House votes to limit Attorney General’s powers

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With several lawmakers flipping their votes, the House voted Wednesday to limit some of the powers of the state Attorney General.

On a 63-56 vote, the House passed a bill that would establish a three-member commission to approve the use of outside attorneys in cases that could result in legal awards of more than $250,000.

The governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state would sit on the commission.

The bill moves to the Senate for its consideration.

The vote came one week after the measure failed 58-60, but was kept alive when one lawmaker asked the body to reconsider the measure.

Wednesday, Reps. Shane Aguirre, R-Starkville and Roun McNeal, R-Leakesville, who did not vote last week, voted yes. Switching their votes from no to yes were Reps. John Corley, R-Lumberton, Jason White, R-West, and Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown.

Debate was scant with few members of the mostly Democratic opposition speaking out on the bill. There was a terse exchange between Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, who defended the bill and Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville.

“It’s been three or four days since you brought this atrocious piece of legislation. Remind us why you need this and why you’re doing this,” Holland said.

Mississippi House of Representatives.

Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon.

“I don’t have any thing in addition to what we talked about the other day,” Baker responded.

During debate last week, Baker cited Hood’s refusal to defend the state’s voter ID law, or enter into lawsuits over federal immigration policy and same sex adoption.

Over the past five years, legislative Republicans have successfully chipped away at some of the authority of the Attorney General’s office, the only constitutional position currently occupied by a Democrat, Jim Hood.

In 2012, Republicans pushed through a measure that allowed state agencies to hire contract lawyers, going around the Attorney General, which usually represents the state in most matters. The move was a response to Hood declining to join in a lawsuit with other Republican-led states against the Affordable Care Act.

Baker said Hood’s lawsuits have cost some $90 million in attorney’s fees. Holland said Hood has brought in more than $3 billion to the state treasury.

Holland also asked Baker, whose name comes up periodically as a potential candidate for statewide office, if he aspired to run for attorney general. Baker said “not at this time.”

Hood said in a statement that an unnamed legislator advised Hood’s office that Entergy “demanded another vote on the bill.”

“It’s no coincidence that the State’s case against Entergy is now active again in federal court, and this company fears having to pay more than $1 billion for its illegal acts,” Hood said in a statement.

 “Obviously, House leadership and proponents of this bill bow down to their corporate masters, and it’s unfortunate that this bill’s supporters put such pressure on conscientious Republican legislators to change their vote. I am grateful for the bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans that saw this bill for what it is: an unconstitutional, political power grab that puts the interests of corporations ahead of Mississippi citizens.”

Mara Hartmann, a spokeswoman for Entergy said, similar bills have been filed in past years, none of which the utility company sponsored.

“In addition,” she said. “The lawsuit the Attorney General refers to has been going on for more than eight years during which time there has been a total of 15 independent audits that have all concluded there were no inappropriate charges by Entergy Mississippi to its customers.”

  • Danny Lampley

    That is an unfortunate, and incorrect, headline if you don’t mind me saying so.