Immigration, key deadline push House past midnight

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – At 12:10 Thursday morning, Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, got a round of applause and a bit of laughter from what had been a contentious Mississippi House when he announced the chamber was convening for the new day.
It was a bit hilarious or crazy, depending on one’s perspective, since the House had been in session since 9 a.m. Wednesday, moving at a snail’s pace to meet a midnight Thursday deadline to take up bills that had passed out of House committees.
On Wednesday at about 9:30 p.m., the House began debate on a controversial bill designed to deter illegal immigrants from locating in Mississippi. According to the official House roll call, the immigration bill finally passed at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. But in reality, it was after midnight.
Right after the bill’s passage, Gunn announced the new session for the new day and welcomed the handful of visitors sitting in the gallery. He then led the House in the prayer and pledge of allegiance. Members voted in to start the new session at 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
Before that, they passed the controversial immigration bill after intense and often emotional debate. Some opponents, such as Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, pleaded with members not to pass the bill, saying Mississippi’s reputation already was sullied because of its racial past and that the legislation would only enforce the stereotype so many had of the state.
He said the legislation had “no compassion, no forgiveness. We are only going to bring down the hammer on a group of people who only want to do one thing … find a better life.”
But Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said, “In this country we have laws … These laws are supposed to have consequences. We have laws to protect our borders, our people.”
The Republican leadership did lose on its effort to require local school districts to check on the immigration status of their students and report the results to the state Board of Education.
On Thursday, the House again worked late into the night to take up the bills passed out of committee by a midnight deadline.
Gunn said the bills left on the calendar when they finally adjourned late Thursday were either proposals committee chairs felt were unnecessary or legislation that already had passed the Senate.
In the coming weeks, the House can take the Senate bill and insert its own language. That is what will happen with charter school legislation after House Education Chair John Moore, R-Brandon, opted not to take up the House bill.
The House was contentious for much of the week and the new Republican leadership and the Democratic minority butted heads.
But Gunn said late Thursday, “I am very pleased with the progress we made this afternoon. We were given an amount of time to complete the calendar, and we did it. The House should be commended for that.”
Meanwhile, the Senate completed its calendar without having to work any long days and often finished well before 5 p.m.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com