signature. The text, Moak said, seemed odd because Moak had done no work on the bill. He wasn’t the committee chair that sent it to the floor, and he wasn’t one of the conferees appointed to hash it out.

HB 1095 is a bill that revises actual revenue numbers for fiscal year 2011 for several state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Medicaid. Language inserted either late last week or over the weekend, however, spells out the job description and educational requirements of the deputy director of administration of the Division of Medicaid. The educational requirements say a candidate “shall have at least five years’ experience in a health-related field and/or shall possess a special knowledge of Medicaid as pertaining to the State of Mississippi.  The Deputy Director of Administration may perform those duties of the executive director that the executive director has not expressly retained for himself.” The bill stipulates that the deputy director of administration would serve at the will and pleasure of the governor, and would be appointed by the governor.

 Moak, along with several other House Democrats and at least one Republican, opposed that language in the bill, saying it had been inserted too late in the process to property evaluate, and that it appeared to intend for a specific person to become the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“When several of us found out about it (over the weekend), that was the first time we had seen it,” Moak said. “We were really concerned.”

And when Moak got the text message from Burton in which Burton encouraged Moak to support the bill as a whole, Moak said it “kind of raised my eyebrows. I had no conversations with Burton about this beforehand. So somebody told him I was against it. That’s my logical rationale.”

Magnolia Marketplace called Burton to get his reaction to what Moak had told us, and to ask him if he was interested in becoming the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“I’ve qualified to run for re-election,” he told us. In that conversation, he denied having contacted any House member to encourage them to support the bill.

A few minutes after that, we called Moak back, who told us that he had received another text message from Burton, this one asking Moak to delete any text messages from Burton. Moak did not delete the messages, he said, because they could be the subject of a public records request.

Shortly after that, we called Burton again, who admitted to basically lobbying for the bill to Moak, but denied several times that he had been given assurances that the deputy director of administration job would be his.

“I supported it because the governor and the Division of Medicaid supported it,” Burton said. “If it’s for Medicaid, I’m going to support it. I’ve heard I’m going to be everything from Division of Medicaid Director to the head of the Department of Public Safety. Anything’s possible. Would I take the job if offered? I might.”

The job won’t be extended to anybody, because the language dealing with it has been taken out of the bill, after Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, made a point of order on the House floor that eliminated it. The conference report for the bill, minus the deputy director of administration language, has already been approved by both chambers and will now go to Barbour.

“I just didn’t understand the need,” Baker said, when asked why he raised the point of order that ended up striking the language. “We’re spending too much as it is.”

According to House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, who was one of the House conferees, the Division of Medicaid requested the language be inserted in the bill.

Division of Medicaid spokesperson Francis Rullan did tell us in an email this morning that the deputy director of administration position already exists, and that he is under the impression that it currently requires a college degree and a CPA license. We’ve followed up our original inquiry to see if the position is currently filled, what the salary would be and if the Division of Medicaid requested the language that was struck from the bill.

Before Baker’s action, the bill would have required that a candidate either have five years’ worth of experience in the healthcare field, or an intimate knowledge of Mississippi’s Medicaid system, or both. There was no requirement a candidate hold a college degree. Burton’s bio on the Senate website lists his education as having been attained from Newton High School. No college or university is listed.

Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp said that the governor did not request the language be inserted into the bill, “but he wouldn’t have objected to it had it made it into the final version.”

Davis talks budget, redistricting at Stennis luncheon

March 7th, 2011 No comments

Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Monday he was “a little bit surprised” at Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant submitting his own redistricting plan late last week.

Davis was the speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson.

Bryant’s move came after the Senate Congressional Redistricting Committee and its chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, had earlier passed a plan of its own. Davis said the Senators would take up one of the plans when they gavel in Monday afternoon. Whether it’s Bryant’s or Newton’s is anybody’s guess.

“From speaking with some senior members of the Senate, I’ve gathered that this is the first time the process has been handled this way,” Davis said, referring to the dueling redistricting proposals.

We should note that Davis didn’t sound like he was criticizing Bryant; he was, in our view, just pointing out the unique situation the Senate finds itself in. How that shakes out should make for fascinating political theater.

On the budget side, Davis wouldn’t commit to many specific numbers, but he did say that Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have funded community colleges at the level they asked for was a good idea. “It’s entirely too early,” Davis said, to dole out money when budget-writers don’t have a crystal clear picture on what the revenue situation will be.

Each of the state’s K-12 districts can expect the same amount of funding in FY 2012 as they received in FY 2011, Davis said. “Budgeting in an election year during good times is difficult,” he said. “Budgeting in a recession and an election year and having to go through redistricting is a challenge the legislature hasn’t gone through in many, many years.”

Swoope set the bar

March 1st, 2011 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace talks to a lot of economic developers, mostly because whatever story we’re working on requires their input.

Some are easy to track down. Some are almost never available. Some we like personally and professionally. Some we can barely tolerate no matter the context.

The folks who fall in that latter category usually end up there because the only time they make themselves available for an interview is when the subject matter allows them to beat their chests — for example, their area just landed a huge project and they want to make sure they’re at the front of the credit-claiming line. When the questions aren’t so easy, though, they’re impossible to find; and if we can find them, they have absolutely nothing to say.

In our more than three years at the MBJ, we never had that problem with Gray Swoope. Swoope is the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority who is heading to Florida to lead economic development efforts in that state. Gov. Haley Barbour was exactly right when he said in a statement that Florida’s gain is Mississippi’s loss.

If we needed to talk to Swoope, he found time for us, and not only when the subject matter allowed him to gloat, which he never did anyway. In fact, the last interview we had with him, Swoope was traveling and had pulled his car to the side of the road so he wouldn’t have to drive and talk on his cell phone. Once, he was in Paris at an airshow as part of the effort to land the doomed, politically rigged Air Force tanker contract for Mobile and South Mississippi, but still found time to answer questions via email.

Swoope got it. He knew dealing with media was a part of his job, so he did it and didn’t farm it out to his PR team or hide behind an assistant. He was available and honest.

Here’s hoping his successor shares those traits.

RNC Chairman: GOP leading the way in “battle for freedom”

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

New Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was in Jackson Tuesday afternoon visiting with Gov. Haley Barbour and other party VIPs.

He held a short press conference with Barbour, who was once RNC chair, at the state GOP headquarters. In his opening remarks, Priebus wasted no time in revealing what he thinks is at stake in the latest political fight between Republicans and Democrats.

“I believe we’re in a battle for freedom, and Republicans are leading the way,” he said of the budget brawl in which congressional GOP leadership have engaged President Obama.

The continuing resolution that is currently funding the federal government expires March 4, but Priebus wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of a government shutdown should no extension or long-term funding agreement be reached before then.

“The only people talking about a shutdown are the Democrats,” he said.

Priebus spent about nine minutes of the 10-minute press conference discussing the federal funding situation and the awful mess in his home state of Wisconsin over the collective bargaining rights of public workers, and the political holy war that has broken out between unions and Gov. Scott Walker.

“All (Walker is) asking for is just a little bit of help from the state employee unions to pay 12 percent on their healthcare benefits and 5 percent on their pension benefits, which is half of what everyone else is Wisconsin is doing,” Priebus said.

Priebus was a little less verbose when he was asked to lay odds on Barbour’s chances in 2012.

“I look up to and admire Gov. Barbour, but at the end of the day we’re going to have a lot of great (GOP) candidates,” he said. “Whether it’s Gov. Barbour or another candidate, we’ll have a lot of great choices.”

The only real news came when Barbour said he had not had a chance to read either of the two major bills to clear the Legislature recently — the payday lending legislation and the open meetings reform bill. Without giving them a once-over, Barbour said, he couldn’t commit to signing them or not signing them.

 

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Damages cap briefs due to fly any minute

February 14th, 2011 No comments

A couple of newsy items on a pretty Monday morning …

The Mississippi Supreme Court has set a Feb. 28 deadline for parties to file briefs related to the damages cap question the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals kicked back to the state court earlier this year.

If last year’s premises liability case that also addressed the punitive damages cap is any indication, the briefs should come in by the truckload.

Mississippi’s $1 million cap on punitive damages was the cornerstone of 2004’s tort reform. It essentially eliminated the massive judgments that had earned the state a reputation as a plaintiff attorney’s paradise. The premises liability case reached the state’s high court last year after the plaintiff appealed the trial judge’s setting aside a $4 million jury verdict, and reducing it to comply with the $1 million cap. The Mississippi court clearly answered the premises liability issue, but did not rule on the constitutionality of the damages cap. That’s what the Fifth Circuit is asking the Supreme Court to do now.

Expect every business group and trade association there is to file a friend of the court brief in support of the cap. Gov. Haley Barbour, like he did in the premises liability case, will probably do the same.

A lawyer friend of Magnolia Marketplace told us a few weeks back that if the Court rules the damages cap is out of line with the Mississippi Constitution, “it’ll be like 1995 all over again” as far as the state’s tort climate goes. “All hell will break loose,” he said. “It’ll be like tort reform never happened.”

A lot of folks have a lot on the line in this deal.

In other news, Dave Dennis officially kicks off his campaign for governor this week, with stops planned all across the state. Unofficially, he’s been campaigning for over a year now.

Lynn Fitch, executive director of the State Personnel Board, will also start her campaign for treasurer with a three-day announcement tour.

Strap in. It’s going to be a busy week.

 

Barbour joins in healthcare reform letter

February 7th, 2011 No comments

Twenty of the nation’s GOP governors, including Gov. Haley Barbour, released a letter Monday afternoon that they sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in which they outlined specific changes they would like to see made to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

This is the most detailed challenge to the healthcare law GOP leadership has offered so far. To go with the suggestions, Barbour and others repeat their desire that the PPACA be repealed in the event the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t strike it down. With neither end a certainty, the letter lays out a critical decision states will have to make regarding health insurance exchanges.

Here are the changes the letter proposes (quoting it directly):

* Provide states with complete flexibility on operating the exchange, most importantly the freedom to decide which licensed insurers are permitted to offer their products

* Waive the bill’s costly mandates and grant states the authority to choose benefit rules that meet the specific needs of their citizens

* Waive the provisions that discriminate against consumer-driven health plans, such as health savings accounts (HSA’s)

* Provide blanket discretion to individual states if they chose to move non-disabled
Medicaid beneficiaries into the exchanges for their insurance coverage
without the need of further HHS approval

 

* Deliver a comprehensive plan for verifying incomes and subsidy amounts for
exchange participants that is not an unfunded mandate but rather fully funded by
the federal government and is certified as workable by an independent auditor

 

* Commission a new and objective assessment of how many people will end up in
the exchanges and on Medicaid in every state as a result of the legislation
(including those “offloaded” by employers), and at what potential cost to state
governments. The study must be conducted by a neutral third-party research
organization agreed to by the states represented in this letter

 

These proposals no doubt represent the talking points the national GOP will stick to in the healthcare debate moving forward. Expect to hear them early and often.

 

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags: