LEADERS HEARING TALK ON BILLS
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The state Legislature comes and goes in waves.
For the first few weeks of the session, most of the legislators’ time is spent in committee meetings considering the 3,000-plus bills filed by lawmakers. Now about 600 of those bills in both the House and Senate have passed committee and are being heard by the full Senate and House.
Since Wednesday, and going through next week, the legislators spend all their time in session, listening to explanations of the endless bills. Every now and then, the explanations, questions and opposition get colorful. For the most part, though, it is boring stuff for even the most avid follower of the Legislature.
For every emotional subject – such as voter registration or curbing juvenile crime – legislators hear 10 bills on such items as continuing education for municipal clerks or conveying certain property to the Franklin County School District. Most all are important, but some are just plain boring.
But if the debate in the grandiose House and Senate chambers gets too dry during the endless string of technical bills are considered, the legislators sometimes add a little color to liven up the day.
The ultimate sacrifice
For instance, during debate on a bill to allow supervisors to dig graves, Sen. Tommy Dickerson, D-Waynesboro, said some people pay taxes all their lives and deserve to get a county-dug grave when they die.
A senator stood up and asked, “Wouldn’t you say a person would have to make a pretty extreme sacrifice to avail himself of this service?”
And during debate (the word is being used loosely here), on the Mississippi Egg Marketing Board, Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, stood up to ask, “Is this still a lay board?”
Well, these guys are politicians – not professional comedians.
And these politicians sometimes have their fun at the expense of the new members.
A room full of questions
Last week in the House, some new members got their first chance to speak in front of chamber and explain a bill. After the explanation, it is customary for members with questions to rise to seek recognition.
As freshman Rep. Rickey Cummings, D-Iuka, finished an explanation of an education bill, almost all members of the House rose for questions.
But at least House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Tupelo, did not allow House members to put Cummings through the torture inflicted on freshman Rep. Mike Janus of Biloxi the day before. As he explained a bill mandating weather radios in each school, members stood to ask a whole gamut of trivial questions. “Who made the radios?” “Who would install them?” “How would they be installed?”
“With a screwdriver,” Janus said patiently.
Not only House freshman felt the brunt of the initiation. Sen. Nolan Mettetal, D-Batesville, who would probably win the Mr. Congeniality Award, also had his embarrassing moment.
As time for debate had run out on a bill that the legislators already had been considering for a substantial length of time, a couple of senators, as it customary, asked for five more minutes of discussions. Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove asked if that was the will of the Senate and most members shouted no.
Musgrove asked senators who wanted the debate to continue to rise. A few did. Then he asked for the senators who wanted the debate to end to rise. Mettetal, who sits on the front row and was ready to move on the other bills, rose, but no one else did. Experienced members behind Mettetal hooped and hollered and the embarrassed, but gracious, Mettetal quickly sat down. Generally speaking, as long as someone has a question, members will allow the debate to go on.
A quick change
Despite some fun, the Legislature has more than its share of pomp and circumstance. But the Senate probably has a little more. Senators must always wear a coat and tie in the chamber.
In the House, a member only has to wear a coat when at the podium in front of the other members.
Last week, Rep. Willie Bozeman, D-Terry, rushed to the front to introduce an amendment to a bill being explained by his deskmate, David Green, D-Gloster. Green had to let Bozeman have his coat as he took the podium to explain the bill.
Then Bozeman had to return the coat as Green spoke against the amendment.
But in unlegislative fashion, Green was short and to the point. “I have great confidence you will do the right thing and kill this amendment,” he said.
Bozeman quickly started taking Green’s coat back off him as he again spoke in favor of the amendment. Despite, his quick changes, the amendment failed.
Some veterans of the Legislature said they had seen Ed Perry, D-Oxford, and a man of considerable oratory skill, but not of considerable height, speak at the House chamber in a coat that came to his knees.
But at least he didn’t have questions from all 122 members of the House after he stopped speaking.