Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Columbus Dispatch. February 27, 2024.

Editorial: It’s time to modernize public notice rates in Mississippi

Mississippi’s newspapers have been trusted with publishing legally required government notices for decades — centuries, in fact. Of course we publish news about cities, counties, and schools in our communities, but newspaper media also provides a valuable service to government and the public by independently distributing required legal notices to audiences far and wide.

Public notices — or “legals” — usually appear on the classified page of a newspaper and deal seemingly with mundane issues like bid notices, zoning ordinances, and run-of-the-mill government expenses. But they also deal with very delicate matters like foreclosures and delinquent taxes. These are critical to due process, and they must be handled with care. Proper affidavits must be created by newspapers to make certain any legal proceedings resulting from these notices pass muster in the courts.

Newspapers are paid for this vital service. It has been that way from coast-to-coast since the founding of our nation. But in Mississippi public notice rates are set by government statute. And they have remained the same — on average, 11 cents per word — since 1998. A city like Tupelo spent a mere $8,400 on notices last year. Kosciusko, meanwhile, spent about $3,200.

If Mississippi allowed cities and counties to publish notices on their own websites, it is likely they would spend far more on technology and personnel to make the process happen.

So, they get a tremendous bargain with newspaper notices. In most states, rates are not set by the government, allowing newspapers elsewhere to charge significantly more.

The rate of inflation since 1998 has been a staggering 80 percent, much of that coming in the few years since the Covid pandemic.

Meanwhile, Mississippi newspaper media has been modernizing public notice, first publishing them on a statewide database, mspublicnotices.org, way back in 1999. This is a convenient, one-stop repository for notices appearing in newspapers statewide. It gives both private citizens and public officials a central location to follow vital government information in their communities.

This website is free and publicly accessible to anyone with an internet connection, greatly expanding beyond traditional print newspapers the reach of notices from Corinth to Biloxi. This added service doesn’t cost government a dime. And it eliminates any need for government bodies to publish notices on hundreds of disparate websites.

It’s a fact Mississippians still want their local newspapers to be trusted with public notices. A 2023 survey by Coda Ventures of Nashville found 70 percent believe newspapers should continue to publish legals. Government, they say, should not be its own watchdog of this information.

The Mississippi Press Association, the trade group representing state newspapers, is investing in upgrades to the online platform that will make public notice more efficient for advertisers and convenient for citizens. All of this has come at no expense to either government or taxpayers. The cost has been entirely underwritten for a quarter century by Mississippi’s newspaper media.

Therefore, we argue it’s time to acknowledge that investment — and the continued pressures of inflation — and increase the public notice rates set by law. Similar bills have passed in both Georgia in 2023 and Nebraska in 2022 with strong support of legislators on both sides of the political aisle. They understand the vital role of local newspaper media.

We urge our local legislators to back bills filed in both the House and Senate to modernize rates and help us invest in the future of public notice.

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Greenwood Commonwealth. February 23, 2024.

Editorial: Odds Look Better For Medicaid Expansion

After years of resistance, Republican leaders in the Mississippi Legislature are seriously considering expanding Medicaid — or “providing health insurance for working people,” as Lt. Gov Delbert Hosemann put it in an effort to downplay discussion of an Obamacare program.

Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to expand Medicaid, and this week the House Medicaid Committee held a hearing in which supporters of expansion discussed the potential benefits of joining 40 other states that have done so. Hosemann is focused on increasing the number of working adults in the state, and he says to do that, we need more healthy people.

These are big steps for Republicans, who are finally willing to consider the idea that $1 billion per year in federal health-care money actually might help Mississippi. Apparently it’s amazing how much things can change when a speaker of the House who’s opposed to Medicaid expansion retires.

But this is February. It’s still early in the legislative session, and a lot of things have to go right before Mississippi extends health care to the working poor who earn too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid. So here’s a primer on the sausage-making process of legislating.

For starters, the House bill first has to be approved by a committee, and then by the full House. Same thing on the Senate side. Since Republicans have more than 2-to-1 majorities in both chambers, that means a significant number of Republicans have to reject years of opposition to Medicaid expansion.

If that happens, there are certain to be differences between the House and Senate bills. So a conference committee of three lawmakers from each chamber will meet to iron out differences. If they can do that, both chambers must then approve the conference bill.

With House and Senate approval, the next step would be up to Gov. Tate Reeves. He has been an ardent opponent of Medicaid expansion, and he hasn’t changed his mind. The governor went on social media to criticize Republicans for considering the program, and added a screenshot from Donald Trump that said, “Obamacare Sucks!”

Thus, it’s easy to forecast a Reeves veto for any Medicaid expansion bill. Of course, the Legislature could give Medicaid a better chance by attaching it to legislation providing hundreds of millions of dollars for economic development projects east of Interstate 55. But that’s a conspiracy theory for another day.

At any rate, if the governor vetoes Medicaid expansion, the House and Senate would need two-thirds of each chamber to override him and turn the bill into law. Would enough Republicans really oppose the governor and possibly Trump, the likely GOP presidential nominee, by extension? It remains difficult to envision until it actually happens.

Medicaid expansion does have a few things going for it. Politically, this is the first year of a four-year term — the perfect time to make a politically risky decision, because elections are three years away. It’s like 2020, when the Legislature changed the divisive state flag in the first year of that term.

There also are economic benefits. Data at the House committee hearing, based on a 2021 study, said 210,000 people would be able to enroll in the Mississippi program, and 95% of them would have been without health insurance — contrary to the governor’s claim that a third of enrollees would drop their private insurance to enroll in Medicaid. Publicly owned hospitals would see a 60% reduction in unpaid medical care costs. The study also says expansion would create 11,000 jobs.

The arguments for Medicaid expansion haven’t changed, only the politics may have. Let’s hope so.

END