Immigrants, Lawsuits and Juvenile Justice


Attorney General Jim Hood said today's teens are the first generation to deal with an onslaught of electronic technology.

Three bills targeting the state's immigrant population survived the Senate Judiciary A Committee last week.

Senate Bill 2249, authored by Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, requires adult applicants to verify their U.S. citizenship or lawful residence to be eligible for public services from the state division of Medicaid and the Department of Human Services, the Office of Employment Security or the Mississippi Housing Authorities.

Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance Executive Director Bill Chandler said undocumented residents already do not qualify for state services beyond emergency health care such as that offered in an emergency room. (The bill does not attempt to demand a citizenship requirement for emergency-room treatment.)

"You're dealing with extremely ignorant legislators," Chandler said. "They shoot from their hip because these issues are popular among some of their constituents for that."

The Senate Judiciary A Committee passed another Fillingane bill, SB 2255, which would create a $5 fee on wire transfers of money sent out of the country, plus 1 percent of the amount of the transfer over $500, to assist in funding construction of a border fence between the United States and Mexico, a border that does not touch the state of Mississippi.

The third immigrant-related bill is an open slap to the city of Jackson, which passed an ordinance last year restricting police officers from inquiring about residency status of people with whom they interact at routine traffic stops and other public interdictions. Senate Bill 2941 prohibits local governments like Jackson from restricting law enforcement officers from enforcing federal immigration law.

Lawsuits and Care Homes
State employees face removal from personnel-board job protection for two years if the Legislature passes SB 2570. Currently, employees fired from state positions can appeal their firing through the state-personnel system. But SB 2570 deems all state employees as "nonstate service," a designation that Mississippi Alliance of State Employees President Brenda Scott says "means you have no property rights to your job." The designation will not apply to new employees brought on after the effective date of SB 2570 in 2011, however.

Scott said she doubts the Senate bills survival in the House.

Curtailing Attorney General Jim Hood's ability to hire outside counsel to pursue civil suits against alleged corporate wrongdoers is the aim of Senate Bill 2618. The bill puts contracts worth more than $500,000 before the Personal Service Contract Review Board, which could cancel the contract. The bill also mandates that the attorney general must submit case bid proposals to at least three separate law firms or individuals where the anticipated attorney fee for the work is more than $500,000.

Hood says that some of his most profitable cases against corporate malfeasance arrive via proposals from attorneys with inside knowledge of the misconduct. Hood said an attorney with knowledge of a potentially lucrative case will not likely submit their proposal if other attorneys could outbid them for the contract.

The House passed HB 798, putting small personal-care homes under the purview of the State Department of Health. Currently, the Mississippi Department of Health oversees the minimum standards for businesses providing residents with one or more daily assisted-living services, but personal-care homes don't have to be licensed if they have three or fewer occupants, said Nancy Whitehead of the Mississippi Department of Health's Regulation and Licensure Division.

Juvenile Treatment Under Review
The way the state processes and detains youth in detention centers would change under House Bill 1232, also known as the "Juvenile Detention Reform Act of 2011." The bill requires a decision by a youth-court judge to take a juvenile into custody. It also mandates new licensing requirements for juvenile-detention centers and outlines new laws regarding detaining youth. In addition, the law establishes the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Task Force and its advisory group, which will establish which agency will be responsible for licensing the state's detention centers on an annual basis by July 2015.

Jody Owens, director and managing attorney of the Mississippi office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said standards are necessary to avoid lawsuits like the ones making news in Mississippi over the last few years.

The American Civil Liberties Union and SPLC filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Geo Group Inc., the for-profit operator of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility last November, arguing that "children there are forced to live in barbaric and unconstitutional conditions" and that the children are "subjected to excessive uses of force by prison staff."

The Juvenile Detention Alternatives Task Force would impose new rules upon the facilities governing everything from telephone and mail privileges to sanitation and inmate diet. Each center will have to make available a manual stating the policies and procedures for operating and maintaining the facility, which the task force will annually review and revise as needed.


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