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Republican state representatives gathered at a Jackson restaurant Wednesday for a yearly caucus meeting ahead of the 2017 legislative session.
Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, reserved a conference room at the Manship, where legislators and lobbyists were seen trickling in and out of the more than two-and-a-half hour lunch meeting.
Gunn’s spokeswoman, Meg Annison, said the meeting is held each year in December, and they were discussing Gunn’s legislative priorities. Those include campaign finance and education reform, including a rewrite of the state school funding formula, and budget issues.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman and House Minority Leader David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said his caucus met several times outside of the legislative session, most recently on Dec. 15.
Caucuses are not required to meet in public, and Baria declined to provide any policy specifics about what was discussed at the Democratic Caucus’ meeting earlier this month.
“We discussed things pertinent to policy and fundraising, and just things that would be beneficial to our members,” Baria said.
When asked whether lobbyists attend Democratic Caucus meetings, he said occasionally a lobbying group will buy the legislators a meal and stop by for a few minutes to introduce themselves.
Annison said similarly lobbyists from Butler Snow came for the lunch portion of the Republicans’ meeting and then left.
Rep. Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula, said he attended the meeting on Wednesday, where he estimated there were about 50 lawmakers. The main issues discussed were the rewrite of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, he said, and campaign finance reform.
Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have not yet received recommendations from EdBuild, the group hired in October to review and revise the MAEP. A spokesperson for Reeves said the recommendations should be finalized “within a few weeks.”
The Republicans are in a particularly good spot to move legislation through the system since the Nov. 2015 elections, when Mississippians elected the first Republican supermajority in the Legislature.
Gunn told reporters recently one of his priorities is to make sure legislators’ campaign funds are used for purposes that relate to their service as legislators. While campaign finance reform legislation has been killed by the Legislature the past few years, it came closest to passing in the 2016 session. That bill, which would have restricted the use of campaign funds for personal expenses such as cars and clothes, and increased transparency in the reporting, died at the last hour.
The bill followed a series by The Clarion-Ledger that outlined how politicians spent campaign funds on everything from cowboy boots to apartments and the lack of reporting requirements that make it hard to tell where campaign money is actually going in some cases.
Both caucuses meet weekly during the session.