CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)
At one point in my life, I was under the mistaken impression that we did not need two chambers in the Mississippi Legislature.
There was no need, I thought, for a Senate and a House. Representation in both is based on population. It is not like the U.S. Congress where the Senate is designed to give each state an equal voice and the House is based on population.
So, I reasoned, get rid of one of the state chambers. The taxpayers should not have to support all those politicians. Why have twice as many legislators and double your trouble?
After observing almost a session of the Mississippi Legislature, I have one thing to say — boy was I wrong.
The House needs the Senate and the Senate needs the House. With two chambers, there is much less of a chance that bad legislation will become law.
The flip side is that two chambers often prevent good legislation from becoming law.
Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said recently he does not believe that the two chambers stop good legisaltion. Instead, proposals that might pass in a single year with a one-chamber legislature might take more time with two chambers.
“There are very few things that we must do immediately,” Nunnelee reasoned.
True. But sometimes I think the immediacy of the moment takes control of the legislators. Then, I believe, one chamber or the other passes some fairly bizarre legislation.
For instance, last week the House passed legislation requiring newspaper editorials to be signed. It was an amendment offered on the House floor by Rep. Tommy Horne, (Independent-Meridian). The amendment passed on a voice vote with little opposition.
Horne reasoned that if people must sign letters to the editor, then newspapers should sign editorials. This has about as much logic as saying the names of the referees were important in Sunday’s historic Mississippi State basketball victory.
Few people, if any, cared who the referees were. But what the refs said was important. Their rulings — not their names — were what we cared about.
Such is the case with editorials that normally are found on the left-hand side of newspaper opinion pages. The editorial carries the weight of the newspaper — not the person who wrote it. If Rep. Horne is mad about an editorial, he knows full-well who to call and who is responsible.
For instance, in the Daily Journal just look to the box above the editorial. In that box is the names of such people as the publisher, general manager, editor and editorial page editor. The editorial carries the approval of those people.
In other words, the amendment mandating signed editorials is an example of what I consider bad legislation. And yes, with all due respect to Rep. Horne, I believe it was unconstitutional.
And thus, that proves my point — the beauty of the bicameral or two-chamber Legislature.
The Senate members, who were not offered the amendment on the spur of the moment, had time to think about it. Senators did not agree to the Horne amendment and probably will not.
The same occurred with the legislative pay raise. An amendment to give the legislators more money passed the House, but the Senate has yet to agree to it.
I am not saying that it is always the Senate that is having to correct the blunders of the House. This works both ways.
And I am not saying a unicameral or one-chamber legislature cannot work. Nebraska has one. The last time I was there, everything looked fairly normal. At least I did not see any signed editorials.
The difference in a one-chamber legislature is that the members must take more responsibility.
In the two-chamber Mississippi Legisalture, there often is a mentality that it is OK to pass bad bills because they will be fixed later in the process.
For that reason, I am thankful that the process is a rather lengthy and cumbersome one.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief.