Legislature's first task: Get organized

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Mississippi Constitution sets the length of the legislative session at 90 days except for the session in the year after elections.
The Constitution calls for that session to be 125 days – for a reason. Before the Legislature can get down to the business of funding schools and other state governmental entities or of passing laws, it must organize.
That will take some time. The extra days could have some added value this session since, for the first time since the mid-1970s, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker will all be new.
When the Legislature convenes at noon on Tuesday, the members must be sworn in, the House must elect a speaker and other officers and the Senate must decide on a president pro-tem.
Lt. Gov. Phil Byrant, who is the governor-elect, will continue to preside over the Senate until Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, along with other statewide officials, are sworn in on Thursday during a ceremony ripe with pomp and circumstance in the House chamber.
Then, on the following Tuesday, Bryant will be sworn in as governor in an event that will be filled with even more pageantry.
At some point in the process, Bryant also will release his budget proposal.
Rep. Lester “Bubba” Carpenter, R-Burnsville, jokingly called the opening days of the first session after statewide elections “a dog and pony show.”
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said, “It’s a necessary evil. You have to get organized.”
Part of getting organized also includes the speaker and lieutenant governor naming committee chairs and members. Another key, but often overlooked aspect of what happens, is the adoption of the rules that govern the two chambers.
“I don’t anticipate major changes to the Senate and Joint Legislative rules,” said Reeves.
On the House side, Rep. Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who is expected to be elected speaker on Tuesday because he is the preference of the Republican majority, has been silent on his plans as it relates to the rules. But various sources have indicated the Republican majority might opt to change the rule that gives members certain advantages based on seniority.
For instance, selection to the two most powerful committees or what are known as the money committees – Ways and Means and Appropriations – is based on seniority. That ruled was established in 1988 as part of the effort to strip some of what many believed was the dictatorial power of the speaker.
In the 52-member Senate, each member is guaranteed a slot on either Appropriations or Finance. But in the 122-member House, that is not possible since there are only 33 members on each of the money committees.
One reason the Republicans might want to change the seniority rule is that, while they hold a 64-58 majority, Democrats hold an advantage in terms of members with longevity.
“There is something to be said for longevity and institutional history,” Holland said.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com