House, Senate convene 2012 session, elect leaders

By Emily Wagster Pettus | The Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Republican Phillip Gunn of Clinton has been elected speaker of the Mississippi House.

Gunn’s election came shortly after the Mississippi Legislature convened the 2012 session Tuesday in Jackson with Republicans controlling both chambers for the first time since Reconstruction. Gunn was elected without opposition and his election was greeted with a standing ovation from House members.

Both houses were addressing housekeeping matters Tuesday. Both chambers were packed with lawmakers and their relatives. It was standing-room-only in the House where Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann presided until Gunn’s election.

“I will do my best to serve you with honesty, fairness and dignity,” Gunn told House members.

Gunn called for unity and said for too long, the House has been divided by opinion, age, race, region and party. He said he has been guilty of this, too, and said he apologizes for it.

“Let us work together to make Mississippi better than it has ever been before,” Gunn said.

Gunn called on House members to be humble and serve with integrity.

“We are only here because God placed us here,” he said.

After Gunn’s election, the 122-member House was expected to elect fellow Republican Greg Snowden of Meridian as the camber’s second-highest leadership post as speaker pro tempore.

Also Tuesday, the GOP’s Terry Brown of Columbus was elected as Senate president pro tempore without opposition.

“We’ve got a lot of situations — I don’t call them problems. But we’ve got a lot of situations to address. In about a week from now, we’ve got to get to work,” said Brown.

Republican Phil Bryant of Brandon was presiding over the Senate in his final days as lieutenant governor. He’ll be succeeded Thursday by Republican Tate Reeves of Flowood.

Bryant will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 10.

Legislators are scheduled to meet four months, as is customary during the first year of a four-year term. Sessions the next three years will be 90 days each.

The House has 32 new members and the 52-member Senate has 15 new people.

The GOP holds a 21-11 majority among House freshmen and a 13-2 majority among Senate freshmen. That large incoming class, combined with the switch of Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford to the GOP from the Democratic Party, gives Republicans a 31-21 margin in the Senate. That’s enough to pass tax and revenue bills without any Democrats.

Among the big issues that Bryant, Reeves and lawmakers have identified for the coming year are:

— Crafting a state budget challenged by tight revenues.

— Broadening the state’s charter school law.

— Examining new state restrictions on illegal immigrants.

— Considering changes to the state’s public employee pension system.

— Drawing new districts for lawmakers.

— Restricting Attorney General Jim Hood’s ability to hand out lucrative legal work.