Fireworks, delays over floor votes on House agenda again this week

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JACKSON – The Legislature reconvenes at the Capitol Monday afternoon after Democratic and Republican lawmakers clashed for several days last week, with filibustering and a legal battle slowing debate.

Filibustering, race-fueled accusations and even a legal battle made their way under the dome, causing House members to stay late into the evening on Good Friday, which is typically a day off for lawmakers.

Rep. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven

“We have not had theatrics such as this since I’ve been in office,” Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, wrote on Facebook on Thursday. “What a waste of time and resources. Tempers are on edge – patience is certainly a requirement to serve in the legislature.”

Last week, Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives requested the reading of bills in their entirety, aiming to keep the Jackson airport restructuring bill off the floor in the House and as a means of protest in the Senate.

The House bill in question, which passed 74-46 on Thursday after clearing the Senate on March 3, would dissolve the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority and create a regional airport authority, including delegates from Hinds, Rankin and Madison counties, as well as the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi. The bill gives the power of those appointments to the governor, which has raised the ire of Jackson city officials, whom hold the appointment power for the current board.

Speaker of the Mississippi House Philip Gunn

Gil Ford Photography

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton

In an effort to keep the bill off the floor, House Democrats, particularly the Jackson metro area delegates, requested that every bill on the floor be read aloud. The request is commonly used to delay floor action. Both houses have computers that read bills aloud. House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, directed clerks to speed up the reading to an incomprehensible 10-15 words per second after stating the requests were an attempt to slow the legislative process.

After multiple Democrats in the House argued that the speed of the machine was too fast, Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, filed for and was granted Wednesday evening an emergency temporary restraining order against Gunn, which forced Gunn to slow the automated readings to a normal speed.

On Thursday, House leaders rearranged the schedule for floor action and passed the airport bill after four hours of debate. Even after the bill was passed, House Democrats continued requesting that bills be read. Gunn kept lawmakers on the floor Thursday night until close to 9 p.m.

On Friday morning, the Mississippi Supreme Court dissolved the temporary restraining order against Gunn and bills were again read at the high rate of speed all day Friday until the House recessed for the weekend shortly after 6 p.m.

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, requested the reading of bills all day Wednesday and part of Thursday. Blackmon said she believed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” which would protect a court clerk who did not want to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, was improperly passed in committee.

Blackmon had stopped requesting bill readings by Thursday afternoon.

It was the second time this legislative session that Democratic lawmakers clashed with Republican leadership, particularly in the House.

After members of the Legislative Black Caucus requested that House bills be read aloud in February, House Republicans voted to eliminate points of personal privilege, or time set aside for lawmakers to question leaders about how they conduct certain legislative business. Without the points of personal privilege in place, no bills were debated for two days.

Republican and Democratic leadership then met privately and developed a compromise. Multiple agreements were reportedly made between the sides during that meeting, including the restoration of points of personal privilege. One of them, according to House minority leader Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, was Gunn’s promise to kill the Jackson airport bill.

Baria said on Thursday the maneuvering was in direct response to House Speaker Phillip Gunn’s broken promise to kill the airport bill.

“The reason that members of the Hinds County delegation were requesting that bills be read is very simple – (Gunn) broke his promise to them that the Jackson Airport takeover bill would be killed,” Baria wrote in a statement.

Gunn denied several times that he broke any promises to the Democratic lawmakers.

It is unclear whether the bill reading requests from House Democrats will continue this week.