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Health Report Card: “Failed in many areas”

January 21st, 2011 1 comment

We promised you yesterday to provide the particulars of the Mississippi State Medical Association and the Mississippi State Department of Health’s 2011 Mississippi Public Health Report Card.

It’s a little late because the Fifth Circuit’s damages cap ruling took up yesterday’s blog time, but here it is:

“The state’s health is in critical condition,” said Dr. Timothy Alford, MSMA president. “We have failed in many areas.”

Alford was referring to our state’s rankings in several health indicators. For example, according to the MSMA and the MSDH, Mississippi has more obese adults per capita than any state in the U.S. We also lead in adults who report no physical activity in the past month. We lead in deaths by heart disease, we’re second in cases of diabetes and hypertension, first in traffic fatalities and second in infant mortality.

Basically, like we have been for generations, we’re first in everything bad and last in everything good. Mary Currier, the state health officer, says those statistics trace back to choices.

“Many of these things are predictable and are things we can do something about,” she said during a press conference Thursday at the Capitol.

Numbers like these that are unveiled during a legislative session are usually accompanied by recommendations, and the Report Card was no different. Fighting the general unhealthiness, Alford said, will take a statewide smoking ban, and full funding of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program, the Healthcare Trust Fund, the Trauma Care Trust Fund and full funding of Medicaid. So like everything and everybody else, the MSMA and MDH are asking for money.

It’s an election year, so Medicaid will almost certainly be given most if not all of the money it needs. A smoking ban, however, is already meeting resistance for the same reason.

Re-election anxiety will be at the center of every major decision this session, and these issues are not immune. So have a good weekend, and lay off the french fries.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

State’s non-economic damages cap certified by Fifth Circuit

January 20th, 2011 No comments

Mississippi’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases has just been certified by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The question will now be before the Mississippi Supreme Court for the second time in a year.

In a ruling handed down yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the constitutionality of the non-economic damages question to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The punitive damages cap was one of the centerpieces of the 2004 tort reform legislation.

The case this question arose from involved a woman, Lisa Learmonth, who had sued Sears and Roebuck Co. after she had been involved in an automobile collision with one of the company’s vans. A District Court jury found Sears liable for her injuries and awarded Learmonth $4 million in compensatory damages. The trial judge lowered the compensatory damages award to $1 million. Her attorneys appealed that to the Fifth Circuit; Sears’ attorneys appealed to the same court seeking a new trial, after the trial judge denied that motion.

In its ruling, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial judge’s decision to not grant Sears a new trial, and also affirmed the adjustment of the compensatory damages from $4 million to $1 million.

This is the second time in about a year that Mississippi’s constitutional cap on non-economic damages has undergone a legal challenge. In late winter of last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld $1 million in damages stemming from a premises liability case involving a Double Quick convenience store in Belzoni. A jury had awarded Ronnie Lee Lymas, who had been severely beaten outside of the Belzoni Double Quick, compensatory damages in excess of $1 million, but the same thing happened there as with the federal case: The trial judge adjusted the damages to conform with the $1 million cap.

That case, Double Quick Inc. v. Ronnie Lee Lymas, represented the first serious challenge to Mississippi’s constitutional cap since its inception in 2004. It drew amicus briefs on behalf of Double Quick from every business and trade group imaginable, and even one from Gov. Haley Barbour. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Double Quick, but it did not clearly say that the damages cap was 100 percent in line with the state’s constitution; it did clearly answer the premises liability question.

What this Fifth Circuit ruling does, best we can tell, is leave the constitutionality of the compensatory damages cap to the Mississippi Supreme Court; and this time, there is no out like there was with the premises liability issue in the Double Quick case. The nine justices in Jackson will have to decide once and for all if the damages cap is constitutional. We have left a voicemail for a law professor we depend on to interpret such matters, and we’ll report what he says when we hear back.

Obviously, this latest ruling from the Fifth Circuit will draw plenty of attention from Mississippi’s legal community. You can read the ruling here.

UPDATED AT 11:55 A.M. : We just got off the phone with Matt Steffey, a professor at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. He confirmed what we wrote earlier, that the Mississippi Supreme Court has now been asked by the Fifth Circuit to determine the constitutionality of the damages cap.

But there is a catch.

“Theoretically, it is possible the Mississippi Supreme Court could decline to answer the question, or to not answer it totally and clearly,” Steffey said. “An out (like there was in the Double Quick case) would be much harder to come by, but it wouldn’t be impossible. Ordinarily you would expect the state Supreme Court to answer the question. I would think it’s likely they would.”

So there you have it. It will almost certainly be early summer before the Supreme Court hands down a ruling on this. In the meantime, the amicus brief from the same groups — and probably from Barbour, too — will fly into the Gartin Justice Building just like they did in the Double Quick case.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

How healthy are we? And how are our casinos doing? We’re about to find out

January 19th, 2011 No comments

It’s report card time.

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the Mississippi State Medical Association will unveil Mississippi’s 2011 Public Health Report Card at the Capitol. The event is in conjunction with MSMA Alliance’s sixth annual Capitol Screening Initiative, which offers free health screenings to legislators and Capitol staff.

We’ll learn where we stand on health indicators like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, infant mortality, drug and tobacco use by teens, and a few others. As has been the case for what seems like forever, we’re probably not doing very well with any of those, at least statistically. Like Weird Al sang, We’re fat and we know it. But we’ll see.

And come Monday, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, will release the results of a study the Stennis Institute did that compares our casino industry with that of other states. “An Overview for Decision-Makers,” is what it’s called. If Flaggs is heading this thing up, it will at least be entertaining.

Magnolia Marketplace will be at each event, and we’ll let you know the particualars as soon as we can. In the meantime, be healthy and be lucky.


 

Categories: Casinos, News Tags:

Craft beer bill in the House, like Senate companion, dead on arrival

January 17th, 2011 2 comments

If you’ve gotten your paper copy of this week’s Mississippi Business Journal, you noticed the giant mug of beer on the cover. Looks good enough to drink, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it teases our story inside about a bill Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, authored that would raise the maximum alcohol content in beers made and sold in Mississippi from 5 percent alcohol by weight to 8 percent ABW. Check it out. There’s some pretty interesting stuff about the economics of craft beer.

A few hours after the MBJ went to press last Thursday, similar legislation dropped in the House. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, wrote the House bill, which was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Like its companion in the Senate, the House bill doesn’t sound likely to gain much traction in an election year.

“I don’t think its chances would be good this year,” Moak said Monday morning. “Neither side is going to want to deal with anything related to alcohol this session. There’s just too short a window after we’re done with the session to go back home and thoroughly explain something as potentially explosive as an issue like this.”

Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, said he had not had a chance to read the bill as of Monday morning, but said that it most likely would not make it out of his committee, should he even choose to introduce it.

“This just isn’t a good year for legislation that deals with alcohol,” Watson said.

Not surprisingly, it will be at least next year before legislation like this gets a serious look, a fact Raise Your Pints and other grassroots organizations pushing it are resigned to.

“But we’re going to fight until this happens,” said Raise Your Pints President Butch Bailey of Hattiesburg.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Barbour sounds more like a presidential candidate than he ever has

January 11th, 2011 2 comments

For the past few months, anytime somebody’s asked us if we thought Haley Barbour would run for president in 2012, our answer has been the same: He already is.

And no better proof of that exists than Barbour’s last State of the State.

Tuesday night at the Capitol, Barbour threw out enough conservative red meat to feed the 5,000. He talked about fiscal restraint and smaller government. He boasted of the advanced manufacturing projects the state has lured and the jobs they have created. Barbour refreshed everybody’s memory on tort reform and issued a reminder that he hasn’t raised anybody’s taxes. He slammed President Obama’s energy policies right after he pointed out that 2004′s Defense of Marriage Act got more votes percentage-wise in Mississippi than any other state in the nation. It went on and on.

Of course, Barbour didn’t talk quite as much about the budget shortfall he’s enduring now or the brutally unpopular decisions that lie ahead for him and lawmakers on how to spend scarce state revenue. Barbour won’t be on a ballot this year, but a lot of folks who have carried his water — especially in the Senate — will be, and there will come an issue that will force some of them to choose loyalty to the governor or loyalty to their political well-being. 

But cold reality is not what a State of the State is about . It’s about political chest-thumping, and Barbour beat his with both fists. The hard stuff can wait until February and March.

Barbour has said he’ll announce his presidential plans in the spring. Call us crazy, but we think the decision has been made for quite some time, and his last turn in front of a joint session of the Legislature only made us think that even more.

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

Transportation commission getting total makeover — almost

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Lots of news on a snowy/icy morning, so let’s lace up our boots and get after it.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown has announced he will step down in June, at the end of the fiscal year. That comes as no big surprise. Brown is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, after it returned for the third time late last year.

Politically, there are immediate ramifications: The most obvious is it will remove a major campaign theme. Each of the candidates would have had to address Brown’s leadership style and his out-of-office activities. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall would have seen to it.

Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, who chairs the Transportation Committee, revealed today that he will seek to replace the retiring Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) for the Southern District Post. He’s probably the favorite right now, and had been considered such once it became clear a few weeks ago would he would seek the post.

Speaking of elections, the special election to replace Bill Minor, who represented MDOT’s Northern District until his death late least  year, is still scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change.

Gov. Haley Barbour, his spokesman Dan Turner told us just a minute ago, will make that decision some time this morning. Theoretically, Turner said, the Coast could go ahead with its election to replace Steven Palazzo, and North Mississippi could wait until maybe Wednesday to hold a vote for Minor’s old seat and to fill Alan Nunnelee’s post.

“But I really doubt one would go forward without the other,” Turner said. “Right now if the pattern holds, and this is your typical Mississippi ice storm that’s here one day and gone the next, they’ll go on as normal.”

At the Capitol, the Senate is still set to gavel in at 3 p.m.; the House will follow at 4 p.m. We have a feeling there’ll be a few snow stories swapped.

Why isn’t Cawood consulting our community colleges?

January 5th, 2011 No comments

Remember Mississippi Beef Processors? A handful of Mississippi politicians certainly do.

Before Dickie Scruggs, his son and associates found themselves in federal prosecutors’ crosshairs, the rise and fall of the beef plant that cost Mississippi taxpayers $55 million and 400 jobs was the biggest political scandal in quite some time here.

Anyway, one of the executives of The Facilities Group, a Smyrna, Ga., company that managed the construction of the plant, was turned loose yesterday from his court-ordered supervision by a federal judge in North Mississippi.

Nixon Cawood was one of three Facilities Group executives who received modest prison terms for their roles in orchestrating illegal campaign contributions to former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who they were depending on to save the deal from death once it became clear to agriculture experts that there was no market for cull cattle, or not enough of one to support the plant in Oakland.

Robert Moultrie and Charles Morehead, Cawood’s colleagues, have been released from prison within the past year, according to federal prison records.

Cawood’s appearance before District Judge Michael Mills yesterday was a lot more pleasant than his first encounter with Mills exactly two years ago. Before Mills sentenced Cawood to eight months in prison, Cawood’s attorney asked for leniency for his client, which is what attorneys are supposed to do in those situations. What made Cawood’s plea interesting, though, is that his idea of leniency included serving as a consultant to Mississippi’s community college system. It was his way of performing community service, his attorney said then.

Mills, naturally, almost laughed Cawood and his counsel out of his courtroom. Since then, Cawood has served his time and paid his fines, so the only mark he has left from the whole ordeal is a felony conviction.

Cawood apparently has since gotten a job managing a real estate firm in Georgia. Guess the consulting gig didn’t work out. Reckon why that is?

GOP speculation and 1,000 jobs in the Pine Belt (Updated)

January 4th, 2011 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a phone conversation with one of our political type friends, in which we talked about two things: the supposed economic development deal Gov. Haley Barbour will announce today and who might succeed Brad White as state GOP chairman.

White announced this morning he would step down and run for Simpson County chancery clerk.

So let’s get to it.

The general consensus is that whatever deal Barbour will reveal will have something to do with Hattiesburg, and will bring somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 jobs. “I know nothing beyond that,” said our friend.

Barbour, as is his wont, is staying quiet on the issue until he’s ready to make it official.

Our source was a little more knowledgeable on the subject of the new GOP chairman. He threw out two names — former state GOP executive director Arnie Hederman and current lawmaker Phillip Gunn from Clinton.

Hederman was executive director under former chairman Jim Herring. The chairman sets policy and runs meetings, while the executive director runs the day-to-day operations. White has filled both the executive director and chairman roles since he was elected in spring 2008.

The executive commitee that will select a new chairman could opt to appoint one person to fill both seats, or split it like they did with the Hederman-Herring duo. Naturally, Barbour will have a big say in who slides into either seat, because the executive committee will defer greatly to what Barbour wants.

But with Barbour’s time as governor running out, his replacement could decide to bring in his own person, so that situation could be fluid for the next year.

Another name to keep in mind, and we have nothing but our imagination to thank for this: Hayes Dent. The Jackson lobbyist, who like Barbour is from Yazoo City, has been active in GOP politics for three decades. He knows the landscape.

So stay tuned, as they say.

UPDATED AT 10:05 A.M.: Naturally, as soon as we hit the publish button, Barbour issues a release. Here it is, in full:

Hattiesburg – Governor Haley Barbour and officials from Stion, a venture-backed manufacturer of high-efficiency, low-cost thin film solar panels, announced today the company is locating a 100-megawatt solar panel production facility in Hattiesburg, Miss. The operations will be located in the Sunbeam building. The production line is the first phase of a company investment of $500 million that will create 1,000 new jobs over the next six years.
“Today’s announcement that Stion is locating a thin film solar panel manufacturing facility in Hattiesburg is further proof that Mississippi is an ideal location for clean energy companies to locate and expand,” Governor Haley Barbour said. “I am pleased to welcome Stion to Mississippi, and I thank the company for creating so many high-quality jobs for Mississippi’s workers.”
From its Hattiesburg location, Stion will utilize its proprietary material and process expertise to produce its high-efficiency, thin film solar panels. The 110W to 120W panels are designed for use in all major applications, including commercial /government, residential, utility and off-grid and offer significant cost and performance advantages over many competing products. The company will use approximately 300,000 square feet of the Hattiesburg facility to manufacture the solar panels.
“Together, the state of Mississippi, Forrest County, and the city of Hattiesburg offer a business-friendly location with a strong resource base for manufacturing,” said Chet Farris, Stion’s president and chief executive officer. “We are pleased to partner with them to help increase domestic production of clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the local and national economy.”
The State of Mississippi is providing loan assistance totaling $75 million through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund, pending approval by the Legislature. The State is
also providing clean energy tax incentives and workforce training incentives for the project. Additionally, local officials provided tax and other financial incentives to assist with the project.
“In 2010, Mississippi sought legislation to target clean energy companies, and Stion’s location in Hattiesburg is a result of this effort,” said Gray Swoope, Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) executive director. “I am excited to see Stion occupy the Sunbeam building. I know firsthand that the quality of the building coupled with the area’s workforce equals a win-win situation for the community and the company.”
Founded in 2006, Stion currently produces its highly-efficient, low-cost thin film solar panels in its state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing and research and development facility in San Jose, Calif., where the company is headquartered.
To learn more about Stion, please visit the company’s website at www.stion.com.

Barbour to reveal economic development deal tomorrow?

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

It’s the first work day of the new year, and Magnolia Marketplace thought we might be able to catch Dan Turner off his guard.

We didn’t.

Reports have surfaced this afternoon that Gov. Haley Barbour will announce an economic development project Tuesday morning. So will he?

“You know we don’t comment on any economic development deal until it’s officially announced,” Turner said.

In the past month or so, we’ve heard rumors of a deal for Hattiesburg, Tupelo and all points in between, but there’s been nobody willing to put their name on it. Maybe Barbour will fill in some gaps tomorrow.

So stay tuned.

Hyde-Smith’s defection a step toward run for ag commish?

December 28th, 2010 No comments

New Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven cemented her status as one of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite legislators in the 2009 session.

It was during the Senate’s debate before the vote on whether to override or sustain Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have restricted the use of eminent domain for projects of direct public use, like roads and bridges, and eliminated it as a tool for private economic development.

As we all know, Barbour’s veto was sustained. Hyde-Smith voted to override it, but not before she gave one of the best floor speeches we’ve ever heard. The highlight of her diatribe was a warning to her fellow lawmakers. Hyde-Smith said her colleagues who voted to sustain Barbour’s veto “had better have asbestos underwear because somebody’s going to light your rear-end on fire when you get back home.” The rest of the day, folks called her “the asbestos lady.”

Hyde-Smith was one of three state officials who switched from the Democratic party to the GOP this afternoon, during a ceremony at Republican headquarters in Jackson. Magnolia Marketplace couldn’t make it because we had an appointment with a source we’d been trying to run down for more than a week.

Hyde-Smith joins Rep. Bobby Shows of Ellisville and Simpson County Superintendent of Education Joe Welch in trading a donkey for an elephant.

But it’s Hyde-Smith’s defection that is the most interesting, and here’s why: She’s a cattle farmer when she’s not at the capitol. She chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. The current commissioner of agriculture, Lester Spell, has already said he won’t seek re-election next year.

Even before November’s midterms, Democrats — with few exceptions like Attorney General Jim Hood — haven’t done well in statewide races.

We’ve heard Hyde-Smith’s name brought up in recent casual political conversations about candidates for down-ballot offices in 2011.

We ran this theory by two political types.

“Makes sense,” said one.

“We’ll see,” said the other.

We just left a voicemail on Hyde-Smith’s cell phone. If and when she gets back to us, we’ll let you know what she says.