Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on state bidding laws:
The state of Mississippi contracts billions of dollars to private companies for goods and services. Over the last two decades, bidding practices have continued to loosen to the detriment of taxpayers. Sealed bids have been replaced by “Requests for Proposals” (RFPs), which give too much discretion to government officials. Every year, special interest groups weaken our state’s bidding laws, allowing special deals and favoritism.
In recent years, led by state Sen. John Polk and Rep. Jerry Turner, some progress has been made. Now we have some centralization of regulation with the Procurement Review Board (PRB). Unfortunately, one of the most popular meetings in the state is the PRB’s monthly meetings, where businesses and governmental agencies line up for exemptions from our procurement laws. The Northside Sun published a recent article by Steve Wilson detailing more than 209 exemptions worth $156 million over the last two years. Rankin County alone requested 15 exemptions worth $25.4 million. Computer company Apple was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the exemptions with $42.5 million in estimated value.
It’s bad enough that our state’s procurement laws have as many holes in them as good Swiss cheese. Adding millions of exemptions on top of that creates huge inefficiencies that lower our standard of living. Taxpayers should demand better.
The granddaddy of all our weak procurement laws still remains our “lowest and best” standard. The “best” part makes our bidding statutes weak, vague and subjective. Progressive states have long since replaced that language with “lowest responsive bidder.” With these standards, governmental entities are required to clearly specify what they want and then go with the lowest bidder that meets those specifications. That’s the standard our state needs to adopt.
In addition, our bidding laws lack a basic statement that all governmental entities are required as fiduciaries to ensure that taxpayers get the best quality at the lowest price. Even a general statement such as this would put a legal dampener on many of the bidding shenanigans running rampant at all levels of government.
The Vicksburg Post on local elections:
There is nothing like a local election season to both inspire and frustrate the electorate. The candidates vying for the three seats on the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen have a unique opportunity at a tremendously unique time in Vicksburg’s history.
Following Friday’s qualifying deadline, the field for Vicksburg’s municipal election has been set, kicking off weeks of campaigning before the April 6 party primaries and the June 8 general election ballot.
During these next few months, these candidates will not only have to try to rally support in what is always an interesting election cycle but do so at a time when COVID-19 prevents many of the classic campaign techniques. It is not a good idea this time around to shake hands or schedule large gatherings.
But while the tools and strategies used may be different, the mission for these candidates remains the same, as does the responsibility.
At a time when we as a community and a society have gone through so much division, it is crucial these candidates explain how they are the best for the jobs as compared to why their opponents are not. We need candidates who can build us up, rather than show how we can tear one another down.
The 10 candidates who are competing must find ways to inspire and unite. Those efforts will be remembered and applauded. On the flip side, those candidates who choose to belittle and divide will also be remembered and receive their just rewards in fewer votes and quick defeats.
During a time when so many have faced and overcome so many unbelievable challenges, we deserve campaigns worthy of our support and our votes.
We want leaders who take action and can provide a clear and positive path forward with our community.
We challenge those running for office, to lead us and inspire us. Otherwise, move aside.
The Greenwood Commonwealth on medical marijuana:
The Mississippi Legislature steadfastly refused to consider legalizing medical marijuana, despite surveys indicating widespread support. Eventually, an initiative movement was launched, and Mississippi voters in November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana, snubbing an attempt by the Legislature to derail the initiative by proposing their own alternative in an effort to split the vote. It was one of the biggest rebukes to the state Legislature by the voters in many years.
Unlike many states, Mississippi does not allow voters to create new statutes, but it does allow voters to amend the state constitution. This is designed to make direct democracy more difficult and reduce the number of initiatives. In the case of medical marijuana, however, this has blown up in the Legislature’s face. Not only is medical marijuana about to be reality, it is now enshrined in our state constitution and beyond the reach of the state Legislature to do much tinkering with.
This is a particular vexing to lawmakers because the new marijuana constitutional clauses limit the ability of the state to tax marijuana beyond the funds necessary to administer the program and no more than the normal retail sales tax rate. This means Mississippians are about to have some of the least expensive marijuana in the country, denying the state government the hefty taxes it enjoys from other “sin” taxes, such as those on cigarettes, alcohol and gaming.
In addition, the constitutional amendment forbids limiting the size of the new marijuana industry. Instead, it requires that the free market, not licensing restrictions, determine the number of growers and shops.
Finally, eligibility for the drug does not require a prescription but simply an annual certification card, which can be awarded by any state-licensed physician for an unlimited number of ailments.
To sum it up, Mississippi is about to have one of the most wide-open medical marijuana programs in the nation.
This is driving the Legislature nuts. Already, legislators have introduced their own bill to “fill in the gaps.” Sen. Kevin Blackwell has filed SB 2765, entitled the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act. Blackwell described the bill as not overruling Initiative 65, but running parallel to it. And, of course, there would be new taxes not authorized by Initiative 65.
Unfortunately for the Legislature, and the people of Mississippi, this is an attempt to close the barn door after the cows have already gotten out. A medical marijuana tax could have benefitted education if the Legislature had seen the writing on the wall and gotten a law written before the people resorted to amending the state constitution.
The Legislature can pass all the laws it wants, but if these laws conflict with the clear language of Initiative 65, the state courts will have no choice but to slap the Legislature down and defend the constitution, pages of marijuana clauses and all.