BOBBY HARRISON: Legislature wastes time on extraneous bills

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The Mississippi Legislature, as it is wont to do, has been in the national news a good bit lately because of its work during the 2013 session.
Just this week Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill passed by the Legislature to prevent municipalities and counties from putting limits on foods, such as limiting the size of a soft drink a restaurant can serve.
It did not matter that no local government was considering such a measure. It just made sense to our state officials to keep local governments from ever considering such a proposition. Similar legislation is pending to prevent local governments from raising the minimum wage.
Just last week, the Mississippi Senate spent a hour arguing about the borders of Israel. One senator pointed out that the members of the chamber might have a difficult time describing the borders of Mississippi so it might be better to leave the discussions of borders of a country thousands miles away to somebody else.
Another senator asked shouldn’t the chamber spend time studying the Bible – which has several passages referring to the borders of Israel – before voting on the complex proposal.
The Mississippi Legislature votes on countless complicated proposals each year that make a real difference for the state and in the life of its people. Quite often, they vote on those proposals with limited knowledge of the issue because of time constraints and because of the relatively small size of the legislative staff.
By the same token, passage of legislation in Mississippi regarding Israel is not going to have any impact on the outcome of events in Mississippi or in the troubled Middle East.
Besides paying for legislators to work on the issue, we – the Mississippi taxpayers – also were paying for the paper to print the resolution and for the draftsman – a staff attorney – to write the resolution.
Sure, those expenses are minimal, but they are expenses.
In fairness to legislators, it should be pointed out that it is impossible to predict how long debate will last on any proposal. With the egos and personalities in the Legislature, the simplest of proposals can evolve into hours of debate or vice versa.
But it also should be pointed out that a lot of fairly powerful minds have been working on the issues surrounding Israel for a long time and have yet to come to a resolution that is agreeable to everyone.
Does anyone think Israel’s enemies in the Middle East are going to read in the newspaper of Mississippi’s support for the Jewish people and change their position on the country?
Each chamber of the Mississippi Legislature has a Rules Committee. Countless resolutions come out of the Rules Committee each session honoring everything from sports teams for winning championships to beauty queens to people for living a long and productive life to people upon their death.
The Rules Committee also does things like take up legislation in 2011 offering “sincere” prayers and condolences to the people of Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that year. A lot of feel-good legislation originates in Rules. The two committees have enormous power in terms of handling legislation that deals with the governance of the Legislature.
Rules also is where legislation that makes a political statement, but not much more goes.
Rules is where the legislation dealing with Israel was first taken up.
In fairness to the 2013 Legislature, such proposals are introduced each year. Some pass. Some don’t.
In 2010, then state Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Biloxi, who is now a member of the United States Congress, introduced a resolution to “affirm the sovereignty of the people of Mississippi.” Legislation also was introduced to “urge Congress to be mindful of the state sovereignty enumerated in the 10th Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution.
Another resolution was introduced urging Congress to recognize the birthday of labor leader Cesar Chavez as a national holiday and to have the state apologize for slavery.
Most of the proposals, like the ones listed above, die in one Rules Committee or the other and never pass both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature.
But they give members of the Mississippi Legislature an opportunity to make a political statement on events that in reality they do not control.
And, by the way, the taxpayers of the state get to pay for that statement.
BOBBY HARRISON is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.