Senate committee kills AG oversight bill

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A Senate committee unanimously tabled a bill Thursday that would have limited some powers of the state Attorney General.

The bill, which has prompted partisan political arguments this session, would have established a three-member commission to approve the use of outside attorneys in cases that could result in legal awards of more than $250,000. The governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state would sit on the commission.

The Senate Judiciary A committee on Thursday voted to table the bill after a 30 second discussion, effectively killing it.

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport

“We looked at maybe trying to find some sort of happy medium with (Attorney General) Jim Hood’s office,” said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, the committee chairman.

After reading the title, Tindell asked Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, if she would like to make a motion on the bill. She immediately made the motion to table.

Tindell in 32 seconds said legislative leaders and the Attorney General’s office could not come to an agreement, and the committee voted unanimously to table the bill.

Before being considered by the Senate panel Thursday, the bill ultimately needed two separate House floor votes to pass. The House vote to pass the bill came one week after the measure initially failed 58-60, but was kept alive when one lawmaker asked the body to reconsider the measure.

The bill, authored by Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, sparked a long floor debate rooted in the current partisan environment in state government. Baker did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.

Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Attorney General Jim Hood

Over the past five years, legislative Republicans have successfully chipped away at some of the authority of the Attorney General’s office, the only constitutional position currently occupied by a Democrat, Jim Hood.

In 2012, Republicans pushed through a measure that allowed state agencies to hire contract lawyers, going around the Attorney General, which usually represents the state in most matters. The move was a response to Hood declining to join in a lawsuit with other Republican-led states against the federal Affordable Care Act.

Baker said Hood’s lawsuits have cost some $90 million in attorney’s fees. Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said in the floor debate Hood has brought in more than $3 billion to the state treasury as a result of winning lawsuits.

During debate, Baker cited Hood’s refusal to defend the state’s voter ID law, or enter into lawsuits over federal immigration policy and same sex adoption.

Holland also asked Baker, whose name comes up periodically as a potential candidate for statewide office, if he aspired to run for attorney general. Baker said “not at this time.”