By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
The Mississippi Legislature just passed a key deadline in the 2012 session. Daily Journal Capitol reporter Bobby Harrison answers three questions about the legislative process.
Q. Can you update us on what has occurred, especially this past week?
A. The session is broken down by specific deadlines, based at least in part on deadlines written into the state Constitution, such as the mandate that appropriations and revenue bills cannot be passed during the last five days of the session. This past week the House and Senate worked to meet a Thursday deadline to take up bills passed out of committee in their own chamber.
Q. So if a bill was not passed by Thursday it is dead for the session?
A. If it was not taken up by Thursday, it “died on the calendar.” About 50 bills died on the House calendar Thursday, but with the legislative process, nothing is quite that simple. In some instances, a committee chairman opted to just let the bill die. In other instances though, a chairman might have decided not to bring the bill up because similar legislation already had passed the other chamber.
The charter school legislation is an example of that. It was not brought up in the House, but the Senate already passed a charter school bill that now goes to the House. The House can insert its views on charter schools into that legislation and send it back to the Senate. The Senate can then concur in the House changes or invite negotiations to work out the differences.
In some instances, both chambers have passed bills dealing with the same issue. Legislation allowing beer to be sold with an alcohol content of 8 percent is an example. At some point, the two chambers must come to agreement not only on what precise language to pass, but also on whether to send to the governor the House or Senate bill.
Q. What’s next?
A. There is still a lot to do before the scheduled May 6 adjournment. In the coming days, each chamber will be in committees a great deal to consider the bills passed by the other house. Then those bills that come out of committee will be considered by the full chamber. After that, each chamber must decide whether to concur in changes made in legislation and send it to the governor for him to sign into law. Or the Legislature might opt to go to conference on the legislation where key leaders try to work out the differences.
Plus in the coming days, each chamber will take up revenue and appropriations bills. That process is essentially the same, but the deadlines are different. And by a two-thirds vote the Legislature can do just about anything, such as reviving a dead bill or extending the session. In short, everything is fluid in the legislative process.