BOBBY HARRISON:House headed toward voting compromise

JACKSON – Some House members are struggling with the issue of when they can and cannot vote on legislation.

The Mississippi House has a rule that says a member must vote for himself or herself. Through the years, the leadership has left it up to each individual to honor that rule.

If a member is present, but steps out to see a constituent or take care of some other business right off the floor of the chamber, and a vote comes up and a deskmate votes for that person, normally that has been tolerated.

But it is near impossible for the speaker to know if a member is away from his desk to “powder his nose,” or whether the member is back at home taking care of some personal business.

Earlier this year, when there were protests that members who were not present were being voted, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said the rule would be enforced as it is written. That means no member should vote for another under any circumstance.

Most have abided by the rule. Some have not, but it is difficult for a journalist to keep up with which of the 122 members are in the chamber, so at this point I will not provide names.

Many members have found a way to get around the rule. They simply ask the membership at a later date to allow them to be recorded as voting on legislation where they are not recorded as voting. They do not mention that they missed voting because they were out of the chamber.

It is important to understand that the voting in the Mississippi House is different than for many other legislative bodies.

For instance, the Senate day starts with a roll call.

Most bills are then passed by the morning roll call, and those who do not want to vote for the legislation raise their hand and ask to be recorded as voting no. All others, if they answered the morning roll call, are recorded as voting for the legislation.

A senator could answer the morning roll call, and then never be on the floor for another vote; yet, he or she would be recorded as voting for all the legislation that came up that day.

And on the federal level, Congress normally allows voting to take place for an extended period of time to allow members to come from their offices and restrooms to vote.

In the Mississippi House, the bills are explained, debate, if any, is heard, and the voting machines are opened for a matter of seconds to allow members to vote.

It would not be unreasonable for the House to amend its rules to allow a deskmate to vote for a member if that person was in the Capitol, presumably working on other legislative issues, or perhaps in the clinic on the first floor getting some medicine for a headache. Granted, this place can give a person a headache.

It is a far different issue when the legislator is not in the Capitol, but back in the district or some other place. Then it seems reasonable to say that the member should not be voted.

Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said he plans to offer a proposal to amend the House rules to allow members to be voted if they are indeed in the Capitol.

That seems like a reasonable compromise.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal's Capitol bureau. Contact him at bobby.harrison@djournal.com, or call (601) 353-3119.