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Louisiana to begin I-20 Mississippi River bridge work in January 2020

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Photo by Renelibrary - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76201376

A nearly 50-year-old major interstate crossing over the Mississippi River will soon be receiving a face lift and modern structural improvements, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced Nov. 15.

The project to rehabilitate the two-mile-long Interstate 20 bridge over the Mississippi River is set to begin in the next couple of months.

Built in 1973, the bridge connects Madison Parish, La., to Warren County, Miss., and provides one of the few interstate roadway crossings over the river.

The $27.7 million project will provide a number of significant repairs including the bridge deck, electrical system, and roadway lighting components.

“Ensuring these integral crossings over the Mississippi River are properly maintained and modernized is crucial to growing the state’s economy,” said Louisiana DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson in a statement. “This project will extend the service life of this bridge for decades to come, an example of strategically investing in our existing infrastructure with our available funding and maximizing the use of those dollars.”

The old deck will be resurfaced with new concrete to improve traction and preserve the structural aspects of the bridge flooring. The current electrical circuits will be replaced, in addition to the replacement of nearly 100 roadway lighting fixtures with a modern LED system.

Roadway fiber optics will also be replaced with new cameras and radar, which will integrate the system into Mississippi’s IT network.

Additionally, selected bridge bearings will be adapted to provide the ability to re-position the bridge truss upriver as necessary. The steel structural connections at certain locations on the bridge will be modified to improve resilience against all loads and conditions.

New navigational lighting and aerial beacons will also be installed, along with improvements to the bridge monitoring system and enhancements to the inspection access walkways.

During construction, single-lane closures will be required, though there will be no lane closures conducted in both directions at the same time in order to maintain traffic flow as much as possible.

Work on the project is expected to begin mid-January 2020 and is anticipated to wrap up in early 2021, with progress dependent on weather conditions.

Crime

Vicksburg police make a drug arrest, respond to auto theft and shots fired

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Clarence Lee, 64, arrested for possession of cocaine.

The Vicksburg Police Department has provided the following incident reports for Friday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019.

On Friday, Dec. 6, Vicksburg Police officers arrested Clarence Lee, 64, of Vicksburg, at a traffic stop. He is charged with possession of cocaine and will appear before Judge Angela Carpenter in Vicksburg Municipal Court today, Monday, Dec. 9.

On Saturday, Dec. 7, officers responded to the Circle K convenience store at 4150 Washington St. for a reported auto theft. The complainant said that someone stole his 2017 Dodge Challenger from the gas pump.

Officers also responded to two reports of shots fired. In both cases, officers found no signs of suspicious activity or evidence of shots being fired.

The first call was on Friday, Dec. 6, in the 2700 block of Alcorn Drive, and the second report was on Sunday, Dec 8, in the area of Ivy Circle and Springridge Drive.

 

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Mississippi felony voting-rights lawsuit heard by Court of Appeals in New Orleans

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Photo by Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA - 11.2.2010 291/365, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79215983

Story by Michele Lui. This story was originally published by Mississippi Today.

After Dennis Hopkins lent his name to a lawsuit that could restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Mississippians, the Potts Camp resident hit the road, traveling to Jackson and Montgomery on behalf of the cause he now represents.

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Hopkins found himself in a federal courtroom in New Orleans, seated by his wife and a childhood friend. In front of him, a three-judge panel at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals presided over oral arguments on the suit, which challenges how Mississippi disqualifies people from voting following certain felony convictions.

Hopkins is one of six plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. Following a grand larceny conviction from 1998, Hopkins – now a foster parent, children’s sports coach and municipal employee – cannot cast a ballot in Mississippi.

“It’s not about Dennis Hopkins voting,” Hopkins said. “It’s about the people and the taxpayers of Mississippi voting.”

Mississippi currently bans people who are convicted of a set of disqualifying crimes from voting for the rest of their lives. Those laws, established by the state Constitution of 1890, dictate that suffrage can only be restored by having a legislator-sponsored suffrage bill, which then must be approved by two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, or by a governor’s pardon. As of 2012, the attorney general’s office had identified 22 disenfranchising crimes, including theft, arson, perjury, embezzlement and timber larceny.

Only two other states, Kentucky and Iowa, impose a lifetime ban for people convicted of disenfranchising crimes. One estimate now ranks Mississippi first in the nation for its rate of disenfranchised residents.

Plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center and New York-based firm Simpson Thacher, say people who have completed their sentence should have their suffrage restored automatically. Among their claims, they argue the lifetime voting ban violates the Eighth Amendment, which bars cruel and unusual punishment, and 14th Amendment, which plaintiffs say allows states only to temporarily “abridge” someone’s voting rights following a crime.

But the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment does allow permanent disenfranchisement for a felony, said Krissy Nobile, representing the state in front of a three-judge panel Tuesday. Nobile said that plaintiffs lack “present-day proof of any unconstitutional effects of the law” as well.

The appellate court agreed to hear the case on an expedited basis after both parties appealed a district court ruling, in which judge Daniel P. Jordan III threw out all but one of plaintiffs’ challenges earlier this year.

Nobile argued that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, the only named defendant in the suit, should not have been sued because his office does not have the authority to restore voting rights – the state Legislature does.

If the court were to hold the secretary of state responsible, “no convicted felon will receive a suffrage bill,” Nobile said. “No convicted felon will be re-enfranchised.”

Jonathan Youngwood, an attorney for the plaintiffs, cited a passage rate of individual suffrage bills that is already effectively “zero.” Youngwood noted that in the last 50 years, states have increasingly moved away from lifetime voting bans.

“The notion that losing the right to vote for the majority of your life after you’ve completed otherwise your sentence, what you owe society, can only be called punishment,” Youngwood said.

Judge Edith Jones asked Youngwood a series of questions, including whether plaintiffs were trying to re-enfranchise people convicted of rape and murder, and whether the secretary of state was the correct office sued.

Organizations including the American Probation and Parole Association, the Cato Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi also filed briefs in support of the plaintiffs.

Following oral arguments, Hopkins and his attorneys gathered in Lafayette Square, across the street from the courthouse, joined by other support groups from Louisiana and Mississippi to push for the restoration of voting rights not just in Mississippi, but across the Deep South.

“I am fighting, standing up for the right, for the people in Mississippi just like me that made a mistake in life,” Hopkins said. “(I) corrected my mistake, and now I’m ready to vote and restore my right as a human being, as a man. Because you have to move forward. Because what we’re doing is we’re still holding back to our old ways.”

The appellate court is also set to consider a separate challenge to Mississippi’s lifetime felony voting ban, filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice. In that suit, which also names Hosemann as the defendant, plaintiffs argue that Mississippi’s voter disenfranchisement law was designed to ensnare African Americans, whom the framers of the state Constitution believed were more prone to committing certain kinds of crimes.

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Mississippi seeing a rise in paper ballot systems

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Lafayette County is on its way to becoming the 13th Mississippi county to return to paper ballots for elections.

In 2007, the county moved to using direct-recording electronic machines, reports the Oxford Eagle, which allowed for one-touch voting on digital screens. Last week, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors voted to begin advertising for systems using paper ballots.

DRE machines were touted to save time and money in tallying vote totals; however, issues with those systems, including lack of paper trails and vulnerabilities to hackers, are seeing counties return to paper systems across the country. That’s especially true as DREs reach the end of their usable lives and must be replaced.

The system the Lafayette supervisors is investigating would include ballot scanners and software to initially count votes from scanned ballots. If questions arise, the paper ballots could be hand counted, a feature not available with DREs, some of which do not provide a paper trail of votes at all. The scanners could also provide instant feedback to voters such as alerting them to not having voted in a particular race or having voted more than once in a race.

In 2018, Mississippi was granted $4.5 million in federal funds to harden its election security, funds that counties could have used to upgrade their aging voting systems. It’s unclear how those funds were allocated.

Currently, 12 of Mississippi’s 82 counties have returned to paper ballots in whole or in part. Those counties—which include Hinds, Madison and DeSoto—hold about half the state’s voting population. Data compiled by Ballotpedia.com show that most states used paper ballot systems as of 2018, often in combination with DREs.

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