House alters committee seniority requirements

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – House Republican leaders altered but did not eliminate the rule that ties membership on one of the two money committees – Appropriations and Ways and Means – to length of service.
The rule was changed Wednesday with Democrats, in a minority for the first time since the 1800s, putting up only minimal opposition. The change paves the way for newly elected House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, to make committee assignments, probably no earlier than next week.
Gunn said with the extra days allocated in the first session of a four-year term, “We have plenty of time. I want to take my time and do it right.”
If the seniority rule had not been changed, Gunn said the Democratic minority would have had a majority on the House’s two most important committees. The seniority rule was put in place in 1988 as part of an effort to limit the House speaker’s powers.
Under the old rule, the 12 most senior members from each of the five congressional districts as drawn in 1990 had a seat on one of the two committees and the speaker had three at-large appointments to each.
The new rules gives the 12 senior members from each of the current four congressional districts a seat on one of the two committees. The speaker has nine at-large appointments to each committee.
Gunn said if he names all Republicans with his at-large selections, they would have a three-vote majority on each committee.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, a key member of the Appropriations Committee under the previous Democratic leadership, tried to amend the proposal to expand the committees to protect senior Democrats while still giving Republicans a majority. But that proposal was defeated 75-43 with many Democrats voting with the Republican leadership.
Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said, “It would not be fair to them to think they won the election yet they did not have a majority on the two key committees.”
Gunn said, “Candidly, we could have done anything we wanted,” but Republican leaders recognized the importance of keeping a seniority rule for the money committees.
In the past administration, Republicans complained bitterly when Democrats changed the rule to require a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority to pull a bill out of committee and have it considered by the full chamber. But after gaining power, the Republicans opted to keep the super majority rule in place.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com