Democrats dismayed as session nears end

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Democratic lawmakers called a press conference and used floor speeches Tuesday to express dismay with various actions taken during the legislative session.

Republican legislators have enjoyed a supermajority in both the House and the Senate this legislative session and have been able to enact laws and take spending and tax steps with little regard for Democratic objections. The session is nearing its end and Democrats have found themselves frustrated in advancing their agenda and it showed in their actions Tuesday.

Procedural objections, known as points of personal privilege, were taken by three Democrats in the Senate. Democratic House members posed passionate pleas and even raised their voices to object to some lingering pieces of legislation.

The Democratic caucus met on the south steps of the capitol building and bashed Republican leaders for their fostering of “poor decision-making” all session long.

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, discusses Democrats concerns about the current legislative session.

Adam Ganucheau, Mississipppi Today

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, discusses Democrats’ concerns about the current legislative session.

“We can disagree on policies … we can even disagree on the best way to fund road and bridge repairs,” said Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, the House minority leader. “What we must agree on is that Mississippians who elected us want us to work together to solve Mississippi’s big problems. Unfortunately, our leadership would not allow us to work cooperatively to address these problems in this session.”

During floor debate Tuesday afternoon, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, was speaking against a bill that would mandate that the state department of education oversee the administration of school districts with an “F” ranking. His initial calm expression of concern became fiery, prompting Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, R-Florence, to call him to order.

Horhn then requested a point of personal privilege, or a time set aside for a lawmaker to express concerns about the procedure of the body.

“In this body, we’ve given every senator all session long ample opportunity to voice their concerns with specific legislation on the floor,” Reeves said. “I’m going to give great deference to you, as I have done before, and allow you the point of personal privilege.”

Horhn then spoke: “Over the last few weeks, the very integrity and dignity of this body has been under assault. We are here as public servants. We are here to do the will of the people. Some of our policies and many of our decisions meet at the heart of putting at risk the integrity of this body. We are making bad decisions about the future of the state.”

Democrats and Republicans have butted heads numerous times during the session. Filibustering, race-fueled accusations and even a legal battle made their way under the dome during the session.

On two separate occasions this session, Democrats in both the Senate and House of Representatives requested that bills be read in their entirety as a delaying tactic after Republican leadership voted to do away with points of personal privilege.

When House Speaker Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, ordered the automated bill reading machines accelerated so that they read the bills at an incomprehensible rate, Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, filed for and was granted an emergency temporary restraining order against Gunn, which forced the speaker to slow the automated readings to a normal speed.

On Tuesday, though, two days before the expected final adjournment for the regular session, Democratic lawmakers were already looking ahead to next year’s session.

“We hope that if the leaders under this dome will listen to the people who send us to Jackson, they will return in 2017 dedicated to working in bipartisan fashion to address the problems of everyday Mississippi working families,” Baria said. “This is what we ask them to do. That is after all what we were elected to do.”