By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Mississippi legislators remain in session, primarily because of their inability to reach agreement on a plan to redraw House and Senate districts.
As the session nears its end, the House and Senate continue to be at odds. The outcome could determine which party controls the Legislature after upcoming elections.
The House Democratic majority today will likely try to insert its House and Senate redistricting plan into a resolution that came over from the Senate. That resolution’s original intent was to give Speaker Billy McCoy and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant the authority to call the Legislature back before the scheduled Monday end of the session if a redistricting agreement is reached.
The Republican minority was able to block House consideration of the resolution Tuesday, but Democrats will likely be able to prevail today.
Whether House Democrats will try today to pass their original redistricting plan rejected by the Senate or pass a new plan was not clear Tuesday.
House leaders have been steadfast that they should not tamper with the Senate plan and vice versa.
Even if the House does pass a plan, there is no guarantee the Senate will take it up. That will be up to Bryant and Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, R-Guflport. Bryant complained Tuesday that the House leadership’s decision to hold the community colleges budget bill to correct a mistake was in reality a ploy to keep the Legislature in session – presumably to deal with redistricting.
If the Legislature cannot agree on a plan, the issue will go to federal court. The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP already has filed a lawsuit, asking that a federal three-judge panel be formed to redistrict the Legislature if the House and Senate cannot agree.
Speculation on who would be on the three-judge panel has been rampant.
On Tuesday, McCoy sent letters to Bryant and Gov. Haley Barbour after Internet reports that Bryant told Senate Republicans U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edith Jones, who would appoint two of the judges, would be favorable to Republicans because Barbour handled her nomination to the court in the 1980s while a member of the Reagan White House.
“Judicial integrity and judicial independence have been brought into question … by references to Governor Barbour’s relationship with the chief judge,” McCoy wrote.
McCoy asked in the letter to Barbour if the governor had been in touch with Jones.
“Of course, Governor Barbour has not spoken with Judge Jones,” Barbour spokeswoman Laura Hipp said.
In a letter back to McCoy, Bryant said, “My point was that Democrats appoint federal judges and Republicans appoint federal judges, but all judges take an oath to decide cases fairly based on the law and the facts.”
In 1991 when there was a disagreement over redistricting, legislators had to run two consecutive years. If that occurs this year, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has estimated a cost to the state of between $250,000 and $500,000.