House removes active commission from bill abolishing ‘dead’ ones

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The House voted to remove an active commission from a bill that would abolish 16 boards and commissions that leaders say have not met in two years.

The Wastewater Advisory Council, a 21-person board that reports to the Department of Health, was initially included in the list of boards and commissions which had supposedly not met in more than two years and do not rely on any state funds.

The council, which assesses wastewater issues statewide and reports to the Department of Health, meets quarterly, Department of Health spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said.

“Whether or not it’s law, we (the Wastewater Advisory Council) will continue to meet,” Sharlot said Monday.

Gov. Phil Bryant, who called dormant boards “the proverbial low-hanging fruit for improving our governmental system” in his January State of the State address, has pushed the legislation.

As senators on Monday questioned whether the Wastewater Advisory Council was still active, the House passed an amendment that would exclude the council from the list of proposed cuts.

Both the Senate and House versions of the bill passed Monday, meaning the bill will go to conference committee later this session, where leaders from both houses will finalize the details.

Wastewater Advisory Council members have called legislators in both houses since last week, asking to be removed from the list.

Mississippi Senate

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez

“Are we positive – absolutely positive – these commissions are dead?” Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, asked on the Senate floor Monday. “Because I got a call this morning from a board member who says the Wastewater Advisory Council is active.”

Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, the Senate appropriations chairman, told Dearing the governor’s office said all 16 boards listed, including the wastewater council, had not met in at least two years and did not have bank accounts.

Bryant’s office did not return requests for comment on Monday.

Later in the House debate on Monday, Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, questioned a provision to remove authority of the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office to investigate un-American activities.

Rep. Robert Foster, R-Hernando, who handled the bill said the provision that empowers the Secretary of State to monitor and keep lists of leaders of subversive groups was added during the Communism scare of the 1950s. Authors of the bill said it was redundant to have a state official investigate subversive groups when that power already rests with the U.S. Justice Department.

“We’ve had a lot of un-American activities,” Scott said. “If there is some entity that is trying to do something to hurt this country, if the Secretary of State had wind of it, I just don’t see why we would not want him to have that authority.”

The language remained in the bill. There was no immediate comment from the office of the Secretary of State.

Contributing: R.L. Nave and Larrison Campbell