House must act on bill giving governor veto power over state boards

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The House declined Friday to release to the Senate a bill  that would give the governor veto power over dozens of state boards and commissions.

The bill will have to be released to the Senate by the House when it returns on Monday or it will die for this session.

The House had narrowly passed the bill hours before deadline Thursday after a similar Senate bill died in committee last week.

However, a procedural motion that would have released the bill to the Senate failed on a 31-85 vote Friday morning.

Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, argued against the bill at that time, urging his colleagues not to give up their oversight powers to the governor.

The bill — sponsored by Rep. Cory Wilson, R-Madison, and backed by Gov. Phil Bryant —  would require the governor to sign off on regulations of any state “occupational licensing board” controlled by “active market participants.” These boards regulate who gets into the respective professions and what that person can do once they’re in.

Mississippi House

Rep. Cory Wilson, R-Madison

Wilson 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 laws only when it is was supervised by the state government.

“Favoring competition over regulation is a good thing, and I like the concepts behind the bill,” Wilson told Mississippi Today on Thursday. “It sets a clearly articulated policy in favor of competition and market freedom, and I like that. It says that the state should use least-restrictive regulations possible to achieve its purposes.”

The House bill passed by a vote of 61-58 with three members not voting after very little debate and was expected to move for consideration to the Senate.

The Senate version – almost word-for-word as the House bill – died last week after Republican and Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns over giving the governor power over these boards. In that committee meeting, Bryant’s attorney Whitney Lipscomb said the Senate version would include “between 80-100 boards.”

In that Senate committee meeting, several high-ranking senators did not pull punches about the proposed legislation.

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg

Speaking against the bill, Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, referenced former Gov. Theodore Bilbo’s sweeping 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 Wilson’s bill.

Hopson also said the bill, which Lipscomb said would prevent future anti-trust lawsuits, 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. 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?”

Wilson on Thursday said he has heard similar complaints from House members on the bill. Wilson OK’d a House amendment to add a reverse repealer to the bill, which ensures the bill cannot go into law before compromise in a conference committee.

“I think there are questions about the bill,” Wilson said. “The reverse repealer will allow it continue through the process and we can continue to work on some of those issues. We want to make it as tight a bill as possible.”

Wilson said he worked with the governor’s office on the bill. Bryant’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

  • Charles Pearce

    The Legislature has a history of creating tyrants in government. Control abusive regulations by other means, please.