Most of the 30,000 people who work for the state of Mississippi would no longer have civil-service protections for three years and would serve at the will and pleasure of their agency bosses, under provisions of a bill that passed Thursday.

Question-and-answer on House Bill 974 took up most of Thursday morning, before the bill was passed 62-57.

Supporters of the bill indicated that agency directors favor the legislation. The bill would remove most state employees from the supervision of the Mississippi State Personnel Board, which supporters of the bill said would allow agencies more flexibility to reorganize, streamline and terminate people.

Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, referred to media stories highlighting salary increases given in 2016, and asked if the bill would prohibit agencies from giving pay raises.

“If we’re struggling for revenue, why wouldn’t we say we’re not going to give anyone any more raises?” Chism asked Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, who handled the bill.

Cockerham noted that the bill requires agencies to report any salary increases to the appropriations committees of the House and Senate. Several Democrats argued the bill would concentrate more power in the hands of agency directors, many of whom the governor appoints.

“We have to decide how big we want the footprint of the government to be,” Cockerham said during one exchange.

Members offered two successful amendments, one that would exempt officers working for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Another would exempt school attendance officers.

Another amendment to exempt the Department of Mental Health, one of the state’s largest agencies with more than 7,000 employees, passed on a 61-59 margin.

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, who offered the amendment, said the state made a promise of personnel board protections when mental health workers were hired.

“I think its wrong to pull the rug out from under them,” Baria said.

Appropriations Chairman John Read, R-Gautier, said many agencies, including mental health, already have undergone severe cuts. In December, the busiest month for sales tax collection, receipts were $18 million short of projections, Read said.

Read said employees would have more protections outside of the personnel board than under it.

“We would not have brought out anything that would jeopardize one employee of the state of Mississippi,” Read said.

Mississippi Today reached out to several agencies that were the subject of debate, including the state Board of Education, state Department of Health and Department of Mental Health. Spokespeople for all three agencies declined to comment on the legislation.

House members who voted in favor of a bill removing most state employees from the supervision of the State Personnel Board:

Shane Aguirre, R-Tupelo; William Arnold, R-Booneville; Mark Baker, R-Brandon; Shane Barnett, R-Waynesboro; Manly Barton, R-Moss Point; Charles Beckett, R-Bruce; Donnie Bell, R-Fulton; Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach; Joel Bomgar, R-Madison; Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia; Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie; Chris Brown, R-Nettleton; Charles Busby, R-Pascagoula; Larry Byrd, R-Petal; Lester Carpenter, R-Burnsville; Gary Chism, R-Columbus; Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia; John Corley, R-Lumberton; Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch; Scott DeLano, R-Biloxi; Bill Denny, R-Jackson; Dan Eubanks, R-Walls; Casey Eure, R-Biloxi; Mark Formby, R-Picayune; Robert Foster, R-Love; Andy Gipson, R-Braxton; Jeffrey Guice, R-Ocean Springs; Philip Gunn, R-Clinton; Jeff Hale, R-Nesbit; Greg Haney, R-Gulfport; Joey Hood, R-Ackerman; Steve Hopkins, R-Southaven; Mac Huddleston, R-Pontotoc; Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg; Bill Kinkade, R-Byhalia; Timmy Ladner, R-Poplarville; Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia; Vince Mangold, R-Jackson; Doug McLeod, R-Lucedale; Nolan Mettetal, R-Sardis; Sam Mims, R-McComb; Alex Monsour, R-Vicksburg; John Moore, R-Brandon; Ken Morgan, R-Morgantown; Karl Oliver, R-Winona; Randall Patterson, R-Biloxi; Bill Pigott, R-Tylertown; Brent Powell, R-Brandon; John Read, R-Gautier; Ray Rogers, R-Pearl; Randy Rushing, R-Decatur; Donnie Scoggin, R-Ellisville; Jeffrey Smith, R-Columbus; Greg Snowden, R-Meridian; Brad Touchstone, R-Hattiesburg; Jerry Turner, R-Baldwin; Tom Weathersby, R-Florence; Jason White, R-West; Patricia Willis, R-Diamondhead; Cory Wilson, R-Madison; Charles Young, D-Meridian; Henry Zuber, R-Ocean Springs.

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.