Update: This bill died in committee on Tuesday.
A Senate panel tabled a bill Monday evening that would have given Gov. Phil Bryant power to review, change or veto any regulation put in place by between 80-100 state boards and commissions.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, would require the governor to sign off on regulations of any state “occupational licensing board,” or boards that regulate who gets into the respective profession and what that person can do once they’re in.
Whitney Lipscomb, an attorney in the governor’s office, defended the proposal in the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency committee meeting. Lipscomb, when asked how many boards would be included in this bill, replied: “between 80-100.”
Lipscomb and Tindell said the bill was drafted in response to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held the state of North Carolina’s dental licensing board, which was made up mainly of persons active in the dental industry, had immunity from antitrust law only when it is was supervised by the state government.
The two several times suggested that Tindell’s bill, called the Occupational Board Compliance Act of 2017, would keep away potential lawsuits.
“(The U.S. Supreme Court) found that when these boards are controlled by active market participants that they’re actually regulating, they do not enjoy anti-trust immunity,” Lipscomb said. “It’s not just all, you know, a few barbers controlling the (hair styling) market. Under this bill, you have somebody outside of the barber profession that helps craft the regulation and has oversight.”
Some Republicans and Democrats sitting on the committee criticized the idea. Speaking against the bill, Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, referenced former Gov. Theodore Bilbo’s power and called the bill “a colossal mistake.” Hopson is head of the Mississippi Bar Association, which would fall under the purview of the governor under Tindell’s bill.
Tindell and Lipscomb numerous times said one intent of the bill was to protect the state from lawsuits similar to the North Carolina one that made it to the Supreme Court. But Hopson said the bill would create additional lawsuits.
“I think you’re talking about lawsuits by the members of these boards that are supposed to be autonomous,” Hopson said. “If I’m a member of the board, and I have a duty to look out for my particular profession and the governor goes the other way, I think that board would want to potentially sue the governor’s office to make sure this is or is not against the law. What happens is that you create more lawsuits.”
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, asked Tindell pointed questions about whether the bill would affect certain boards. After listing nine different boards, he was told by Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, that he had made his point.
Blount lumped this bill in with other pieces of legislation written this session that would give the governor additional executive power, including the proposed consolidation of the Mississippi Arts Commission and the boards of the Department of Health, Department of Mental Health and Rehab Services.
“This is substantial, and this is going to affect virtually every profession in the state,”
Blount said. “And I think before we do that, we need to hear from the professions that could be affected.”
“Boy, this is sweeping. This is really sweeping,” Blount continued. “If you say to every single profession in the state of Mississippi that you would, effectively, have to run everything through the governor’s office, you’ve got a mess bigger than anything we’ve already seen this session.”
In the bill, the governor would use the authority to “increase economic opportunities for all of its citizens by promoting competition and thereby encouraging innovation and job growth,” and “use the least restrictive regulation necessary to protect consumers from present, significant, and substantiated harms that threaten public health and safety.”
“This is in place so that we can have the least restrictive regulations that are not in violation of anti-trust laws to avoid a lawsuit,” Lipscomb said.
The bill, though it was tabled Monday evening, can be considered again by the committee before Tuesday’s 8 p.m. deadline if two-thirds of the committee chooses to suspend the rules.
Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, the Senate Pro-Tempore, questioned numerous aspects of the bill, including the apparent exemption the bill would give the governor from having to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act, a state and federal law that gives the public an opportunity to be aware of and participate in state agency rule making.
Burton also knocked the governor’s proposed authority to have control over all boards at once.
“We have staggered terms so that one governor doesn’t control all the boards,” Burton said. “With this piece of legislation, that kind of goes away. One governor controls everything. It doesn’t say he can veto with cause or good reason. It just says he can veto it.”
“The majority of these boards are controlled by appointees of the governor,” Burton said. “If he doesn’t trust them, why are they there?”