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BEAM Office, Senator Wicker host NTIA broadband roundtable in Jackson

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Wicker, Doty, Berke announce broadband grant in the amount of $8,433,633.26 to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

On Thursday, Special Representative for Broadband Andy Berke of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Executive Director Sally Doty of the Mississippi BEAM Office hosted a roundtable discussion with internet service providers in Mississippi about broadband funding opportunities from the NTIA.

Before the roundtable discussion, Berke, Wicker, and Doty held a media availability where they discussed the award of a broadband grant in the amount of $8,433,633.26 to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians as a part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

“Today we’re happy to announce a grant to the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” Senator Wicker said. “This is going to be one of the first opportunities for us to make sure that we have broadband in the entire tribal community and start that right here in Mississippi today.”

The Mississippi Senator said that this is one of the investments in broadband that will be brought to the State of Mississippi as a result of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 and also the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Senator Wicker said Burke will be working “hand in glove” with Director Doty on Mississippi’s broadband build-out.

Burke noted that the $8.4 million will make sure that roughly 2,200 households in the Choctaw area are connected.

“2,200 households will be connected as a result of this grant, an amazing opportunity,” Burke said. “We have $3 billion total to connect tribal Americans. Now this is incredible because for many decades now, they have been left out of this process.”

Burke said $3 billion – $2 billion of which came through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and $1 billion through the appropriations act – “is going to be transformative for those entities.”

“This is only part of an ongoing process,” Burke continued. “The state of Mississippi is going to develop a plan that ensures that every single person in the state is connected… When that happens, we then have funding to do that.”

The Special Representative for Broadband of the NTIA said that it is not just about the connection, but also about the affordability, devices, and skills. Burke said that the first step is about making sure that every American has access at their homes.

“A hundred years ago, Mississippi saw what rural electrification meant to the state. Today, we’re experiencing a similar type of move to see how broadband is going to change rural Mississippi,” Burke stated.

When asked about the importance of making sure that people have access to broadband, Senator Wicker said that it has everything to do with the new way that we compete, do business, educate, provide medicine, and more.

“It’s part of the new economy and I view it as a way to address the ‘brain drain’ that some of us have had in small towns,” Wicker said. “We love to educate our students. We sure hate it when they decide that they need to live in a big city like Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas or Houston.”

The Mississippi Senator continued to say that with broadband access, a Mississippian can grow up, be educated here or go out of state for education, and come back to Mississippi and be part of every opportunity that the internet gives us.

“It’s absolutely essential,” Wicker said. “We tried to do this in Congress about two decades ago and it didn’t get the job done… We are absolutely determined that this time, will be different and we will get broadband to every household and every business.”

Executive Director Doty of the Mississippi BEAM Office said that it is their intent to reach all unserved areas of Mississippi.

“There are a lot of opportunities, but there is a lot of hard work ahead and it is not going to be instantaneous,” Doty said. “We’re going to need a little time.”

PSC Chairman Maxwell hosts utility work session to discuss economic impacts on Mississippi

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PSC heard from Mississippi’s major utilities, industry experts on how the global market is affecting utility rates for customers in the state.

On Thursday, August 18, 2022, the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) conducted an open meeting “work session” on the topic of Global Fuel Markets and its Impact on Utility Rates.

During the special meeting, Southern District Commissioner and Chairman Dane Maxwell along with his fellow Public Service Commissioners heard presentations from Mississippi’s major utilities and industry experts on how the global market is affecting utility rates for customers in the state.

Chairman Maxwell said that he called this work session in order to hear directly from Mississippi’s major utilities about where they stand financially and economically, and how global impacts like rising gas prices will affect Mississippians both today and moving forward.

“With everything going on in the country and globally, it is difficult to accurately forecast future costs, but we wanted to be proactive and prepared to work on keeping rates as low as possible,” Maxwell stated.

Presentations were given by representatives of Atmos Energy, CenterPoint Energy, Entergy Mississippi, Mississippi Power Company, and United Professionals Company on issues concerning:

  • Current and future fuel and natural gas costs
  • Fuel diversity
  • Company plans and projections

Maxwell added that it is important for Mississippi to have diverse energy sources and he has encouraged the companies to keep all fuel options on the table to better their chances of levelized costs for Mississippi customers.

Combat climate change? It could be time to privatize orphaned oil wells

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The Inflation Reduction Act has just committed $350 billion to combat climate change.  The Act, approved by Congress last week, also contains provisions to penalize companies that produce excess methane gas, a key contributor to global warming.
 
“Great!” you might say.  “At last something serious is being done about greenhouse gasses.”
 
If we are serious about cutting methane emissions, before beating up on businesses or clamping down on cows, we should be looking to do something about the tens of thousands of government-owned oil and gas wells that lie abandoned across America.  
 
Why?  These orphan wells, drilled by businesses that have long since ceased to operate them, are one of the biggest sources of methane emission.  Publicly owned, but for practical purposes simply abandoned, many of them have been cheerfully spewing out methane for years.
 
According to the Mississippi State Oil and Gas Board in our state alone “there are roughly 23,500 wells with a plugged and abandoned status or those which have no associated operator”.  Some of these are effectively sealed, but an unknown number are not.  According to industry insiders, there are an estimated 400 wells drilled between 1940 and 1970 which may or may not have been plugged but no such records can be located.
 
If even a fraction of Mississippi’s 23,500 old wells are leaking methane, they collectively account for a serious amount of methane over the years.
 
Research conducted by Amy Townsend-Small, a geology professor at the University of Cincinnati, found that idle oil wells emit an average of 6.2 grams of methane per hour, although some have emissions as high as 132 grams per hour.  Multiply that by the number of leaky wells, and the number of years they have sat abandoned, and you soon have a serious source of methane pollution.
 
No doubt if government bureaucrats were required to tackle a pollution problem caused by wells that the government owns they would devise a costly program in response.  But what if there was a no-cost alternative that could fix the problem instead?
 
Orphan wells are able to carry on emitting methane because they are publicly owned.  As Aristotle once suggested, that which no one owns, nobody cares for.  Or as Milton Friedman more recently echoed, “when everybody owns something, nobody owns it.”
 
Today, oil companies have almost no incentive to plug orphaned wells that they do not own.  In order to get them to cap uncapped wells, you would need to literally pay them, or force them to set aside funds to do so at the outset of any new exploration.
 
But what if you aligned the interests of oil companies with those that want to see the wells properly sealed?  Why not allow oil companies to buy up bundles of orphaned wells?  Instead of sitting there ignored and unloved, you could allow private businesses to buy them in return for a promise to take care of them. Privatized wells would have to be either properly plugged or else reactivated.
 
Over the past few decades, there have been some remarkable advances in oil extraction technology.  3-D seismic imaging and developments in horizontal drilling mean that fields that were long ago considered exhausted have been brought back into production, with often striking results.
 
Auctioning off bundles of orphaned wells could work if oil companies were allowed to use new extraction techniques in old fields.  Any business contemplating whether to bid for a bundle of old wells would have to weigh up the cost of having to cap any that were unproductive with the potential gains from additional extraction. 
 
Instead of having to wait for federal bureaucrats to take the initiative on this, this is a policy proposal that states like Mississippi could take themselves.  Mississippi should consider passing a law to allow publicly owned orphaned wells to be bought by private firms, on the understanding that they are either capped properly or brought back into production.
 
Perhaps this would not provide sufficient incentive for private firms to want to incur the cost of capping for an uncertain return on wells that might be brought back into production.  Maybe additional incentives are needed to encourage private enterprises to cap them.  I have no doubt that this idea could be improved upon. 
 
But the best way to reduce methane emissions is by creating incentives that get private enterprises involved.  Allowing private firms to buy orphan wells might just do something about methane emissions while raising more tax revenue for our state, creating more work for oil workers, and providing more energy for America. 

Read original article by clicking here.

CARSWELL: Paper promises of ’71 impacting prosperity today

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Submitted by Douglas Carswell

“Now that the dollar is merely a paper promise, issued by the Fed, the federal government is able to borrow almost at will.”

Fifty-one years ago this week, Richard Nixon made the most consequential decision of his presidency – and it had nothing to do with Watergate.

On August 15, 1971, Nixon announced that the US dollar could no longer be converted into gold. Up until that moment, the dollar was pegged to gold at $35 per ounce under what was called the Bretton Woods System. This international agreement committed the American government to backing every dollar overseas with gold.

“Big deal”, you might say. “What has some distant decision got to do with today?” Quite a lot, actually. It explains why government is big, inflation high, capitalism corrupted and why young Americans are voting left.

For as long as dollars could be converted into gold, there was a limit on the number of dollars that the US government could put into circulation. Why? Because someone might come along with dollars and ask to exchange it for gold. Once dollars could no longer be converted into gold, the US government was free to create as many dollars as it liked.

This is pretty much what has happened ever since.

Following Nixon’s announcement, the only thing restricting the amount of dollars that the government creates is the government. And governments, sadly, are not very good at saying “no” to themselves.

This has produced persistent inflation. Even before the latest price increases, there has been more inflation over the past half century than in all the previous history of the American Republic, including the Civil War and two world wars.

The amount of money in circulation has increased rapidly since Nixon made his announcement. Indeed, the past three years has seen an unprecedented surge in the number of dollars out there.

The United States was founded by rebels demanding “no taxation without representation”.

Thanks to Nixon’s decision, in order to raise revenue today the US government does not need permission from our representatives in Congress to raise tax. They can simply borrow instead.

The US government has had a budget deficit on 47 of the past 51 years. Now that the dollar is merely a paper promise, issued by the Fed, the federal government is able to borrow almost at will. I imagine George III would have looked at such a scheme with envy. No need to worry about taxing tea when you can borrow and spend billions at will.

Once the government is free to manipulate the currency to spend what it wants, it is also able to use monetary policy as a tool to steer the economy.

At first the government only manipulated monetary policy to direct the economy in extreme circumstances, such as when the stock market crashed in October 1987. The US Fed used monetary policy to ride to the rescue. They slashed interest rates to boost spending, cut savings and make shareholding more attractive to investors than holding cash.

A decade later, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, the Fed did something similar. And then again with the collapse of LTMC, the world’s largest hedge fund. By the time the Fed used monetary stimulus in response to the dot com bubble bursting, or the collapse of Lehman bank, it was almost expected.

When Covid came, monetary stimulus in the form of low rates and QE was not a temporary measure. It had become a constant – but one that has begun to corrupt capitalism.

Years of low interest rates and artificially easy money has caused all sorts of problems. Easy money means that asset prices have been inflated. The explosion of asset values benefits those with assets (often older) over those without (the young). (Ever wondered why so many young Americans vote left and say they are skeptical about free-market capitalism?)

Real wages have stagnated. (Ever wondered why blue collar America often seems so angry?)

You might not be able to see it right now, but an awful lot of bad investments have been made, with many ‘zombie’ companies – firms that are able to service their debts but not pay off the principle.

The ‘Nixon shock’ caught America by surprise in August 1971 but was soon overshadowed by Watergate. Half a century on, it seems that sanctioning a burglary was not the worst decision Nixon made in the Oval Office.

Where does all this leave conservatives today?

If we are serious about reducing the size and reach of government, we cannot remain part of the Greenspan-to-Powell consensus. A future conservative President and Congress are going to have to, at the very least, redefine the Fed’s terms of reference.

Nothing lasts forever, and certainly not paper promises.

###

Submitted by Douglas Carswell. He is the President and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

Welfare agency hires new counsel for civil suit, defense attorney objects

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The Mississippi State Personnel Board gave the state’s welfare department the green light Thursday to hire new legal counsel for its high-profile civil lawsuit to recoup millions in misspent welfare funds.

Jackson-based law firm Jones Walker will replace former U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott, the contract attorney who initially crafted the lawsuit, after the Gov. Tate Reeves administration abruptly removed Pigott from the case last month. The new one-year contract is for up to $400,000, with partners working on the case earning a rate of $305-an-hour. Pigott’s contract was for up to $75,000 for the previous year.

One defense attorney on the case is criticizing the state for using taxpayer money in its pursuit of many low-level characters in the overarching welfare scandal. The attorney, Jim Waide, is also raising questions about how the new contract will ensure that Reeves is not controlling the case to the extent that he would prevent other potential parties, including himself and former Gov. Phil Bryant, from being included as defendants if the attorneys deemed that appropriate. Mississippi Today has uncovered communication connecting certain welfare expenditures to both Bryant and Reeves.

Mississippi Department of Human Services is suing 38 people or companies, including former NFL quarterback Brett Favre and three retired WWE wrestlers, who it says were responsible for misspending roughly $24 million from a federal grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

“They will vigorously pursue this case—wherever it leads,” Gov. Reeves said in a statement following the contract approval. “They will eagerly cooperate with those criminal investigators whose mission is to get truth and justice for the misconduct that occurred during the previous administration. And they will leave no stone unturned in the effort to recover misspent TANF funds.”

In the personnel board meeting, Mississippi Department of Human Services Director Bob Anderson said he believes the agency needs a larger legal team as the litigation moves into the discovery and trial phases. Anderson had previously justified Pigott’s removal by saying the attorney failed to communicate with the agency about a subpoena he filed on University of Southern Mississippi athletic foundation.

Anderson said the new attorneys who will be handling the case, Kaytie Pickett and Adam Stone, have experience in complex commercial litigation as well as procurement-related matters.

“While Brad Pigott initiated and prepared the original complaint in this case, we believe that Jones Walker is who we need to finish the process of getting to final judgment and recovery of funds,” Anderson said in a written statement. “They have a deep bench and are well acquainted with complex electronic discovery platforms, which will be crucial in a case like this involving hundreds and thousands of documents.”

Jones Walker, like many large law firms across the state, is a frequent campaign donor to Mississippi politicians. Locally, the firm used to be Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis before it merged with Jones Walker over a decade ago.

The Attorney General’s Office also had to approve the contract.

Waide, an attorney for a defendant in the case, wrote a letter to the personnel board before the meeting criticizing the state’s decision to hire a new law firm and urging the board not to approve a contract that wastes taxpayer funds. Waide represents Austin Smith, the nephew of the former MDHS director John Davis, who is facing criminal charges in the scheme.

Kelly Hardwick, director of the personnel board, said the board reviewed the letter, but that “that’s outside of anything we would consider.”

Hardwick said the Jones Walker contract was within the state’s procurement guidelines and regulations.

Waide had recently filed an objection to the state’s motion to withdraw Pigott as counsel and asked that the court examine whether Reeves is controlling the lawsuit to protect himself and his supporters. The filing came after Mississippi Today uncovered text messages connecting the current governor to the funding of fitness trainer Paul Lacoste, a defendant in the case. Lacoste’s organization received $1.3 million, more than $300,000 of which went to Lacoste personally, according to records, to conduct fitness classes for roughly eight months in 2019. Then-Lt. Gov. Reeves attended the boot camp while texts show Lacoste used his relationship with Reeves to endear himself to the welfare director.

Previous reporting also showed that Reeves’ office directed MDHS to remove the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation, whose board is made up of several Reeves donors, from the suit before it was filed. The foundation used $5 million in welfare funds to build a volleyball stadium on campus.

“…the governor himself is a potential defendant,” Waide wrote to the personnel board. “Because of the potential financial interest of the governor, he should hire his own attorney, and should not be furnished an attorney at taxpayer expense.”

In his statement, Anderson noted that Jones Walker will be tasked with, among other things, evaluating claims against additional potential defendants. Several law firms Anderson spoke with could not take the case because of conflicts.

Waide also called into question why Attorney General Lynn Fitch, the state’s official litigator, is not handling the case.

“Unless the Attorney General has a conflict of interest, there is no reason why she should not pursue this suit without costing the taxpayers,” Waide wrote.

Waide also argued that if MDHS hires a law firm to represent the state, it should pay the firm based on what they recoup in the litigation, not a set fee, especially since so many of the defendants will likely not be able to pay the potential damages. An attorney under a contingency arrangement might be more likely to pursue other entities that received welfare funds — such as the USM athletic foundation — who received larger amounts of money and would be more likely able to return the funds.

“An hourly fee arrangement with any firm will likely result in the expensive pursuit of low-level defendants, such as Austin Smith and others, who have no means to pay a judgement. On the other hand, an attorney hired on a contingent fee basis would pursue those who are financially able to pay a judgement, and would cost the taxpayers nothing if no funds are recovered.”

Jones Walker did not return calls to Mississippi Today for this story.

“This work is just beginning, and it may take years—but we will follow the facts wherever they go and pursue it for as long as it takes,” said Reeves’ statement Thursday. “That is what the state has done since I took office, and we will continue to do it aggressively.”

The post Welfare agency hires new counsel for civil suit, defense attorney objects appeared first on Mississippi Today.

Mississippi Governor Reeves among Republican Governors highlighting support for law enforcement

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RGA says Democrats have deemphasized the role of law enforcement, support soft on crime policies which has led to increased crime.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is among the Governors taking part in the Republican Governors Association’s (RGA) Red State Recovery series highlighting Republican Governors’ efforts to combat rises in crime across the nation and support law enforcement as Democrats pushed to defund the police and release criminals back onto the street.

RGA says Republican Governors quickly took action following the outbreak of crime during and after the pandemic by strongly supporting local law enforcement and ensuring they had the resources needed to protect their communities.

Yet, RGA continues, Democrats deemphasized the role of law enforcement and continued supporting soft on crime policies, which led to sharp increases in crime in Democrat-led cities and states.

“Americans can see a clear contrast between the Democrats’ soft on crime policies and defund the police rhetoric and the Republican governors who want to fund law enforcement and keep their states safe,” said RGA Communications Director Jesse Hunt. “Part of why the Red State Recovery has been so successful is because Republican governors have continually fought for law and order and ensured the individuals and small businesses that call their states home can feel safe.”

Today’s video on crime features Reeves along with Governors Brian Kemp of Georgia, Greg Abbott of Texas, Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, and Kim Reynolds of Iowa.

“There is no doubt that the defund the police movement certainly gave criminals more and more incentives to get out and do what they do, which is wreak havoc,” Reeves says, adding, “We’re trying to not defund the police, but increase funding… We are committed to making sure that there is a law enforcement presence.”

You can watch the video message from RGA below.

Statewide assessment results shows student achievement rebounding to pre-pandemic level

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MAAP measures students’ progress toward academic goals that equip them with skills, knowledge to succeed in college, workforce.

On Thursday, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) released statewide results from the 2021-22 Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP). MAAP measures students’ progress toward academic goals that equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

The results show student achievement exceeding pre-pandemic levels in English Language Arts (ELA) and science, and nearly tying in mathematics.

2016-2022 MAAP Results

Dr. Kim Benton, interim state superintendent of education, said that the 2021-22 assessment results provide clear and indisputable evidence of the resilience of our students and educators and their ability to recover from the disruptions to learning.

“We are confident Mississippi educators and school leaders across the state will continue to build upon this progress by setting high expectations and working to ensure every student in every school overcomes the setbacks of the pandemic and is successful,” Benton continued.

MAAP measures student performance in ELA and mathematics in grades 3-8, science in grades 5 and 8, and in high school English II, Algebra I, Biology and U.S. History.

The 2021-22 MAAP results show that overall, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced reached an all-time high of 42.2% in ELA and 55.9% in science, and reached 47.3% in mathematics, just shy of the pre- pandemic rate of 47.4%.

Pre-pandemic, student achievement steadily increased from the first administration of MAAP in 2016 until 2019, when the percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced reached a record high. The pandemic created obstacles to teaching and learning throughout 2020-2021, and overall student achievement declined in Mississippi and nationally.

Student achievement on current Science assessments exceeded pre-pandemic levels and reached an all-time high of 55.9% proficient and advanced. The state administered a new U.S. History assessment in 2020-2021; the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on this assessment increased from 47.4% in 2020-2021 to 69.3% in 2021-2022.

“There have been incredible efforts in districts and at the state level to remove barriers for students,” Dr. Benton said. “We still have students in areas of the state who have not completely rebounded. Support will continue to be available in the upcoming school year and next summer to make sure every student is able to recover from the disruptions to their learning and narrow achievement gaps.”

MDE said that the overall increase in assessment scores in 2021-22 after the decline in 2020-21 will likely impact district and school grades because the calculation of the state’s A-F accountability grades relies heavily on the amount of progress students make from one year to the next.

“Overall, students made significant progress between 2020-21 and 2021-22, as schools focused on accelerating learning after the first year of the pandemic,” MDE said in a release. “In addition, the passing requirements for high school Algebra I, English II, Biology and U.S. History were waived in 2020-21, which will affect the graduation rate until all students who tested under the waivers graduate.”

Jones Walker replaces Pigott as outside counsel in MDHS civil litigation

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MDHS says it is committed to recovering misspent taxpayer dollars and complete transparency.

On Thursday, the Mississippi State Personnel Board approved a request from the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) to proceed with engaging the Jones Walker law firm to move forward with civil litigation filed on behalf of MDHS in May of this year to recover TANF funds from 38 parties named as defendants in the pending lawsuit.

Earlier this week, MDHS told Y’all Politics that they had worked with Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office in selection of the outside counsel.  Fitch’s office had already approved the proposed contract with Jones Walker prior to the meeting of the Personnel Board.

This follows MDHS deciding not to renew the one-year contract with attorney Bill Pigott, giving him notice of the non-renewal in late July.  Pigott was hired as outside counsel for MDHS in July 2021 with a contract date of August 1st of that year. His hiring was also initially approved at the time by both Attorney General Fitch and the Executive Director of the State Personnel Board.

Pigott would go on to claim that his non-renewal was politically motivated, running to Mississippi Today to make his case in the media.

Yet, MDHS Executive Director Bob Anderson told Y’all Politics that was not the case.  He said that Pigott made decisions about the litigation and filed pleadings without any prior dialogue with officials at MDHS.

Governor Tate Reeves, the state’s chief executive, addressed the non-renewal of Pigott’s contract at the Neshoba County Fair.

“The way in which the attorney has acted since his contract was non-renewed has proven to a lot of people of why he is the absolute wrong person to represent the State. He is the wrong person to represent the taxpayers,” Reeves told reporters.

Governor Reeves went on to say that some media outlets have “made stuff up” about Pigott’s non-renewal, adding that the state does not need legal representation that is focused on trying to be an informant for a “left-wing blog.”

Governor Reeves said firmly that he is committed to seeing the case through no matter where it leads in an effort to recover any and all funds that were improperly spent through MDHS.

In a release on Thursday following the approval of Jones Walker, MDHS Executive Director Anderson agreed with Governor Reeves, saying that the litigation must go forward to accomplish their stated goal of recovering the taxpayers’ money.

“This litigation must go forward to accomplish our stated goal of recovering and returning to the taxpayers the millions of dollars in misspent TANF funds,” said Anderson.

Anderson was quoted as saying that MDHS has selected Jones Walker, a firm of some 370 attorneys with offices and professionals in eight states and the District of Columbia, to continue with this important litigation.

“After talking with a number of firms, many of whom had conflicts with taking on this work, we selected Jones Walker because they are, in our view, the firm best suited to handle this matter and move it forward by continuing to evaluate claims against additional parties, written discovery, depositions, trial, and appeal, if necessary,” Anderson said.

MDHS noted that Jones Walker has been named by BTI Consulting Group as part of its Client Service A-Team, but also, the Jackson Office “has many fine lawyers who are well-qualified to handle this litigation.”

Kaytie Pickett and Adam Stone will lead the Jones Walker team representing MDHS.  The MDHS release says that the two focus their practices on complex commercial litigation and have handled high-profile, challenging, and large commercial cases in a number of states. Both are leaders in the American Bar Association in public contract and procurement law. Pickett is Vice-Chair of the Public Contract Committee in the State and Local Government Section of the ABA, and Stone is Vice-Chair of the State and Local Procurement Law Division of the ABA.

“While Brad Pigott initiated and prepared the original complaint in this case, we believe that Jones Walker is who we need to finish the process of getting to final judgment and recovery of funds. They have a deep bench and are well acquainted with complex electronic discovery platforms, which will be crucial in a case like this involving hundreds and thousands of documents. We look forward to working with the team at Jones Walker,” Anderson concluded in this statement.

MDHS says this new contract allows MDHS to effectively represent the State’s interests and to recoup the funds for the people of Mississippi, adding that the agency is committed to complete transparency.

MDHS says it is even more resolved to move the agency forward by continuing to help Mississippi families by providing tangible help today to create a lasting hope for tomorrow.

Governor Reeves released a statement following the Jones Walker approval.

“MDHS has announced their selection of a new law firm to handle our TANF litigation. They have a well-known reputation for integrity, and the full-service capabilities to handle the sweeping scale of this case. 
 
“They will vigorously pursue this case—wherever it leads. They will eagerly cooperate with those criminal investigators whose mission is to get truth and justice for the misconduct that occurred during the previous administration. And they will leave no stone unturned in the effort to recover misspent TANF funds. 
 
“This work is just beginning, and it may take years—but we will follow the facts wherever they go and pursue it for as long as it takes. That is what the state has done since I took office, and we will continue to do it aggressively.”

Students score near pre-pandemic levels on state tests

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Students in Mississippi approached pre-pandemic levels of achievement on state tests this spring, showing significant growth from the previous year. 

The results from the 2022 administration of the state tests, or Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP), show that 2-4% fewer students passed English, science, and math exams this year than in 2019. 

Last year in 2021, the first time that state tests were administered following the pandemic, around 10% fewer students passed their tests than in 2019, which education officials said was evidence of the impact of COVID-19 and were reflective of national trends.  

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These results, presented to the State Board of Education on Thursday, are a testament to the hard work of students and educators, as well as the return to in-person learning, according to Department of Education officials. 

“They provide clear and indisputable evidence of the resilience of students and educators and their ability to recover from the disruptions to learning,” said Kim Benton, interim state superintendent of education. “We don’t always see that, but there’s a lot that has been going on to mitigate this disruption in learning and people have pulled out all the stops to make sure that’s happened.” 

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The number of students who scored proficient was exactly the same as or slightly above numbers from 2019, indicating that higher performing students possibly bounced back faster. Proficiency refers to the percentage of students who scored at a level 4 or 5 (proficient or advanced) on a 1 through 5 scale. A level 1 indicates a score of “minimal,” 2 is “basic” and 3 is “passing.” 

Benton said these results show the need to look at the data of individual students and identify which areas they require support to advance. 

“When I looked at the distribution, what it looked like to me was that we moved children up, we regained the proficiency levels pre-pandemic, but you also have children right there on the cusp (of passing)…which means we’ve got to push further faster,” she said. 

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Research from the Nation Bureau of Economic Research published in May of this year showed that, nationally, high-poverty schools were more likely to go remote and suffered larger declines in academic achievement when they did so.

Benton said the department is reviewing this new data to ensure that they are providing support appropriately, since literacy and math coaches are assigned to districts based on the number of students who did not reach proficiency.  

A more detailed look at the state test results, including performance by subgroup and growth data, will be available in October when the state publishes districts’ accountability results. 

View English test results by district here:

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View math test results by district here:

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Fitch first State Attorney General to sign the Women’s Bill of Rights

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The statement has been signed by over 8,700 citizens, as well as state legislators, U.S. Senators, and members of Congress.

On Thursday, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch became the first State Attorney General to sign the Women’s Bill of Rights.

The statement is sponsored by the Independent Women’s Voice and affirms the legal basis for maintaining single-sex spaces, like rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, athletic teams, locker rooms and sororities.

Attorney General Fitch joined her fellow State Attorneys General in several lawsuits, amicus briefs, and letters to fight against the Biden Administration’s efforts to mis-apply Supreme Court precedent and read an expansive definition of sex and sex discrimination into Title IX and other school programs.

Fitch said that feminism, once understood as the way to promote equality for women, is today disintegrating in an identity crisis of its own making.

“But it is not only legitimate for women to have a space of their own in which to grow and thrive, it is good for society to carve out that safe space for women to engage with one another in athletics, education, fellowship, and sometimes even in healing,” Fitch stated.

Heather R. Higgins, CEO of Independent Women’s Voice, said that they are grateful for AG Fitch’s support.

“Too often, radical activists attack and try to silence anyone who speaks the truth about biological sex-differences. By supporting the Women’s Bill of Rights, AG Fitch has demonstrated that she is willing to stand up for equal opportunity, for common sense, and for science,” Higgins added.

The Women’s Bill of Rights argues that there are legitimate reasons to distinguish between the sexes with respect to athletics, prisons or other detention facilities, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, restrooms, and other areas “where biology, safety, and/or privacy are implicated.”

“Policies and laws that distinguish between the sexes are subject to intermediate constitutional scrutiny, which forbids unfair discrimination against similarly-situated males and females but allows the law to distinguish between the sexes where such distinctions are substantially related to important governmental objectives,” the statement said.

“Any public school or school district and any federal/state/local agency, department, or office that collects vital statistics for the purpose of complying with anti-discrimination laws or for the purpose of gathering accurate public health, crime, economic or other data shall identify each individual who is part of the collected data set as either male or female at birth,” the statement continued.