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Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

December 24, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Dec. 21

The Greenwood Commonwealth on long wait time for driver licenses:

Anyone who believes that renewing a driver’s license in Mississippi is more difficult than it used to be has evidence now to support that opinion.

A report issued this past week by the Legislature’s watchdog agency, known as PEER, said the average customer’s waiting time at an office to get a driver’s license or state ID card has tripled in the past two years.

Among the reasons for this:

- 30% of examiner jobs were vacant in June 2019 compared to 20% the year before.

- A new computer system is doing what lots of new systems do: Slowing things down, largely because of difficulty communicating with federal and out-of-state databases

- Increased documentation requirements, mostly set by the federal government.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to fix these problems and make a visit to the driver’s license office nothing more than a routine task.

For starters, the Department of Public Safety could fill all the examiner’s jobs, and any other openings at these offices. That would be the single best way to improve service.

Most likely, the agency cut back on staff as part of the Legislature’s austerity program of recent years. The problems cited by PEER are an excellent example of how easily too much austerity can become a hindrance.

PEER said the state has started hiring. It’s also working to improve the renewal process at mobile kiosks, which are in some locations around the state. The best news is that DPS is setting up a procedure in six locations where people can make an appointment for license renewals. If that works on a wide scale, it ought to decrease wait times tremendously.

Other ideas in the PEER report come from a simple review of what neighboring states do.

Tennessee is working with counties to provide driver’s license services. Louisiana trains and

certifies private driving schools to administer road skills tests. And in what sounds like an efficient use of state resources, Alabama and Arkansas license staffs work with other state agencies to provide multiple services.

If there’s one disappointing element of the PEER report, it’s that Mississippi only has driver’s license offices in about half of its counties — 43 of 82. Surely the state can do better.

Maybe in the least populated counties, there’s no need for a driver’s license office that’s open every day. But this is the perfect scenario to operate part time with another state agency, or in a county courthouse, or at a sheriff’s department.

PEER said the Department of Public Safety should consider a home-based or school-based online testing program for teenage drivers, and accept confirmation from certified school-based instructors that a young driver is ready for the road. Some other states don’t require that a government employee administer the driving test, and they seem to have as competent drivers as Mississippi.

One idea the PEER report did not weigh in on is incoming Secretary of State Michael Watson’s desire to take over the responsibility of issuing driver’s licenses. If PEER is saying to fix the bureaucracy that doesn’t currently work well rather than creating a totally new one, we’d agree.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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Dec. 20

The Vicksburg Post on building pumps in backwater areas to reduce flooding:

With any life experience, any lesson learned, you want to know that the effort, the pain or the toil was worth it in the end.

You want to know if you are going through difficult times there is something better on the other end.

As the cliche goes, you want to be able to not only know there is light at the end of the tunnel, but you want to be able to see it.

Such is the case for those who live in the Yazoo Backwater Area, and other areas flooded this year, who are continuing to struggle through the recovery process of rebuilding their lives, their businesses and their homes.

For them, looking back accomplishes nothing. They cannot stop the water from rushing in. They cannot stop the rain from falling. All they are capable of doing is the next thing; the next thing on the checklist to returning their lives to some sense of normalcy.

It is difficult cleaning out. It is difficult throwing away. It is difficult to wade through state and federal bureaucracies. It is difficult going back and forth with insurance companies and adjusters.

It is worth it? Was their tragedy worth it?

Their toil will only be worth it if it does not happen again; if the lessons of the man-made disaster of the 2019 Yazoo Backwater Area Flood are learned from.

By man-made, we are referring to the often discussed, long-planned, never completed and embargoed plans for pumps in the backwater area. Pumps that were originally planned in the 1940s would have curtailed much of the damage caused in this year’s floods, but thanks to governmental inaction, protests and vetos, the plan has never been fully completed.

This flood is a result of that inaction. Yes, the flood would still have happened; there’s no changing Mother Nature’s mind when she gets going, but we should have been better prepared, better protected.

The only way to make up for such inaction is to make sure action is now taken.

Thursday (Dec. 18), the U.S. Senate passed a federal spending bill that includes $375 million for a number of projects in the Mississippi River and Tributaries system for flood control, including the Yazoo Backwater Area Pump Project.

That is a positive step on a long road to getting these pumps funded, approved and installed, and is welcome news for those recovering.

Those who choose to live on the water make a choice to deal with those threats caused by water, what they do not choose is to face those threats alone. Their recovery is being supported by the community and through organizations.

Their recovery must also be supported by knowing that this too shall end and that changes are coming to make sure such a tragedy does not happen again.

Online: https://www.vicksburgpost.com/

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Dec. 13

The Dispatch on food trucks and restaurants living in harmony:

When new products and services enter the market, it often takes a while for necessary rules and regulations to be crafted.

Recently, we’ve seen an example in Columbus on the subject of food trucks when a local restaurant owner complained on social media about a food truck that had opened shop near his restaurant.

While the food truck business has been booming across the country for more than a decade, the trend is only now arriving in the Golden Triangle.

Columbus has just one licensed food truck vendor. Starkville has several.

In both cities, food truck operators must obtain licenses from the city. In both cities, food trucks can operate on public property only by the city’s permission. In Starkville, food truck operators can only operate on public property for a 24-hour period, which ensures these mobile eateries do no become de facto permanent restaurants operating on public land.

As was the case with the Columbus restaurant, the potential for conflict between traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks is to be expected, something that represents a challenge for city officials.

We do not expect, nor do we desire, that city governments take sides in these conflicts. Both types of businesses should be permitted to succeed or fail on their own merits. Competition is healthy, providing residents with more options.

At the same time, regulations must protect the interests of both groups. Brick-and-mortar restaurants, obviously, are confined to the space they occupy and come with much more overhead. Food trucks, obviously, are mobile and have the advantage of going where the customers are, rather than the other way around.

This mobility provides convenience to the customer in a way that brick-and-mortar stores may not.

But there is a question of fairness in play here, too. Food truck operators should be respectful of brick-and-mortar restaurants’ space.

It is not a simple matter. Restaurant owners should have no expectation of an exclusive market. A restaurant in a shopping center, for example, cannot prohibit someone from opening a restaurant next door. The same principle applies loosely, at least, to a food truck.

Even so, food trucks should not be allowed to set up shop outside the front door of a restaurant whenever the owner pleases.

The best solutions probably aren’t going to made through government regulations, but by mutual respect between brick-and-mortar and food truck restaurateurs.

For private property, responsibility also lies with property owners/landlords. In the above example, ideally, the owner of the shopping center would allow the food truck only in places that won’t disrupt brick-and-mortar tenants.

In public spaces, regulations should encourage cooperation rather than choose sides.

Since it seems the food truck business will only increase, local governments would be wise to study how other cities have addressed the matter and learn from them.

Online: https://www.cdispatch.com/