By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – House Republicans on Monday pushed through a proposal that Democrats say will limit the ability of individual members to influence how money is spent.
The proposal, which passed 72-48 with a handful of Democrats voting with the Republican majority, is part of the joint rules that govern the legislative process.
The only controversial provision would require that if a member of the Legislature tried to amend an appropriations bill to increase funding to a state agency, the member would have to specify from which agency the money was being taken. If the amendment passed, the spending bills from which the money was taken also would be considered amended.
“It makes us responsible,” said Rules Committee chairman Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, during the two-hour debate on the proposal. “You can’t come down here with an amendment saying to spend $300 million more on education without saying where it is coming from.”
Formby said the proposal had been used for years in the Appropriations Committee and was instituted by former Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. It was known as the McCoy rule, Formby said.
The difference, said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, a key member of the leadership team during McCoy’s tenure, is that under the GOP proposal all the available funds will not be on the table to appropriate on the floor of the full chamber. There could be various sources of money that for whatever reason the Appropriations Committee opted not to use. Those funds should be available to use if a majority of the chamber opted to spend them, Brown argued.
Brown also questioned the constitutionality of amending a bill by reducing the appropriation in the legislation before the bill ever reached the House chamber. About half of the more than 100 appropriations bills start in each chamber. Under the Republican proposal, the House could amend a bill while it was still in the Senate or vice versa.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the rule would return to the way the House operated pre-1988 when all the power rested in the speaker and a few of his top allies.
But Formby said the proposal would give the individual member more control over the budget. He said a member could offer an amendment to increase funding to one agency while taking the money from various other agencies even though the funding bills for those agencies were not before the membership.
He said it is “a more common sense approach to appropriations.”
The proposal still must be considered by the Senate, where Republicans hold a larger majority than in the House.