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Push to establish new court system in...

Push to establish new court system in Mississippi Capitol district sparks hours-long debate

By: Sarah Ulmer - February 8, 2023

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Claims of disenfranchisement and racism filled the House chamber before the measure passed along party lines.

The Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) is one step closer to seeing the establishment of its own inferior courts in Mississippi’s capital city.

The bill establishing the district sparked major debate among House members in the metro area. Claims of disenfranchisement for the City of Jackson to motives tied up in a “land grab” to accusations of racist intent by those who support a CCID court system were all voiced in a floor debate that lasted over 5 hours on Tuesday.

HB 1020 ultimately passed the House chamber by a vote of 76-37. The bill provides for the creation of a separate court system for a district that lies within Hinds County known as the CCID.

Under the bill, two inferior courts would be established in which two judges would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Those judges would serve a 4-year term. The bill also calls for the Attorney General’s office to appoint four District Attorney’s and four defenders from the office of State Defender.

Some changes to the original legislation were made prior the bill’s passage. Those changes include:

  • The CCID court system would not have exclusive authority over lawsuits brought against the state.
  • The CCID boundaries were changed to expand the areas from the north curb line of County Line Road, then continued west until it reaches the west curb of North State Street.

One amendment put forward by State Representative Trey Lamar (R) addressed a sales tax appropriation from the area. The provision would allow for 12 percent of the total sales tax revenue collected in 2023, prior to August, from businesses within the corporate limits of Jackson to be deposited into the CCID Project Fund, which is also created in the bill.

A major point of contention among those opposed to the bill was the fact that the judges for the district would be appointed and not elected by the residents of the area.

Rep. Otis Anthony (D) argued that this bill would rob citizens of their fundamental right to elect representation.

“Some of the core principals of conservatism is individual freedom. Those who say they are conservatives they want limited government, the rule of law, fiscal responsibility, human dignity,” said Anthony.

Many from the Hinds County delegation pointed to backlogs at the Mississippi State Crime Lab as a reason for the issues in the Hinds County Court system. Last spring it was reported that the crime lab had a backlog of roughly 1,300 autopsy reports, with some over 11 years old. The backlog is reportedly due to several issues, including trouble in staffing of pathologists. In recent months, the crime lab has been approved to contract with out-of-state individuals to help clear the logs.

Representative Chris Bell (D) said he, nor any of the Hinds County delegation in the House or Senate were made aware of this bill prior to it being filed.

“You cannot come into a community and try to change it without having input from the community,” Bell said. “Since I’ve been here, it’s been an issue with not understanding the values we have in the City of Jackson. We are not incompetent, our judges are not incompetent, our mayor’s not incompetent.” 

Rep. Ronnie Crudup (D) said the CCID lines will only protect the rights of some Jackson residents, which happen to be the most affluent areas of the city. He questioned that if passed, what happens to the rest of Jackson’s residents that are not within that new CCID area.

Several legislators, including Rep. Solomon Osborne (D), alleged there were racist motives for the legislation, which sections out parts of Jackson where the majority of the cities’ white population resides. 

Rep. Lamar, the author of the bill and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, maintained that the reason for the legislation was to aid in stopping crime rates from continuing upward in Jackson by providing another system by which to prosecute offenders.

According to Lamar, data from December 2021 showed that Jackson’s homicide rate was 97.6 murders per 100,000 residents. This rate is 15-times higher than the rest of the nation.

Rep. Robert Johnson (D), the House Minority Leader, said this legislation does not represent working together across the aisle between Democrats and Republicans. While Johnson spoke highly of Chairman Lamar, he said the version before the body is better than it was, but it is still a bad bill.

“I know the attitude about Jackson. I witnessed when the attitude started to change,” said Johnson. “When I say that in 1997 and Jackson got a black mayor and what he needed to have done, and they looked at him as if he was a ghost. And these were white Democrats that looked at him like he was nothing.”

While he did speak well of the Chairman in a working relationship, Johnson said he believes the intent of the bill is that those behind it do not have confidence in the elected officials of Hinds County nor do they trust those local officials to handle their own issues.

Rep. Lamar said this effort falls in line with the most recent expansion of the CCID and increased jurisdiction of the Capitol Police within that area. Capitol Police has increased up to 112 officers in recent years.

However, many of the Democratic House members continued to question those intentions, namely how this legislation would actually play out for the City of Jackson as Mayor Chokwe Lumumba looked on from the House gallery.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, center, sits with staff as he watches lawmakers debate House Bill 1020, which would create a separate court system in the Capitol Complex Improvement District, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis – Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“HB 1020 has been brought forward under the false pretense of making Jackson a safer place. The real reason is for power and control,” said Rep. John Faulkner (D).

Rep. John Hines (D) said this bill is just a way for some lawmakers to say they “made Jackson safer,” without any real change. He added if that were the true intent of the bill there are many other ways to improve the quality of life for Jackson residents including mental health resources, money for healthcare like a burn center, and proper neonatal care within hospitals.

“Let’s stop piggy backing off of someone else’s agenda that doesn’t really improve the quality of life for us,” said Hines. “The future of this state depends on us being better than what we’ve been doing.”

Rep. Hines said he was voting against the bill because he believes the money that will be put in the CCID fund could be better used in the healthcare arena.

In closing remarks after the hours of debate, Rep. Lamar said he wasn’t quite sure where to start the discussion, after so much has been said on the legislation.

“I’m not going to holler and scream and put on a show. Every one of you at one point or another have come to me as I’ve served as Chair of Ways and Means and asked me something and I don’t know one person that’s every accused me of not sitting down and listening,” said Lamar. “This is an idea, this is something that I believe will help with the crime situation, and the backlog in the Hinds judiciary. It’s not a perfect measure, but guess what, nothing we ever do in this body is perfect. We are doing the best we can.”

Lamar closed by giving his word that if the bill can be improved, he will work to do so, asking members to vote to pass the bill.

The measure passed and now heads to the Mississippi Senate for consideration.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: