DHS restructuring bill moves in House

DHS restructuring bill moves forward in Mississippi House

By EMILY WAGSTER

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) A bill to restructure Mississippi’s welfare agency has cleared one House committee and is headed to another.

The measure would change the way a governor chooses a Department of Human Services executive director. Instead of tapping any person to fill the job and winning Senate approval for the nominee, the governor would have to choose among three finalists recommended by a board. The nominee still would need Senate confirmation.

The bill also would establish a board of directors to whom the executive director would be accountable. It cleared the House Public Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday and is headed to House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

Rep. Bobby Moody, chairman of Public Health and Welfare, said the bill is intended to provide stability in one of Mississippi’s largest state agencies.

“When we look at an agency that has had six executive directors since 1991 I’m not throwing innuendoes at anybody that is a big part of the problem we have had,” Moody, D-Louisville, said Tuesday.

The changes would take effect in January 2004, at the beginning of the next gubernatorial term. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who’s expected to seek a second term, opposes the plan because it would limit executive branch power.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, said if stability is the goal, the changes should be made now. She asked Moody why he wasn’t proposing an immediate change.

After struggling a few seconds to choose his words, Moody said: “It would get the bill vetoed that’s what it would do today.”

The changes are being proposed months after the current DHS executive director, Janice Broome Brooks, angered some lawmakers by firing 20 mid- and upper-level managers, including some who helped legislators with constituent services.

Several high ranking lawmakers, including Moody, conducted hearings in the summer to grill Brooks about how and why people were fired.

Moody says the restructuring bill has nothing to do with those firings. Scott was skeptical.

“We all know what has taken place,” Scott said. “We all know there were hearings. We all know that there were ugly things that happened.”

Brooks, who sat quietly during Tuesday’s committee meeting, wouldn’t respond to reporters’ questions about how the director’s job would be affected by creation of a DHS board of directors. Instead, she said the agency is fulfilling its duties to serve families, children and older citizens.

“We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished in the Mississippi Department of Human Services,” Brooks said.

The bill is House Bill 400.