BOBBY HARRISON: New ‘governor’ slows down pace in House, Senate

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

The great untold story of the 2012 legislative session is the governor the new Republican majority has placed on itself.
When I say governor I am not referring to Phil Bryant or even former Gov. Haley Barbour. I am referring to that mechanical device that can automatically control the speed of an engine or motor.
Now, true, the Legislature is not a motor, but still its speed has been controlled to a surprising extent.
At least its speed in passing the priorities of the Republican majority has been tapped down.
Republicans, of course, are controlling both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office (not a mechanical device) for the first time since the 1800s.
Most, including your humble scribe, believed the new Republican majority would make quick work of passing all those items that were passed in recent years by a Republican-dominated Senate, but died in a Democratic-controlled House.
That has occurred in some instances, but in many or even more instances that governor (not Bryant) has come into play.
Just last week, House Appropriations Chairman Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, was asked if he wanted to take up a bill that would die at the end of the day if he did not take it up.
The affable Frierson, from his seat in the back northern corner of the chamber, simply waved his hands as if to go on to the next item.
The bill Frierson was letting die on the calendar by not taking it up dealt with removing state employees from under the authority of the Personnel Board – or in more simple terms removing civil service protection.
After Frierson passed, he walked up to the speaker’s podium where he had what appeared to be a pleasant conversation with Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian.
I am no lip reader, but I am sure they were asking Frierson if he was sure he wanted to let the bill die since it was a priority for the Republican leadership. Former Gov. Barbour and the Senate had tried for years to eliminate civil service protection for a period, but it had been blocked by the Democratic-controlled House.
Now, with Republicans in control of the House, the issue was going to die in that chamber again?
Frierson said essentially it was because he was 18 votes short of passage.
Changes to require local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law met the same fate. And currently charter school legislation, which looked like a slam dunk before the session began, is hanging on by a thread.
Even legislation that is alive, such as trying to limit the attorney general’s authority to hire outside legal counsel, has been watered-down significantly from the versions passed in earlier sessions by the Senate when it was a given that the former House Democratic leadership would kill it.
It is notable that it is not one particular chamber that has the governor – and I don’t mean Phil Bryant.
The Senate put the brakes on immigration legislation. But it is the House that is threatening to kill charter school legislation for the session.
Some have expressed frustration that the new Republican majority has not come into power and passed all of those measures and others.
For better or worse, on many issues the Republicans have recognized that there is no one behind them.
They have acted on legislation differently than when there was a Democratic-controlled chamber that they had as a stopgap. They are their own governor.
And I don’t mean Phil Bryant.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau reporter in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.