By Data Stream
Lloyd Gray 3/15/12
Bill would remove civil service rules for 2 years
By JEFF AMY
JACKSON – Thousands of Mississippi state employees would lose civil service protections for two years, meaning they could be fired more easily than they can now, under a bill passed Thursday by the Senate.
The measure, approved 29-19, removes protections currently enforced by the state Personnel Board.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov Tate Reeves, both Republicans, are pushing the measure, saying it will make it easier for agencies to slim down.
“This just gives more flexibility to agency heads to properly and appropriately manage their agencies,” Reeves said after the Senate vote.
Reeves says he’d like to go further and consider permanent abolishment of civil service protections, saying “I think that’s something we’d look at.”
Opponents say the bill would allow agency heads to fire employees because they don’t like them or because they are political foes. They also note that agencies have laid off more than 500 employees through the existing state layoff process since 2010.
As of Jan. 31, 25,000 state employees had civil service protections, while 6,300 did not. Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said the exemption means “all 25,000 people can be fired for no reason at all and you have no recourse.”
Brenda Scott, president of the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees said at a Wednesday news conference that an exemption will create “a workforce in which favoritism and political cronies run wild,” while dissenting workers are intimidated.
If agency heads want to fire a state employee now, they must go through a process that gives the worker a chance to appeal. Agencies can also lay off groups of employees for monetary reasons, but must respect seniority and job classifications.
Supporters of the current system say it’s working, noting that the Personnel Board has approved eight separate requests involving a total of more than 500 employees since 2010, acting each time in 12 days or less.
“Every single request that an agency made was granted,” Blount said.
But Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Brown, R-Columbus, argued that the current layoff process “is very, very cumbersome, trying to get through the red tape.”
“If you turn them loose, I believe they can streamline those agencies,” Brown said.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, replied that if the rules were too tough, a Personnel Board stocked with Haley Barbour appointees should change them.
“If there all these horrible rules of the Personnel Board that makes it impossible for people to manage their agencies, why doesn’t the Personnel Board change the rules?” Bryan asked.
Supporters deny that political or personal considerations will govern hiring and firing.
“I think the voters of Mississippi have elected people to office who are not going to make hiring decisions based on the spoils system,” Reeves said.
Senators have passed such bills previously, but they always failed in a Democratic-controlled House. Republicans, though, took control of the House in January. A House proposal, which had not advanced to the Senate as of Thursday afternoon, would give only a one-year window.