By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The next vote the Senate takes on legislative redistricting will be the last for the current session, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, indicated Wednesday.
In an unusual statement read by House Clerk Don Richardson at the end of Wednesday’s session, McCoy said that if the Senate votes to invite negotiations over the redistricting issue, the House will not participate.
“I will not entertain the request,” the statement read.
The statement was read after the House voted 83-34 to send a resolution to the Senate containing plans to redraw the 52 Senate districts and the 122 House districts to match population shifts determined by the 2010 census.
The Senate can vote as early as today to concur with the House and end the legislative process or to invite conference, where leaders from the two chambers will try to hammer out a compromise.
“For the 50 years that the Mississippi Legislature has been conforming its district lines to meet the demands of one-person, one-vote and the Voting Rights Act, the Legislature has conducted this business with one overriding tradition in mind that neither house will interfere with the districts of the other house,” the McCoy statement read.
“I have no intention of changing that tradition for as long as I am speaker.”
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, opposes the House plan, saying it is unfair to Republican voters.
He is working to ensure that his chamber sends the redistricting issue to conference to try to change the House proposal. He is being joined in that effort by Gov. Haley Barbour and several Republican-leaning groups.
Mick Bullock, a spokesman for Bryant, confirmed that at a meeting with 26 of the 27 Republican senators, the lieutenant governor asked for commitments on the issue.
In a prepared statement, Bryant said, “I am disappointed that Speaker McCoy has announced that he will not follow the law as the redistricting process goes forward. As the Senate prepares to vote and send the House and Senate plans to a conference committee, moving forward with the legislative process is the appropriate and lawful thing to do. The Legislature must rest on the rule of law, not the antiquated traditions that were designed to keep the powerful in power.”
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said McCoy was not violating the law because one chamber of the Legislature cannot force the other to go to conference.
“That is basic legislative procedure,” Bryan said.
After McCoy’s statement, Senate Elections Chair Terry Burton, R-Newton, said he is not sure what the next step in the process will be. He said it would be up to Bryant to determine when to vote on the redistricting resolution.
When asked whether he would make the motion to concur or invite conference, Burton said he would not make a decision until meeting with his counterpart, House Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley.
“He’s the speaker and he has the prerogative not to appoint conferees,” Burton said. “If the Senate votes to go to conference, I would like to sit down and talk about it.”
Instead of going to conference, McCoy said the House would submit its plan to the United States Department of Justice for pre-clearance. Federal law mandates that changes to Mississippi election law be approved by the Justice Department before being enacted.
“We will ask the Department of Justice to work with us in adopting this plan to prevent the taxpayers from having to pay for two sets of legislative elections and from having to pay for the expensive cost of litigation,” McCoy said.
In the early 1990s, legislators had to run two consecutive years when the redistricting fight was thrown into the courts. In 1991, they ran in the old districts and the following year in the newly drawn districts.
It is not clear what will happen this year if House and Senate members do not agree on a redistricting plan.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.