Thursday, March 2, 2017  SUBSCRIBE   
Fantasy sports bill approved, could mean small revenue bump
The Mississippi Legislature, struggling for ways to fund state government in the midst of sluggish revenue collections, should have at least a little help on the way. On Wednesday, the 52-member Senate approved with six no votes and sent to Gov. Phil Bryant legislation regulating and taxing fantasy sports. If Bryant signs the legislation into law, it will mean a new source of revenue for the state. House Gaming Chair Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, said he does not expect fantasy sports to generate a lot of revenue for the state, but, "I think it will grow." Under the legislation heading to Bryant, a tax will be collected on 8 percent of the fantasy sports operators' Mississippi earnings -- just like the state tax paid by casinos. Casinos, though, also pay a 4 percent local tax.
Fantasy sports bill heads to governor
The Senate on Wednesday passed a House bill to regulate and tax fantasy sports games to the governor. House Bill 967, authored by House Gaming Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, would have the state Gaming Commission regulate the fantasy sports industry and charge operators an 8 percent tax on their Mississippi revenue, same as the state tax on casino revenue. Senate Judiciary Chairman Sean Tindell authored a nearly identical bill in the Senate. On Wednesday, he urged the Senate to pass the House bill on to the governor since it was a mirror of the measure the Senate passed. It passed 46-6. "We have a lot of consumer protection measures in this bill," Tindell said. "These companies will have annual audits and background checks on the businesses."
House balks at Senate plan for oil spill damage funds
Mississippi lawmakers may be unable to decide this year how to spend $750 million in oil spill damage payments, with sniping between House and Senate members after a bill died at a Tuesday deadline for action when the House Appropriations Committee didn't bring it up. House members from Mississippi's coast said Senate Bill 2634 didn't have the detailed structure they wanted to determine how the money would be distributed. Sixteen bipartisan representatives from Gulf Coast counties stated jointly that "no action is better than passing a bill that only gives the appearance of action." But Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said they feared the failure to act would only increase pressure to spend the money away from the Gulf Coast. Reeves called the decision "mind-boggling."
Business leaders: More road, bridge funding needed this year
State business leaders made clear on Wednesday that they are willing to help legislators secure more funding for roads and bridges in the 2017 legislative session. The Mississippi Economic Council held a press conference in the wake of the death of the internet sales tax bill on Monday. Speaker of the House Philip Gunn had suggested that revenue from that proposed tax be put toward road and bridge infrastructure needs. But the bill was never taken up in committee on the Senate side, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves announced Monday he was letting the bill die. Mississippi Economic Council Interim President Scott Waller displayed responses from 4,800 Mississippians gathered in recent days urging lawmakers to develop a plan to fix the state's roads and bridges.
Transportation advocates say they are not going away
The Mississippi Economic Council, and multiple other groups supporting more state spending on transportation needs, held a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon to say they are not going away. The news conference comes one day after the Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, killed legislation designed to try to force internet retailers to collect and remit to the state a 7 percent tax on items they sell to Mississippians. It was estimated the tax would have generated between $75 million and $125 million for what MEC and others say is a badly deteriorating state transportation system. Reeves and the Senate leadership said the bill violates a U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying states could not force companies with no "brick and mortar" presence in their state to collect the tax.
Legislator: No memorial signs for dilapidated highways
A Mississippi state representative tabled bills by senators to name highways after their constituents after the Senate killed a bill that would have provided funds for road repair. The move by Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, came as the Mississippi Economic Council, the state's chamber of commerce, called Wednesday for immediate action on road funding. Busby is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "It was to bring some attention to the fact that we are not maintaining our roads as we should be. I don't know what it's going to take to get people's attention," Busby said. He added, "I don't know that we're honoring anybody if we put a sign for them beside a highway that we're not going to maintain."
Special funds sweep patch passes House
The House of Representatives passed a Senate bill on Wednesday designed to resolve problems arising from legislation passed last year that swept millions in special funds into the state's general fund. Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, presented Senate Bill 2625 and said it would fix some of the unintended consequences of the sweeps law. After debate, the bill passed on a 84-33 vote. The bill adjusts language to free up around $9 million in funds that cannot be spent as a result of rulings by Attorney General Jim Hood's office. The 2016 law, often referred to as the "sweeps law," immediately pulled $187 million of fees and assessments from some agencies' special funds into the general fund. The law also eliminated inter-agency transfers, such as one agency charging another for rent or technological support.
Mississippi Public Broadcasting Bridges Education As Cuts Loom
Ronnie Agnew watched PBS shows like "Sesame Street" when he was growing up in Saltillo in rural Mississippi. Now the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Agnew tells the story of a friend who lived to be 103 years old, illiterate most of his long life until he discovered public broadcasting. "At 99 years old, he learned to read and write for the first time by watching Sesame Street -- his eyes were so bright when he learned how to sign his name (on his check)," Agnew said. Some public television and radio shows are running shorter seasons this year due to mid-year budget cuts, but little seems to faze Agnew. He and his team at MPB braced for funding shortages long before the latest influx of budget cuts to state agencies, he said in an interview last week. MPB has diverse functions, including radio, TV, education and outreach. But providing educational programming, Agnew said, especially to help with early education, is a particularly important focus.
Trump budget hits Coast Guard ship, project of GOP senator Thad Cochran
President Donald Trump's budget would eliminate a $600 million-plus state-of-the-art Coast Guard cutter that's a priority of the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The proposal by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is included in draft documents of the White House budget request. The documents, obtained by The Associated Press, ask the Department of Homeland Security to cancel its contract with Ingalls Shipbuilding, which is to construct the national security cutter at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The move is a direct slap at Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran. "There are responsible ways to reduce spending," said Cochran spokesman Stephen Worley. "Weakening our nation's first line of defense against drug cartels and human trafficking isn't one of them."
Trump shows happiness by going quiet
For a White House that often packs six days of headlines into six hours, Wednesday was eerily quiet. President Donald Trump, who often tweets before dawn and after dusk, while cramming in TV appearances and multiple meetings, seemed fine with it. Like the speech Trump gave Tuesday night, Wednesday seemed relatively normal for a White House often enmeshed in controversy. And because the speech was generating such positive press, the White House made a deliberate shift in strategy to keep a low profile -- an attempt, after weeks of attacks and heated rhetoric, to avoid even a minor controversy. Austin Barbour, a veteran GOP consultant based in Mississippi, said the administration is smart to shift strategies given its early struggles and the success of the joint address Tuesday night. "They've had a positive news cycle here and there, like when they made their Supreme Court announcement and some other Cabinet announcements, but they've definitely been feeling their way through the process thus far and that's been obvious," Barbour said.
Jeff Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose
Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump's campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions's confirmation hearing to become attorney general. One of the meetings was a private conversation between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that took place in September in the senator's office, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race. The previously undisclosed discussions could fuel new congressional calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia's alleged role in the 2016 presidential election.
Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking
In the Obama administration's last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election -- and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians -- across the government. Former American officials say they had two aims: to ensure that such meddling isn't duplicated in future American or European elections, and to leave a clear trail of intelligence for government investigators. American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials -- and others close to Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin -- and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence.
U. of Mississippi working to reestablish free HIV testing for students, expand resources
The Center for Disease Control reports that people living in Southern U.S. account for nearly half of all people living with an HIV diagnosis in the country, at 44 percent. As a state, Mississippi is ranked ninth in the nation for the lifetime risk of HIV diagnosis, with 20.6 people diagnosed per 100,000 residents. Lafayette County reported seven cases of HIV in 2015. To combat the virus on campus, the Ole Miss Health Center conducts HIV testing in house. Dr. Travis Yates, director of the health center, said the center conducts these tests every day. "We have some students who come specifically for HIV testing, and some come frequently for STD testing," Yates said. "We will often include HIV in that if they elect to have that done." At Ole Miss, students have to pay for the HIV test if they want to have it done on campus, but Yates said he is trying to get free HIV testing reestablished for students.
Are you a USM student or alumnus? Do you need a job?
Students and alumni of the University of Southern Mississippi are invited to attend Careers on the Coast, a networking and job fair Tuesday at the University's Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. Hosted by Career Services, the job fair will be from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the third floor of the Gulf Coast Library. Current and past students can network with more than 45 professionals and prospective employers from industries representative of the university's six colleges. Business attire is required and Jona Burton, assistant director of career services on the Gulf Park campus, said students will get practice giving their "60-second elevator pitch" while speaking with employers. Burton said these introductions will help students establish initial relationships and navigate a room full of professionals.
Southern Miss Faculty Participating in Development Institute
Piggybacking on the success of the inaugural Association of College and University Educators Faculty Development Institute last fall, The University of Southern Mississippi has launched a two-pronged approach for the Spring 2017 semester. One program represents a repeat of Active Learning with a new group of 13 faculty members. The other component -- Assessment of Teaching and Learning -- includes 22 of the 29 instructors who successfully completed the Fall 2016 series. Four of the participants -- two from each group -- are instructors from the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, while the remaining participants teach on the Hattiesburg campus. Bonnie Cooper, Assistant to the Provost for Faculty Development, notes that the ACUE courses provide Southern Miss faculty with techniques to analyze, explore, and reflect on their teaching practices.
Asbury Foundation pledges $2 million to William Carey University
William Carey University officials say they are thankful to receive a pledge of $2 million from the Asbury Foundation to be used for tornado recovery. "The Asbury Foundation has been a good friend to the counties in its service area and especially to William Carey University," President Tommy King said in a written statement. "When an opportunity to support the university and at the same time, support the community arises, Asbury is always willing to assist. Carey is indeed grateful for this generous gift." The Jan. 21 tornado destroyed several buildings on Carey's campus and damaged many more. Recovery is underway, and students returned to campus last month. King had said the university would not apply for federal funds for rebuilding because of the delays in getting the money and the restrictions that might be put on a religious institution like Carey if it used federal dollars.
Spring Breakers could be coming to the Coast earlier than anticipated
Could Spring Breakers be coming to the Mississippi Gulf Coast earlier than expected this year? Perhaps. The promoters behind Biloxi Black Beach Weekend and Gulf Coast Spring Break have been promoting April 7-9, 2017 as the date for the annual party. But a new promoter, Hot Spot Entertainment, is inviting college Spring Breakers to visit Gulfport starting as early as this weekend, March 4. Event coordinator Jeremy J. Ford is promoting "Day Parties" at Club 34 from March 4 through April 1. The website is also promising a designated area by Jones Park for visitors to gather for free. Ford believes Gulfport could be a popular alternative for Spring Breakers, especially after destinations like Daytona Beach and Panama City Beach decided to close their beaches to college students for the month of March.
Lawmakers move to start 'intellectual diversity' office at U. of Tennessee
A year after the General Assembly de-funded the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee's flagship campus in Knoxville, a panel of state lawmakers voted Wednesday to create an "intellectual diversity" office there. Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, recommended the office while the Senate Education Committee was reviewing the UT budget as proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam. Hensley proposed an amendment that would set aside $450,000 from the budget to fund the office on the Knoxville campus, a move some senators suggested would encourage more people with conservative views to speak their minds. UT President Joe DiPietro, who had been fielding questions from the committee for more than an hour, seemed blindsided. But he urged the lawmakers to give university leaders a chance to consider other options. "I have not seen your amendment. You've caught me flat-footed," DiPietro told the lawmakers. "It's not a good thing for you or for us to be in these circumstances with these kinds of amendments."
Speakers discuss WWI legacy at conference held at Texas A&M
A diverse set of speakers took the stage in the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on Wednesday for the first day of the "1917: A Global Turning Point in History and Memory" conference at Texas A&M University. The two-day conference, which is being hosted by the Scowcroft Institute for International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research and the France/TAMU Institute, opened with six scholars presenting on a variety of topics, ranging from the war's effects on the suffrage movement to the much-needed morale boost allied forces received when the United States entered the war. Opening the conference, Director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs Andrew Natsios said the timing is appropriate not only because April 6 will mark the 100th anniversary of the United States joining the first World War, but also because many of the international questions and conflicts today either show similarity or grew out of that time period.
New U. of Missouri System president addresses legislative rally
Facing state budget cuts for the second straight fiscal year, the University of Missouri System will seek to grow revenue via philanthropy, corporate partnerships and an increase in tuition, President Mun Choi said Tuesday at the state Capitol, the day before he took office. System officials also will do the best they can to persuade the General Assembly to restore as much of the $40.4 million in UM funding Gov. Eric Greitens recommended be slashed as possible. The fiscal year begins July 1. Greitens also restricted $31.4 million from the current year budget for the system. "We are going to make the best case that we can, and always in a respectful way, why it is important to make investments in higher education, because it is about making an investment for the future of Missouri," Choi said after a brief Capitol rally for UM.
Racial gap among senior administrators widens
Look only at the trend line showing the slowly climbing percentage of higher education administrative positions held by minority leaders, and it appears colleges and universities are inching toward a day when their leaders reflect the diversity of their student bodies. But add a few other pieces of data, and a very different picture takes shape. Look at the much faster growth in the proportion of minority college graduates and the growth in the U.S. minority population. It becomes clear that a substantial representation gap exists between the percentage of minority administrators and the makeup of the country. Further, the ethnic and racial makeup of administrators isn't changing fast enough to keep up with broader demographic shifts -- the line showing the percentage of minority higher education leaders is not growing closer to lines that show the country's minority population or the percentage of minority college graduates.
Replicating Tennessee's approach to free community college takes money and more
While many states and cities are still working through the details and funding behind their attempts to create a free community college program, Tennessee has been busy expanding its scholarship. The state was the first to create a free community college program. Now in its second year, the Tennessee Promise has led to student retention gains even as the number of participating students increases. That success was highlighted recently by the state's move to expand the Promise to include all adult residents through Tennessee Reconnect -- which already allowed adult residents to earn a certificate for free at any Tennessee college of applied technology. But, as some states and cities are learning, replicating an initiative like the Tennessee Promise isn't an exact science. And there are a few common barriers many programs have faced, including finances and politics.

Spring begins with big questions for Bulldogs
Mississippi State opens spring practice this afternoon and although the first two practices will be closed to the public and media, here are five questions that need to be answered between now and the Bulldogs' spring game on April 8.
Mississippi State's Cory Thomas turns the page to spring
Cory Thomas' role has grown every year he has been at Mississippi State. Following a redshirt year, Thomas played in eight games in 2015 and saw that expand into all 13 games this past fall including four starts. "Things have increased a lot with the experience I've gotten," Thomas said. "It's all about knowing what to do in different situations. Last year when I was a redshirt freshman, I really didn't know all the blocking schemes and how to play them. Getting all those reps helped me recognize how to play those blocks differently."
Gulfport's Melvin Barkum paved the way for black players at Mississippi State
Melvin Barkum is more than just another name on a list of men who played quarterback at Mississippi State. In 1972, the Gulfport native became the first black quarterback to start a game for the school and the second to start in the Southeastern Conference. The first black quarterback to start a game in the SEC was Tennessee's Condredge Holloway, also in 1972. Barkum, who lived in Long Beach, died Monday at 63 from complications of diabetes. Barkum was one of the best athletes to ever compete at Gulfport High School and a groundbreaking football player at MSU, but those who knew him on a personal level will simply remember him for his good nature.
Vic Schaefer's folder emphasizes his preparation
At his desk inside his office at Humphrey Coliseum, Vic Schaefer extends his arm to hand over one of his thick, olive-colored folders that he often takes with him wherever he goes -- from media sessions to practices. Inside the folder, there are a few tablets of information along with dozens of pages of words and plays, boxes and circles. The tab on this particular folder's back cover says, "Kentucky." The Mississippi State women's basketball coach then pauses before he relinquishes the folder. "You're not friends with (Kentucky coach) Matthew Mitchell or anything like that, are you?" Schaefer asked. After Schafer is reassured by a promise that Miller -- or anyone else, for that matter -- won't be told exactly what the pages say or which specific plays are drawn up, he lets go.
Bulldogs preview SEC Tournament
Video: Mississippi State will be the No. 2 seed in this week's SEC Tournament in Greenville, South Carolina and receive a double-bye. Head coach Vic Schaefer along with guard Victoria Vivians and center Teaira McCowan comment on the way the regular season ended, the All-SEC team and their goals for the postseason.
Bulldogs hoping for more of E.J. Datcher next season
E.J. Datcher was one of the top 2016 prospects in the state of Alabama, receiving loads of offers and interest from college programs across the country. But that all changed midway through his junior season at Vincent High School when the 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward injured his right patella tendon and meniscus and required surgery. "It slacked off a lot," Datcher said of his recruitment. "I had a lot of schools and when they all heard I got hurt, there were only seven or eight that were still interested. Things started to pick back up when I started getting double-doubles again as a senior." One of the schools that stayed steady in their pursuit of the three-star prospect was Mississippi State. That persistence paid off as he chose the Bulldogs over finalists Alabama and South Alabama.
Greg Byrne begins job as Alabama AD
Greg Byrne started as the University of Alabama's new director of athletics on Wednesday. Byrne was hired in mid-January to replace Bill Battle, who served for four years. "I have a great legacy to uphold as I follow in the footsteps of two consummate gentlemen who cultivated a standard of excellence while conducting themselves with unsurpassed dignity, Mal Moore and Bill Battle," Byrne said in a statement released on his Twitter account. Byrne, 45, is an Arizona State graduate who served as vice president for athletics at Arizona since 2010. He previously served as athletics director at Mississippi State and was in athletic administration at Kentucky before that.
UGA says it will address fan concerns about Sanford Stadium game day experience
Greg McGarity wants to convey this to Georgia fans: Yes, he cares about the fan experience at football games. And yes, something is being done about it. A couple weeks ago, UGA announced a $63 million project to help the team's gameday and recruiting experience, by building new locker rooms and a recruiting area. But the reaction from many fans was essentially: Great, but what about us? The state of the bathrooms has been criticized, as well as long concession lines and other areas of complaint. McGarity, whose initial response when that was brought up two weeks ago didn't please some fans, made clear Thursday that he hears them. "It's important to us," he said. "We've made strides. Have we made enough strides, no. Is it important to us, yes. And I think the message that we'd like to convey is that it's a huge deal for us."
Tennessee spring coaches eager to work with new AD John Currie
Alison Ojeda was nearly hired by her new boss even before returning to the University of Tennessee. Before she was promoted in November and named women's tennis coach at UT, Ojeda was the associate coach at Baylor when John Currie tried to lure Ojeda to Kansas State to take over the program. Currie was named the new athletic director at Tennessee on Tuesday and will be introduced publicly on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. ET at Thompson-Boling Arena. Ojeda and Currie's time at UT overlapped when Ojeda was an All-American from 1998-2002 and Currie was working within the UT athletic administration. But the two didn't get to know each other until Currie pursued Ojeda for the Kansas State job. "He and his staff were honestly the only reason I even considered it. They did an unbelievable job recruiting me to go there," Ojeda said on Wednesday at the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio.

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