NRA Endorses Mark Baker for Attorney General

Today the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) endorsed Mark Baker for Mississippi Attorney General.

“I am proud to earn the NRA’s endorsement,” Baker said. “The right to keep and bear arms is fundamental to our freedom. I have an A+ rating on Second Amendment issues and will continue to stand up for the Second Amendment and law-abiding gun owners as Attorney General.”

“Baker is a true friend to the Second Amendment,” said Jason Ouimet, chairman of the NRA-PVF. “The NRA is proud to endorse him for Mississippi Attorney General.”

Ouimet urged gun owners and Second Amendment supporters to vote for Mark Baker in the August 6th Republican Primary.
Through 16 years in the Mississippi House, including eight years as Chairman of the Judiciary A Committee, Mark Baker has maintained a strong record of supporting gun rights. The NRA specifically commended Baker for his leadership in passing laws such as “the enhanced permit statute, open carry, protection of shooting ranges, lowering of concealed carry fees, and getting the right to hunt and fish amendment on the 2014 ballot.”

“Mississippi needs an Attorney General with a proven record on the Second Amendment,” Baker concluded. “The NRA knows I am that candidate.”

School safety panel: Focus on mental health, police response

By JEFF AMY Associated Press

JACKSON • An anonymous reporting channel for threats against Mississippi schools, yearly safety inspections and twice-yearly active shooter drills at schools are all part of a safety proposal being backed by Gov. Phil Bryant.

The proposals come from a school safety task force convened last year by the Republican governor. The task force’s final report, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, is a two-pronged response focusing on mental health training and police response.

House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Mark Baker, a Brandon Republican who’s running for Attorney General, said he introduced House Bill 1283 , based on the task force report, at the request of the Bryant administration.

“If you will pass and fund the Mississippi Safe School Act, our parents, teachers and administrators will be allowed to care for our children in a safe and protected environment,” Bryant said in his State of the State address earlier this month.

Besides safety measures, the bill seeks to teach students how to manage stress and anxiety and to train teachers to recognize developing behavioral problems.

“What they are trying to do is show the impact of the mental health aspect, which many on the task force feel has been overlooked for several years.” said Bill Welch, director of the Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Orderly Schools.

The highest-dollar recommendation in the bill is to hire a school resource officer for all 1,000-plus schools in the state. The state Department of Education says there are now 410 certified officers statewide.

Baker said the state could incentivize districts to hire more officers by expanding a grant program called Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools. In December, the state Board of Education approved $10,000 grants for 177 officers, totaling $1.77 million. School districts must match the funds, but in reality, Welch said it costs about $50,000 in salary and benefits to hire a school resource officer.

The state set aside $5 million for the program in 2013-2014, when it was created in the wake of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But officials only disbursed about $2.2 million that year, in part because some districts said their officers didn’t fulfill all functions required in the program.

Baker wants to increase the value of the grants. He said more spending is needed, although he said he thought the state would need to spend less than $10 million.

The legislation doesn’t include a task force recommendation to train teachers or other school personnel to carry guns and act as “school marshals.” A similar proposal was part of a 2018 bill that died.

Baker said lawmakers could still choose to add such a proposal to this year’s bill, but said the Bryant administration wanted to focus on paid officers “as a permanent solution.”

Baker has also introduced a separate measure, House Bill 581 , that would make violent threats by social media or other means a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The task force called for such a law in its report. It’s a pared down version of a terroristic threat proposal that failed last year over concerns that people could be prosecuted for threats they didn’t seriously intend. Most students prosecuted under such a law would see charges brought in youth court, but prosecutors can seek to have teens 13 and older prosecuted as adults.

The bill calls for every school district to link to a threat-reporting website that would be monitored by three new analysts at the state Office of Homeland Security dedicated to tracking school threats. Baker said he wasn’t worried that school districts would be collecting information that could lead to criminal charges against students, saying task force members agreed on the need for information sharing.

“That info needs to be passed along,” Baker said. “What happens then, happens.”

Rep. Mark Baker qualifies to run for Attorney General

From Y’all Politics:

Republican State Representative Mark Baker today qualified to run for Attorney General citing the need for a conservative in the office that should be at the forefront in the fight to protect Mississippi values.

“I’m running to be President Trump’s partner in Mississippi.  It’s time we have an Attorney General who will fight illegal immigration, not ignore it.  It’s time we have an Attorney General who will fight political favoritism and corruption and who will work to create a better legal environment in Mississippi,” Baker said.

Baker, who has served in the Mississippi House of Representatives since 2004 stated, “I have a proven record defending our Second Amendment rights, the rights of the unborn, and our religious freedoms.  As Attorney General, I will lead the fight to protect Mississippi’s conservative values.”

“I will work to make Mississippi a safer place to live by working with federal, state, and local authorities to combat crime and put criminals in jail, to end human trafficking, and to find real solutions to address the opioid epidemic in Mississippi,” Baker said.

“As a practicing attorney for over 30 years, I have extensive experience in civil and criminal matters, substantial trial and appellate court experience, and years of experience prosecuting criminals and serving as a judge.  My legislative and legal background provides me the experience necessary to serve very effectively as Attorney General,” Baker said.

Representative Baker is a lawyer and legislator from Rankin County.  He is a graduate of the University of Memphis (B.A., Criminal Justice – 1984) and Mississippi College School of Law (J.D., with distinction -1987).  Mark is married to the former Lady Collins, an English teacher at Brandon High School.  Mark and Lady have been married for 29 years and have one son, Chase, a public policy major at the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi.  The Bakers are members of Lakeside Presbyterian Church.

If Jim Hood wants credit for BP money, maybe he ‘should run for the Legislature’

From the Clarion Ledger:

Recovering from a disaster that touched almost every corner of our state’s economy and put Mississippians out of work should not be a partisan matter.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster inflicted serious environmental and economic pain on our state. Sales of Mississippi seafood plummeted. Rooms at coastal hotels sat empty. And Mississippians, who live across the state and work offshore, saw paychecks stop.

Last month, the Legislature passed, and Governor Phil Bryant signed a law allocating a large majority of the legal settlement from BP to the southernmost six counties where the bulk of the economic damages occurred. The bill had bipartisan support in both chambers, reflecting the fact that Mississippians pull together to address disaster recovery.

Democratic Party leader and former state representative Brandon Jones recently complained that his party’s top elected official wasn’t given enough “credit” for negotiating a multi-state settlement. (“Governor Phil Bryant needs to give AG Jim Hood credit for BP money,” Clarion-Ledger, Sept. 13, 2018).

When the settlement was announced in 2015, Governor Bryant and General Hood stood side-by-side explaining the multistate deal secured by outside counsel hired by the Attorney General’s Office.

Mr. Jones also fails to relate that Governor Bryant and the Legislature had to step in to stop Hood from his usual practice of hiring outside counsel on a contingent fee basis, which has resulted in the payment of lawyer fees of over $108.5 million dollars since 2009, and forced him to hire outside counsel in this instance based on a set hourly rate, thereby saving the state approximately $50 million dollars, which instead will now be used to help our people.

The recent Special Session was about was about making public policy decisions, which is not in the constitutional purview of the Office of the Attorney General.

If Democrats and Mr. Hood want credit for legislation, maybe our attorney general should run for the Legislature.  However, that would mean that he would have to show up in Jackson for at least three months of the year. 

Y’all Politics sits down with Rep. Mark Baker on his decision to run for Attorney General

May 1, 2018

Tuesday Rep. Mark Baker announced he was planning to run for Attorney General in 2019 after almost 16 years in state legislature.

Mark Baker on run for Attorney General

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Rep. Mark Baker for Mississippi sits down with Y'all Politics Sarah Ulmer to talk about his recent decision to run for Attorney General. #msleg *(note: previous post was removed due to a video graphic error)

Posted by YallPolitics on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

 

In the video Baker says one of the main things he would focus on is reprioritizing the priorities in the office of the Attorney General. He said he believes the role of the AG has become blurred over the years.

He gave the example of AG Hood’s silence during the fight over Obamacare several years ago. Baker said he would have been in the middle of the fight. He also believes the AG’s office should support the legislature and legislation passed to protect rights of Mississippians.

“One of the biggest problems I see is the continued use of outside counsel and filing lawsuit after lawsuit against businesses for everything imaginable,” said Baker. He said this is the imposition of states rule over one person on a particular issue which should involve many more elements on the overall impact on Mississippi it has. He said in many cases it is a negative impact on public policy in Mississippi.

Baker has been in private practice for 30 years with a vast knowledge of all kinds of cases. He has worked with law enforcement for his entire career and served in the House for almost 16 years.

 

Rep. Mark Baker announces run for attorney general in 2019

, The Clarion-Ledger

Longtime Republican state Rep. Mark Baker announced he is running for attorney general next year, a post for which Baker has considered running for years.

“It was just a matter of realizing that what I think needs to be changed in the attorney general’s office can’t be done from the outside-in,” the Brandon lawmaker said Tuesday. “It’s got to be done from the inside out. There are a lot of great lawyers and staff working in that department, but the energies and priorities and focus needs to be readjusted.”

As chairman of the House Judiciary A Committee, Baker has for years criticized Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood’s prolific litigation against corporations and large fees paid to outside law firms Hood hires for the lawsuits. He has also criticized Hood’s reluctance to file or join litigation at the behest of the governor or lawmakers on issues such as trying to overturn the federal Affordable Care Act.

More: Legislature passes PSC bill Hood says is designed to stop Entergy lawsuit

Baker has pushed legislation to limit the AG’s power to file lawsuits and to pay large fees to law firms used in state lawsuits, including the 2012 “Mississippi Sunshine Act.”

Baker claims the AG’s office has been a cash cow for trial lawyers and has shirked responsibilities such as prosecuting white-collar and political corruption in Mississippi.

“The office needs to get back to crime fighting … and restore integrity and the public’s trust,” Baker said.

The AG’s seat is expected to be open in 2019, with Hood expected to run for governor. Baker is likely to face a primary fight with Republican state Treasurer Lynn Fitch, who has shown interest in the office. An open seat would likely draw other candidates from both Democratic or Republican parties.

More: Who’s (maybe) running in 2019 … AG edition

Baker, 55, was first elected to the House District 74 seat in the Legislature in 2004, serving parts of Rankin County and previously parts of Madison County. He served as House Republican leader from 2008-2012, helping lead recruitment, campaigns and fundraising that resulted in a GOP House takeover in 2011 elections. The House gained a Republican majority — now increased to a supermajority —  for the first time since Reconstruction.

Baker is a graduate of the University of Memphis and Mississippi College School of Law. He is a former prosecutor for the city of Brandon and municipal judges for Pelahatchie. He serves as board attorney for Brandon and Puckett. Baker also is a licensed property and casualty insurance agent.

He is married to Lady Baker, a Brandon High School teacher, and they have one son.

Contact Geoff Pender at 601-961-7266 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

Jackson Free Press: ‘One Lake’ Tax Sails Forward

By Donna Ladd

— Previous plans to dramatically remake the portion of the Pearl River that flows through the Jackson metropolitan area ran aground, but legislation is sailing toward the governor’s desk that would pay for the project by taxing selected property in the new “One Lake” footprint.

The project would rely on a mix of federal funds, state bonds and taxes from local property owners set to benefit financially from the ambitious development project. The U.S. Congress, helped by Mississippi representatives, recently earmarked $150 million for “One Lake” as part of the long-delayed Water Resources Development Act of 2016, passed in December, and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran may procure up to $250 million for it, Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, told the Senate Tuesday.

Project advocates want some land owners within the footprint to help provide the other $50 million to $150 million to pay for the $300 million project if and once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approves it.

The Mississippi House first embraced the plan this session, passing a specially tailored House Bill 1585 by a vote of 110-4, which included every member of the Hinds and Rankin county delegations. The Senate voted March 13 to pass the House bill. If signed into law, the legislation allows a “flood or drainage control project” to levy “a special tax upon all the taxable property within such district” that the board of directors of said district determines “is so benefited” by said project.

photo

The “One Lake” project is scaled back from earlier and more controversial versions, and may draw on $250 million in federal earmarks, as well as state bonds and targeted taxes, to move ahead.

That means that HB 1585 would allow the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, commonly called the Levee Board, to decide which land within the district would financially benefit from “One Lake” development and then levy a “special improvement assessment” on those property owners. The funds, which county tax collectors would collect under threats of property liens, would help pay for building, operating and maintaining the project, including principal and interest on any necessary state bonds needed for the project on or before Labor Day each September, the legislation says.

The Levee Board would “determine, order and levy” the tax installments annually, starting July 2, 2017. “This is a levee board, so those within the ‘levy’ district pay that levy,” co-author Rep. Mark Baker, a Brandon Republican, told the House on Feb. 21.

Sen. Kirby told his chamber Wednesday that the plan to dredge and widen the Pearl River would create 1,000 new acres of valuable waterfront property that will be commercial, residential and recreational. He also promised that it would remove 850 existing homes and 418 businesses from the threat of an event like the Easter Flood of 1979. “Those properties will not have to buy flood insurance … or not as much,” Kirby said.

“Property values will go up; it’s a win-win in my opinion all the way around,” he added.

‘We’ve Got to Find a Way’

Sen. John Horhn, a Jackson Democrat who is also running for mayor, told the Jackson Free Press recently that he is excited about “One Lake” because “it can help to make Jackson a real destination”—a sentiment that Mayor Tony Yarber, who now sits on the Levee Board, shares.

Horhn said most of the “developable land” specified in the plan is on the Jackson side of the Pearl—meaning most of the fees would come from Jackson property owners. HB 1585, he said, would allow the Levee Board to levy taxes on those property owners based on how “developable” their land is. “If it’s not as developable as another piece, then you don’t get charged the same fees that the developable land is charged,” Horhn said.

The senator emphasized that the new property taxes will not be enough to pay for “One Lake,” though. “We’ve got to find a way to raise $100 million from local and state sources. Some of it will have to be bonded by the state, and some of it will have to be borne by the locals in those fee assessments,” Horhn said in late February.

Baker promised on the House floor that “One Lake” would be “the crown jewel of Jackson when it’s built.” It also stands to benefit communities on the east side of the Pearl with potential flood relief and increased property values, including Flowood, Brandon and Pearl, and present and future development on the west side of the lucrative Jackson airport footprint.

“One Lake” is the latest version of the long-time dream of oil wildcatter John McGowan to dam the Pearl around Jackson, promising to provide needed flood mitigation while creating valuable lakefront property that could contribute to local economic development. The idea has long excited many people, especially those who bought land and built in the flood plain in recent decades and have the most to lose in a catastrophic flood.

Earlier versions called for two different lakes and miles of lucrative waterfront property, much of it private, both above and below Lakeland Drive and even two developed islands in the middle. The latest plan is to move a weir (low dam) on the Pearl River south of Interstate 20 slightly to the southeast of the end of McDowell Road in order to allow the river to widen and deepen to become a lake. Its footprint still extends above Lakeland near property McGowan’s family owns.

The Lakes Plan That Won’t Recede

The JFP’s 2010 investigation of the “Two Lakes” plan, including who would benefit.

Last fall, Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads, who sits on the Levee Board alongside mayors from Jackson and nearby Rankin County towns, said “One Lake” would help protect the facilities in the medical district that sits in the floodplain on the east side of the Pearl. “Everybody is excited about it because of the potential for such devastation in the City of Flowood. We have four hospitals over here that are subject to flooding: River Oaks, Woman’s, Brentwood Behavioral. Methodist Rehab,” Rhoads said then.

‘A Real Pretty Picture’

Previous versions of the lake plans drew criticism on multiple fronts, from its viability as reliable flood relief, to its high (and under-estimated, some believed) price tag, to the need for government eminent domain to take property, to negative environmental impacts.

Rep. Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown, pointed out on the House floor recently that the lake plan is purposely painted as “a real pretty picture” that may not tell the whole story of what is to come.

In return, Baker acknowledged that earlier lake plans had caused several knock-down, drag-out fights, but said HB 1585 had grown out of impressive current cooperation. “There have been more discussions and public hearings and involvement and cooperation between Hinds County and Rankin County and Flowood and Pearl … and if you want to look at how a family gets along, 1585 is it,” he said.

Some of those earlier fights involved potential conflicts of interest. The Jackson Free Press revealed in 2010 that some of the project’s promoters and members of the Levee Board, or their families or business partners, owned property within the footprint that could increase in value. At the time, those potential conflicts had not been disclosed—nor were contributions by McGowan and his partners to a supportive mayoral candidate through a political action committee until the last hour. The “Two Lakes” plan was later scrapped with the scaled-back “One Lake” version eventually placing it.

McGowan told the Jackson Free Press in the early stages of the new plan that he had divested his holdings within the footprint. He and others formed the nonprofit Pearl River Vision Foundation that has driven the efforts behind and design of the new plan and that they argue mitigates any conflict-of-interest concerns today.

The environmental impacts of such an undertaking, which McGowan downplayed in earlier years of pushing his lake plans, are now more front and center in the planning. In recent years, the foundation has spent considerable time researching the plan’s effect on the environment, in no small part to try to avoid lawsuits that could delay the project for years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as an independent engineering firm, still must approve the project before it moves ahead.

The elephant in the room, though, for the lake project is still lurking downstream. Those who live and work near the Pearl River further south have long been concerned that slowing the flow of the Pearl would affect the environment and wildlife, including the salinity of the water in the marshlands where the river meets the Gulf of Mexico. 
 That is, despite a Kumbaya approach to the current tax bill, the Jackson metro does not own the Pearl River—meaning that the Levee Board could face lawsuits for years before the project comes to fruition.

Read more on the lake(s) saga at jfp.ms/pearlriver. Additional reporting from the Mississippi Legislature by Arielle Dreher.

Mississippi governor signs civil asset forfeiture reform bill into law

By Steve Wilson

Civil asset forfeiture reform is coming to the Magnolia State after Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law House Bill 812 Monday.

The new law, authored by state Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, brings several changes to the state’s civil asset forfeiture system. Those include:

  • Guidelines for law enforcement agencies to report to the state the location of each forfeiture, any criminal prosecution actions taken on the property owners, the value of the property and its disposition.
  • The construction and maintenance of a searchable website by the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, subject to the provision of funds by the Legislature.
  • A new warrant system that would require a county or circuit judge to issue a civil seizure warrant within 72 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. The law enforcement agency would have to inform the judge on what was taken and why it was seized, and explain to the judge the probable cause to justify the seizure. If the judge doesn’t issue a seizure warrant, the property would be returned.
  • A requirement that the local district attorney or the MBN prosecute all forfeitures, which would eliminate outside counsel from being hired by law enforcement agencies.

Institute for Justice legislative counsel Lee McGrath told Mississippi Watchdog that the new law is a solid first step for civil asset forfeiture reform in the state. McGrath testified before the Civil Asset Forfeiture Task Force led by Baker last year as it gathered information and issued recommendations that later became H.B. 812.

“I’ve always had a preference to start with a reporting bill because that’s the only way that real facts get in front of state legislators,” McGrath said. “It’s a solid first step because it will produce real facts that legislators can use in the future to make substantive policy changes. The good news about this bill is that facts will prevail.”

According to the liberty-oriented Institute for Justice, Mississippi is now the 18th state to pass some kind of reform of its forfeiture system.

Even without H.B. 812, changes are already afoot in the state’s civil asset forfeiture system.

J. Scott Gilbert, a former federal prosecutor who handles civil asset forfeiture cases for Jackson law firm Watkins and Eager, told Mississippi Watchdog that forfeiture complaints with little or no specificity on the circumstances aren’t likely to be accepted by the courts after a recent decision this year by the Mississippi Court of Appeals that upheld the dismissal of a forfeiture plea.

Gilbert trained federal agents during his time as an assistant U.S. attorney on forfeiture procedures and has successfully litigated civil asset forfeiture cases in Delaware, Mississippi and Texas. He also testified before the Civil Asset Forfeiture Task Force.

“For years, judicial complaints for forfeiture filed in state court have not included any real information related to the who, what, when, where and why of the conduct alleged to justify the forfeiture,” Gilbert said. “Assuming the Mississippi Supreme Court upholds that decision, I think we will see civil forfeiture complaints in state court begin to contain more substantive information about the underlying events.

“I do not expect this to have any effect on the number of judicial forfeiture cases brought by the state. It will only result in more factually comprehensive pleadings.”

Steve Wilson reports for Mississippi Watchdog. Contact him at [email protected] and on Twitter.

Clarion Ledger: Capitol Hill could welcome King of the Blues

, The Clarion-Ledger

Capitol Hill could welcome the King of the Blues if Mississippi lawmakers and the governor back a resolution.

Each state selects two statues to represent the state in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

In 1931, Mississippi donated its statues of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and J.Z. George, chief architect of the state’s notorious 1890 Constitution, which was designed to disenfranchise African Americans through poll taxes and other means..

A number of states have replaced statues, including Alabama, which chose Helen Keller as a replacement statue, and California, which chose Ronald Reagan.

Under the resolution introduced at the state Legislature, Mississippi’s most beloved bluesman, B.B. King, would take George’s place.

Bryant has expressed his support for a discussion of replacing George, saying, “B.B. King and Elvis would both be good possibilities for a replacement.”

If King were chosen, he would be the first African American chosen by a state to represent it. Congress added a statue of Rosa Parks in 2013.

Suggested replacements have included William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer among many others.

State Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, introduced the resolution Monday to have King as a replacement statue.

“We’re the home of the blues and the Grammy Museum,” he said. “That seems to be a good foot to put forward.”

Baker received the suggestion from Flowood lawyer Michael Wolf, who visited the U.S. Capitol with his family and was surprised to see George’s statue. “I thought, ‘This isn’t the Mississippi I know,’” he said.

State Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, praised George as “a small-town attorney, a staunch defender of the common man, a United States senator, a proponent of Mississippi’s agriculture and the chief justice of Mississippi’s Supreme Court.”

She criticized those “who refuse to recognize the efforts of the 19th-century pioneers who settled this state and carved a civilization from the wilderness. I refuse to take part in revisionist history and ask the members of the Mississippi Senate to do the same.”

Baker said he welcomes the debate over who should represent Mississippi. “I say, ‘Let’s have a discussion.’”

Contact Jerry Mitchell at (601) 961-7064 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.