Posts tagged "Mississippi"

h/t: Andrew Kaczynski and Gideon Resnick at BuzzFeed


Senate Bill 2681 has returned to the Mississippi legislature, resurrected by Senate and House Republicans during the last week of the three-month legislative session. SB 2681, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PDF here), is one of many bills introduced in the states this year aimed at creating a “license to discriminate” against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into law.

Opponents thought the bill had been temporarily defeated in early March when the controversial language was amended to institute a study committee in its place. Now, it’s closer to its original form.

Section 1 of the bill says, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection.”

In practical terms, for example, that would mean that a hotel or restaurant owner could refuse service to gay customers while claiming “exercise of religion” and government would have no recourse.

New to the bill is this, found in lines 16-18 of Section 1:

(b) Laws “neutral” toward religion may burden religious exercise as surely as laws intended to interfere with religious exercise; (c) Government should not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification;

The target of this section seems to make it clear that the bill is meant to reach far beyond just attacking LGBT rights. In fact, it seems to hint at a case before the Supreme Court right now, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. In what could prove to be a landmark decision, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not corporations can refuse to provide female employees healthcare that includes birth control on the basis of religious belief (and thus whether or not corporations are people with all the rights people enjoy – including free exercise of religion).

The requirement that all healthcare plans include birth control for women may be one of those “neutral” laws that SB 2681 now mocks with quotation marks. This bill would make it clear that employers in Mississippi can refuse to comply with laws that don’t like on religious grounds. So if an employer who happens to be a Jehova’s Witness wants to deny employees access to healthcare that includes blood transfusions (which Jehova’s Witnesses are religiously opposed to), the government would have to provide a compelling justification before “interfering with” the employer’s “free exercise.”

The possibilities the quote-unquote “neutral” language introduces are truly myriad. The point, of course, is to say that there is almost nothing over which a claim of religious belief does not take precedence. A law doesn’t have to be intended to interfere with religious exercise; a religious person just has to claim it interferes.

This version of the bill goes beyond protecting free exercise of religion, instead solidly establishing claims of religious exercise in a privileged position above all else.

The bill makes explicit that it applies to all state laws, rules, regulations, and municipal and county ordinances. That could jeopardize recent advances made in Starkville, Hattiesburg, and Oxford, where anti-discrimination effort – including discrimination against LGBT people and other minority – via diversity resolutions have passed to great fanfare in recent months.

The bill still protects the interests of the business community, ensuring that “nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.” So, while the act does mean that employers can discriminate against employees and customers on the basis of religious exercise, employees are definitively barred from doing the same in reverse.

The Arizona-style “license to discriminate” bill goes back to a vote on the Mississippi House and Senate floors for an up-or-down vote. No further changes will be allowed. If it passes both houses, SB 2681 then goes to the governor’s desk.


Over the past several years, state legislatures have enacted a record-breaking number of abortion restrictions. That pace hasn’t abated during this year’s legislative sessions, as lawmakers are rushing to pass measures to shut down abortion clinics and create additional red tape for women seeking abortions. But even though the assault on reproductive rights has been steadily gaining ground, there’s one type of restriction that hasn’t been able to win enough support, even among some anti-choice Republicans.

So-called “fetal heartbeat bills,” a radical proposal to cut off legal abortion services at just six weeks — before many women even realize they’re pregnant — are failing in states across the country. Although the far-right abortion opponents who push six-week bans claim that the procedure should be outlawed after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected, they can’t always get their other colleagues to sign onto the effort.

Last year, North Dakota and Alabama became the first states in the country to pass abortion restrictions banning the procedure after the detection of fetal heartbeat (although Arkansas’ ended up being amended to a 12-week ban). Perhaps observing that those two laws have both been blocked from taking effect because they blatantly violate Roe v. Wade, at least five state legislatures have declined to advance fetal heartbeat bans so far this year:

ALABAMA: Lawmakers in Alabama introduced a package of several anti-abortion restrictions, including a six-week abortion ban, on the same day in February. The legislature rushed to approve two of those measures before the state’s session came to a close this week, but the Senate didn’t take up the heartbeat ban. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R) said he’s waiting to see how the legal challenges to six-week bans in other states before Alabama passes its own version “and spends dollars we don’t have as a state.” The lawmaker who introduced the bill said she’s “very, very disappointed” that the legislature “didn’t have the fortitude” to approve it anyway.

MISSISSIPPI: Mississippi has been trying and failing to enact a heartbeat ban for several years in a row. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has already indicated that he’s eager to sign one. “It would tell that mother, ‘Your child has a heartbeat,’” he told supporters at an anti-abortion event last year. But so far, this bill has repeatedly failed to make it out of committee. The state recently passed a 20-week abortion ban, but the heartbeat bill — which would have banned abortion at 12 weeks, like the one in Arkansas — remains a step too far.

KANSAS: Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas have decided to block a six-week abortion ban this year because they’re not interested in provoking a legal fight. Even though the legislature has strong GOP majorities, the politicians there are taking their cues from Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-choice group in the state. Kansans for Life doesn’t support the proposed fetal heartbeat ban because they’re nervous that a court battle would end up striking it down. “We’re just being cautious,” House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R) explained when asked why the legislature hasn’t scheduled a vote on the measure.

KENTUCKY: A fetal heartbeat measure was introduced again in Kentucky this session, after failing to advance last year, but abortion opponents haven’t had much luck this time around either. The measure is currently stalled in committee with little chance of passing. Pro-choice Kentucky lawmakers have been able to successfully block proposed abortion restrictions for several years in a row, so there’s little chance that a radical six-week abortion ban will make it through.

OHIO: Republicans in Ohio have long been divided over whether to adopt an aggressive anti-abortion strategy, and attempt to enact a harsh fetal heartbeat ban, or take a more subtle and incremental approach to chipping away at reproductive rights. This split has prevented the state from approving a six-week ban for the past several years, although it continues to be re-introduced. Senate President Keith Faber (R) says he won’t schedule a vote on the measure this session because he’s worried it will trigger a court challenge.

Indeed, legal battles over unconstitutional abortion restrictions come with a cost. North Dakota is gearing up to spend at least $600,000 to defend its stringent anti-abortion laws in court, while Kansas and Idaho have both accumulated legal fees in this area that top one million dollars.

In general, abortion opponents haven’t decided whether it’s better to continue gradually chipping away Roe v. Wade piece by piece, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban nearly all abortions. So far, feuds over this divide are bubbling to the surface in political races in Georgia and Kentucky. And some Republicans will need to adopt a particularly hardline stance against abortion if they want to court support from thecountry’s major anti-choice groups before the upcoming presidential primaries.

But so far, anti-choice lawmakers have actually had more success with the first, incremental strategy. That’s largely because radical restrictions like six-week bans, which are obviously extreme on their face, tend to capture headlines and spark outrage — while more subtle efforts to undermine abortion rights are able to slip under the radar.

H/T: Tony Merevick at BuzzFeed

h/t: Daniel Strauss at TPM Livewire

So much for the GOP’s attempt to rebrand itself as the “party of tolerance,” because Republican leaders just can’t seem to help themselves from knocking the gay community. Take Rep. Steve Palazzo’s latest online campaign attacking “GAY Hollywood’s version of matrimony” over the on-air weddings at the Grammy Awards. 

The Mississippi Republican was one of the most ardent defenders of the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay members and has regularly teamed up with the virulently anti-gay American Family Association.


h/t: Brian Tashman at RWW


New restrictions have been popping up in states across the south since the Voting Rights Act was essentially gutted last month.

It’s one more reason why the right to vote needs to be protected:

Which state are you most concerned about?

(via recall-all-republicans)

Maps featuring Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin regarding how many clinics will close down in the states affected. 

Three of those mentioned were won by Obama both times (Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia) and a fourth (North Carolina) was won by Obama in 2008, then Romney in 2012.



By several objective measures, Mississippi is one of our worst states. It has the nation’s highest poverty rate, its second-highest teen pregnancy rate, and its highest teen birth rate. An Education Week report ranks its schools 48 out of 50. Only Louisiana locks up a higher percentage of its people. Its infant mortality rate—9.67 deaths per 1,000 live births, the highest in the nation—is close to Botswana’s. Its life expectancy is the lowest in America and lower than those of Guatemala or Pakistan. Few states invest less in public education or public health. If it were an independent country, we’d consider it part of the Third World.

Not coincidentally, Mississippi is also one of our most conservative states, though in a recent Gallup poll, it slipped from first place to fourth. As iVillage reported last year in a piece on the country’s worst states for women—Mississippi came in first, or rather last—it’s one of only four states that has never sent a woman to Congress.

So we really shouldn’t be shocked that Mississippi’s governor, Phil Bryant, thinks America’s educational woes can be laid at the feet of working mothers. Speaking on a panel this week about how the country became so “mediocre” in education, he replied, “Both parents started working, and the mom is in the workplace.” His comments sparked national outrage and indignation, but they shouldn’t have surprised us. Of course arch-conservatives think social breakdown is caused by the abandonment of traditional gender roles. Of course they fail to recognize that excessive wingnuttery is decimating their societies. That’s why their answers to social breakdown are frequently so ridiculous.

Consider Mississippi’s brilliant new approach to fighting teen pregnancy. On Monday, NPR reported on a new Mississippi law mandating the collection of cord blood from babies born to girls under 16. The idea, apparently, is that DNA could identify fathers who have passed through the criminal justice system and who might be statutory rapists, hence discouraging older men from impregnating younger girls. “Too many of these young teens are becoming pregnant against their will,” Bryant said.

Given that Bryant was a co-chair of the failed campaign for a personhood law in Mississippi—which might have outlawed the birth control pill, the IUD, and the morning-after pill, as well as all abortion—it’s nice to know that he’s suddenly concerned about forced pregnancy. But this law, a gross invasion of girls’ privacy, will do nothing for the state’s teen pregnancy problem. For one thing, as NPR reports, “[r]oughly 65 percent of teenage pregnancies in the state occur between teens who are one or two years apart in age.” Besides, the law doesn’t lay out who will pay for all this DNA testing, or who will be in charge of prosecuting fathers if they find them. “[P]rosecutors would have to determine in which county conception had occurred before charges could be filed,” says NPR.

Then there’s the very real danger that this law will be used against the girls themselves. Right now, says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, two Mississippi women who have suffered stillbirths are being prosecuted under the state’s murder statutes because there were drugs in their systems when they lost their pregnancies. If every single teen mother has her cord blood on file, it would be easy for prosecutors to test it if their babies suffer expected medical problems. “If they’re collecting cord blood, it could be used just as easily against pregnant women,” says Paltrow. “She’s at much at risk of prosecution as the person who impregnated her.”

There are, of course, more sensible ways to address teen pregnancy, which has already fallen dramatically all over the country since the 1990s, even in Mississippi. Step one: increase access to birth control. “Recent research concluded that almost all of the decline in the pregnancy rate between 1995 and 2002 among 18–19-year-olds was attributable to increased contraceptive use,” a 2012 Guttmacher Institute report concluded. “Among women aged 15–17, about one-quarter of the decline during the same period was attributable to reduced sexual activity and three-quarters to increased contraceptive use.”

Naturally, Mississippi is doing nothing to promote increased contraceptive use. “When the governor of Mississippi is saying these teen births are a tragedy, he’s not doing anything to prevent the births,” says June Carbone, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota and co-author, with Naomi Cahn, of the forthcoming book Family Classes: What is Really Happening to the American Family. “He wants to punish the sex. That’s the whole campaign—no sex education, make abortion difficult, and say you have no business having sex.”

Not that more access to sex education and contraception would be enough to stem Mississippi’s dysfunction. “A promising future is the best contraceptive,” says Carbone. “If women see they have a promising future, they are less likely to get pregnant, less likely to have sex at 14 or 15.” That means investing in education overall, as well as in decent jobs that pay a living wage. You’re not going to see much of that with a governor like Phil Bryant, who will never grasp that more conservatism is the problem, not the solution.

Of COURSE the law will be used against the girls themselves.

(via truth-has-a-liberal-bias)


BREAKING: Police arrest Tupelo, Miss. man in ricin case

(Photo: Lauren Wood / Reuters)

A Tupelo, Miss. man has been arrested in connection with the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and a U.S. senator, police said Saturday.

Read the complete story.

Rush Limbaugh claimed that the government only arrested suspect Paul Kevin Curtis for allegedly sending ricin-tainted letters to government officials because he was a white southerner. But the letters were signed with Curtis’ initials and catch phrase.  

Curtis, who is from Mississippi, was arrested last week for allegedly mailing letters containing the poison ricin to President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Lee County, Mississippi Justice Court judge Sadie Holland. Though his case is still pending, Curtis was released from federal custody on bond after investigators failed to find evidence of ricin in Curtis’ possession.

Limbaugh interpreted his release as evidence that authorities merely arrested Curtis because they wanted the ricin suspect to be a white southerner. He told listeners, “You know the ricin letters that were sent? The drive-bys so desperately wanted the culprit to be a hayseed, hick southerner, so they went out and found this poor guy from Mississippi and they accused him of it,” and concluded, “They really wanted the ricin guy to be a white southern guy and not a dark-skinned something-or-other.”

According to the criminal complaint against Curtis, as ABC News reported, each ricin letter was signed “This is KC and I approve this message,” a phrase Curtis frequently used in internet postings and other letters.   

Limbaugh’s theory is just another example in his long history of race-baiting

From the 04.23.2013 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show:

See Also:

h/t: MMFA

The idea behind the prison’s solitary confinement areas was to use sensory deprivation to reform inmates. The thought was that the isolation and quiet would free the innately good soul.

… [A]fter Mississippi had done away with solitary confinement, prison violence went down by 50 percent and the cost of incarceration went down as well.

“It was a wake-up call to all of us to take a hard look at it,” he says. “Maybe this just isn’t the best way to deal with these problems.”

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi mayoral candidate was found dead Wednesday and the case is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said.

Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith said the body of 34-year-old Marco McMillian was found on the Mississippi River levee Wednesday at about 10 a.m.

The 34-year-old McMillian was running for mayor of Clarksdale, a Blues hub where actor and Mississippi native Morgan Freeman co-owns a music club with Howard Stovall, a Memphis entertainment executive, and Bill Luckett, who also is running for mayor.

Meredith said the body was found between Sherard and Rena Lara and was sent to Jackson for an autopsy. He declined to provide further details or speculate on the cause of death.

The sheriff’s office said Wednesday in a news release on its Facebook page that a person of interest was in custody, but had not been formally charged.

The department also said authorities had been looking for McMillian since a man crashed the candidate’s car into another vehicle on Tuesday. McMillian was not in the car. The sheriff’s office said deputies responded to the two-car crash on U.S. Highway 49 South near the Coahoma and Tallahatchie county lines on Tuesday about 8 a.m.

McMillian was a Democrat. Campaign spokesman Jarod Keith said McMillian’s campaign was noteworthy because he may have been the first openly gay man to be a viable candidate for public office in Mississippi.

Clarksdale, a town of about 17,800 people, is well known to Blues fans as the home of the crossroads, where Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil for skills with a guitar. 

h/t: TPM

2011 and 2012 were both record-breaking years for new abortion restrictions, and abortion opponents are aren’t showing signs of letting up this year. The “personhood” movement to endow zygotes with the full rights of U.S. citizens, effectively outlawing all abortions and even some forms of contraception, has largely been a failure — but that doesn’t mean anti-choice lawmakers are giving up their quest to redefine the medical terms of pregnancy. The push for “fetal heartbeat” bans is the next anti-choice movement to watch.

Fetal heartbeat measures seek to outlaw abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which can occur as early as six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant — in direct contradiction to Roe v. Wade, which guarantees women’s right to an abortion until the point of viability at about 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy. Despite the fact that heartbeat bills are much more extreme than the 20-week abortion bans that are already floundering in court for running afoul of Roe v. Wade, anti-choice lawmakers in at least five states are flirting with this type of legislation:

– OHIO: Anti-choice lawmakers in Ohio first advanced a heartbeat bill in 2011. After the measure was stalled in the state senate for over a year, abortion opponents pressured the legislature to take up the issue again during their lame duck session after the 2012 elections. But ultimately, the bill didn’t come up for a vote because the state Senate leader, Tom Niehaus (R-OH), acknowledged it was too controversial even among abortion opponents. Niehaus said he wanted to wait until lawmakers anti-choice community reached consensus on the measure — which means it could be back on the agenda sometime this year.

– MISSISSIPPI: About a week into the new year, GOP lawmakers in Mississippi filed a fetal heartbeat bill virtually identical to the one that failed to make it out of committee during the state’s last legislative session. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has already made it clear that he would sign such a bill if it ever reaches his desk. At a private anti-abortion event at the beginning of January, the governor confirmed that he supports banning abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. “It would tell that mother, ‘Your child has a heartbeat,’” Bryant said.

– WYOMING: About two weeks ago, state Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R) introduced a measure to supersede the medical definition of viability. Current state law says abortions are prohibited after a fetus has “reached viability,” and Kroeker sought to replace those words with “a detectable fetal heartbeat.” The Republican lawmaker said the idea for his heartbeat bill just came to him one day because “it became clear that if a baby had a heartbeat, that seemed simple to me that it’s wrong to kill it.” On Monday, a House panel struck down Kroeker’s bill because it was too medically vague. But if Ohio and Mississippi are any indication, this likely won’t be the last time that fetal heartbeat legislation shows up in Wyoming.

– ARKANSAS: Republicans in Arkansas also hopped on the fetal heartbeat train this week, but they went a step further — state Sen. Jason Rapert’s (R) proposed heartbeat bill would prosecute the doctors who perform abortions after the arbitrary cut-off with a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. And thanks to the strong Republican majorities in Arkansas’ legislature, this piece of legislation has a good chance of advancing. It easily passed out of committee on Wednesday and is now headed to the state Senate, where 19 of the chamber’s total 35 members have already signed onto it as co-sponsors.

– NORTH DAKOTA: Like Arkansas, the anti-choice politicians in North Dakota want to prosecute the doctors who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — and their heartbeat ban was part of the “flurry” of anti-abortion bills that lawmakers rushed to introduce around last week’s Roe v. Wade anniversary. A House committee is currently considering the measure, along with an even more radical “personhood” proposal. North Dakota has already imposed some the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation, and women’s health advocates in the state warn that the passage of these new bills “would be tantamount to banning abortion” altogether.

Three of the states on this list — Mississippi, Arkansas, and North Dakota — only have a single surgical abortion clinic left in the entire state, which means women already have to overcome significant geographic barriers to obtain an abortion. 

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress