BOBBY HARRISON: The last-minute workings of legislative bodies




Legislative bodies do some funny things. In the mid 2000s, the Mississippi House and Senate were at odds on developing a budget to fund state government and it was generally conceded the regular session would end with no budget agreement.

Legislators would be called back in special session by then-Gov. Haley Barbour to try to reach an accord before the new fiscal year began on July 1.

Both the House and Senate stayed in session on the final day of the regular session even though no one expected a last-minute agreement. Neither side wanted to give the perception it was not working hard to reach agreement in regular session. After all, the Legislature’s No. 1 job is to fund government. It looked bad to have to come back in special session – at additional costs to the taxpayers – to accomplish its most core function.

Only minutes before midnight stuck and the regular session ended, then-Senate President Pro Tem Travis Little, R-Corinth, hastily passed a resolution on the floor of the Senate extending the regular session. It was a rules suspension that the House had passed earlier, but the Senate had failed to act upon – until the last minute.

Because the Senate changed the resolution, it would have taken additional House action to actually extend the session.

Only minutes before the midnight finale of the session, Senate leaders literally had staff to run through the ornate halls to the other end of the Capitol to deliver the amended rules suspension resolution to then-Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.

It would have been virtually impossible for McCoy to have the House act on the measure before the midnight deadline. The speaker, known for at times a quick fuse on his temper, did not try. Instead, he stewed, not so silently, questioning the sincerity of the Senate leadership, including Little, who was and I assume still a close friend of the speaker’s.

The events in the Mississippi Legislature came to mind Monday night as the U.S. House and Senate played political hot potato. The Republican-led House would add to legislation funding the federal government provisions dealing with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and send it to the Senate where the language dealing with health care would be stripped, leaving the proposal to fund the federal government intact.

It seemed that neither side wanted to be holding the legislation when the government actually shut down at midnight.

Even on a big national stage, lawmakers are under the mistaken impression that the general public is going to be following the legislative process close enough to place blame based on specific actions.

Generally speaking, it appears the public places blame based on overall actions – not on what occurred at various steps in the convoluted legislative process.

Interestingly, as a state senator pointed out Monday afternoon, it would be difficult for a similar scenario to take place in Mississippi during the state budgeting process,

In Mississippi, appropriations bills are supposed to fund state government – not make general law. Section 69 of the Mississippi Constitution prohibits appropriations bills from being “engrafted” to make general law. The Constitution does allow conditions to be put on appropriations bills, such as it is the intent of the Legislature that the Highway Patrol not issue speeding citations on a quota basis. That condition is in Section 10 of Senate Bill 2865, which is the legislation that funds the Department of Public Safety.

It would be difficult – if not impossible – for the members of the Mississippi Legislature to amend an appropriations bill funding government to change a general law – such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – as Republicans in Congress are trying to do.

What the U.S. Congress is dealing with is not actually a bill, but what is called as a continuing resolution, which funds the government for a specified amount of time at current levels.

Of course, until further notice much of government is not being funded, but interestingly the new health car law is.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at (601)-353-3119.

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