Legislature ready to start legislating

By Bobby Harrison | NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, said he has had enough of the pomp and circumstance that goes with the opening days of the first legislative session of a new term.
“So far we have had a bunch of hurry up and wait,” Carpenter said. “I am ready. We have had three weeks of swearing-ins, inaugurations. I am ready to get to work.”
Of course, Carpenter said the pomp and circumstance and the organization of a new Legislature are crucial parts to starting a new legislative term.
But with new Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, making committee assignments Friday, the Legislature is about ready to get down to legislating.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves made committee assignments in the Senate at the end of the first week of the session, which started Jan. 3. But Gunn, who was not elected to the post by his colleagues until the first day of the session, took a couple of weeks to hear committee request before making his assignments.
On Tuesday, with assignments in place, new Gov. Phil Bryant will deliver his State of the State speech. Bryant has said he will use the speech as an opportunity to take themes he talked about during the inaugural period and “narrow them down, actually talk about specific legislation that I think will affect education, that will affect job creation.”
Then later in the week, it is reasonable to think committees will begin to meet, first to organize and then to take up specific legislation.
March 6 will be the deadline to pass general bills – excluding appropriations and revenue bills – out of committee.
When Gunn was selected in November as the preference of the new Republican majority to serve as speaker, he said early on the House would take up legislation to limit the attorney general’s ability to hire outside counsel to represent the state in civil lawsuits and legislation, dubbed the Child Protection Act, which among other things would make it a crime if people did not report suspected instances of child abuse.
Those issues and others passed a Republican-controlled Senate in recent years, but were killed by a Democratic majority in the House.
“I expect you will see lot of legislation that was killed during the last few years that was authored by Republicans,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. “It might be modified, but I expect you will see charter schools and others.”
Gunn said there are items that have been blocked by the previous Democratic majority that “conservatives feel are important and will receive some attention.”
Carpenter said he expects that will include a proposal to require local law enforcement to check the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally. Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, pointed out the House Democrats passed the legislation last year, but removed Republican-supported legislation that would have allowed local government and law enforcement to be sued if someone believed the immigration law was not being enforced.
“I think House Democrats will continue to try to protect local law enforcement and local governments from being sued” over immigration issues, Moak said. Instead, House Democrats added language, opposed last year by many Republicans, to punish businesses that hire illegal immigrants. The result was that an agreement could not be reached.
There is also a likelihood Republicans will try to pass a version of personhood that defines life as beginning at fertilization. A citizen-sponsored personhood proposal was defeated by voters in November. Another controversial issue that probably will be considered will require drug testing of people who receive certain forms of government assistance.
House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said it is difficult to predict what will happen from one session to the next.
“In all honesty, you have to see how each committee works,” Snowden said. “… Each four years there is just different chemistry. Generally speaking, there will be some conservative legislation that has a better chance of passing.
“But the truth is this time next year you will have a lot better idea of what the committees’ chemistry will be.”
Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, said he hopes legislators will consider the impact of similar legislation that already has been passed in other states. For instance, some in Alabama have said there have been unintended consequences from immigration legislation passed there.
“Every year in the Legislature is different,” Reynolds said, “We will see what we will see. I have given up trying to predict.”
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com