Mississippi House picks up pace as Democrats ease delays

By Jeff Amy and Laura Tillman/The Associated Press

JACKSON — The Mississippi House picked up its pace on Thursday afternoon, going through less controversial legislation after spending the better part of two days locked in a slowdown by minority Democrats.

The slight thaw in relations between the Democrats allowed House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, to make good on the prediction he made early Thursday morning, as the House adjourned following hours of debate on immigration and abortion bills. Even though the House had more than 90 bills left on the calendar then, he predicted that members would have a chance to move all the Legislation they desired before the end-of-Thursday deadline to push bills to the Senate.

The House passed more than 40 bills Thursday, compared to 16 on Wednesday. It was the largest one-day output so far this session except for a day last week when the House handled only bills deemed noncontroversial. Any measure that failed to make it out of its originating chamber died at the end of Thursday.

The House had been running behind the Senate, which only passed 16 bills Thursday before finishing its calendar. Because the Senate had a head start and has been working more smoothly, it was able to adjourn relatively early Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The House met into the night each of those days.

“I’m very glad this night is here,” said House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton. Gipson floor-managed a number of controversial bills from his committee, including the measure to crack down on illegal immigration that kept the House past midnight into early Thursday morning.

The House already had an uphill task at the beginning of the week, facing a long list of bills that had to be moved out of the chamber. Bills had piled up, in part because measures were slow to be assigned to committee and slow to come to the floor.

But prospects for legislation worsened measurably Tuesday after black Democrats began demanding that bills be read before voting on them. That’s a common delaying tactic, but it could have killed dozens of bills if it had persisted through Thursday.

Efforts to broker a compromise failed Wednesday, and contentious abortion and immigration bills, priorities of the new Republican majority, didn’t ease tensions.

“I think it probably has to do with the subject matter,” said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton.

“We certainly got some issues to the floor that have not been to the floor before and that has created a new environment for everybody,” Gunn said.

As bills continued to be read Thursday, leaders said it was possible the chamber would work until midnight, but the pace quickened after lunch. Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville said he suggested a meeting to Gunn to make peace and Gunn, Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, and Democratic leaders convened.

“I suggested to the Speaker that it was time to bring the divisive forces to a communal table,” Holland said. “You cannot take away the individuality of the members. Some of us have been here a long time and we’ve been brought some really mediocre bills. They (the Republicans) understand what we’re upset about, but we also understand that they are in the majority and have a right do that.”

Gunn said the meeting did its job.

“There have been a series of misunderstandings,” Gunn said, adding that the change in leadership has caused a period of adjustment. “I think everyone is learning their roles, and I’m very pleased with the progress everyone is making.”

Because of the advances, the House moved through the calendar quickly after the meeting and they adjourned just after 8 p.m. instead of midnight.

What’s less clear is whether the trench warfare of recent days will recur this session or over the next four years.

One factor that might ease tensions is that Republicans may get through many of the bills they’ve been pushing unsuccessfully for years.

“I’ll tell you this, we won’t have this many bills next time,” Gipson said. “All that pent-up demand we were talking about, I think we addressed it.”

Blackmon said he hoped tensions would cool.

“These are some growing pains of the first term, new leadership, and perhaps as a result of a desire to address some issues” he said. “They’re trying to fulfill those campaign promises.”