The governance of 26 state occupational boards would fall under the purview of a three-person commission under a Senate bill approved Wednesday night.
The bill would give the governor, attorney general and secretary of state the responsibility to “approve, disapprove or disapprove with suggested amendment” any regulations made by the 26 boards, provided the House agrees with changes made to the bill by the Senate.
The bill that passed by a 27-21 vote was dramatically scaled back from its original version. The first version gave the governor himself – not the three-person commission – oversight over “between 80-100” boards and commissions.
Occupational boards, typically comprised of industry professionals, regulate who gets into the respective professions and what that person can do once they are a member of that profession.
Lawmakers this session, with the blessing of Gov. Phil Bryant and his staff, introduced the bills in response to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The high court ruled that the state of North Carolina’s dental licensing board, which was made up mainly of persons active in the dental industry, only had immunity from antitrust lawsuits when the board was supervised by the state government.
The legislation has been the center of one of the loudest debates this session.
A Senate committee rejected the initial version, killing it completely. The first House version passed committee but needed two separate House floor votes to keep it alive. That House bill then narrowly passed a different Senate committee than the one that had killed the first version after a long debate about its merits. The watered down version that passed on Wednesday now moves to the House for consideration.
Proponents of the bill said Wednesday that the new changes to the bill should satisfy many complaints raised in recent weeks.
“A lot of concerns there were brought to light and discussed,” said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, who defended the bill on the Senate floor. “The House version was scrutinized. When the bill came to the Senate, it continued to be scrutinized. That’s why we have the strike-all (the updated version). I feel very confident about this in its current form, and if there are issues that are brought to light in the future, we can certainly address it.”
During the one-hour-and-20-minute debate (midnight Wednesday was the deadline for the Senate to consider the bill), nearly every available option to stall or kill the bill was exhausted by senators who opposed it.
Three separate amendments were introduced but were definitively shot down by the body. A legal inquiry to one of those amendments was posed. A motion to recommit the entire bill to committee, which would have effectively killed it, was introduced and narrowly failed by a 23-21 vote.
Every senator who voted to recommit the bill was a Democrat, with the exception of Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch. All who voted against recommitting the bill were Republicans.
Parker said he flew to Washington, D.C., over the weekend to meet with an attorney who has studied the actions of state legislatures following the Supreme Court’s 2015 dental board decision. Parker, who said he agreed the state needed to enact policy protecting the occupational boards, introduced three separate amendments that would “add greater detail” to the legislation.
All three of Parker’s amendments, including one that would remove vague language at the advice of the D.C. attorney he visited, failed by long shots.
“When we get back home, I think this is the bill you’ll get phone calls about,” Parker said. “Doctors, dentists, CPAs, engineers … everyone on the list here will be screaming. Our desire as a Legislature is to get this right. Having spent countless hours looking at this, I just don’t believe that it’s quite right. I’m just not comfortable where the language is.”
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, used strong language in speaking against the bill, calling it “a sledgehammer approach” to solving a problem he acknowledged existed.
“It’s hard to overstate how sweeping this bill is and how it will affect thousands and thousands of Mississippians,” Blount said. “This will affect tens of thousands of professionals and put every one of them under control of a super board that can be controlled by two people.”
“You’re going to get many, many calls about it,” he said. “To simply hand over the rule-making authority for approval or disapproval to a group of three people who can be governed with two votes is a vital mistake.”
While the bill was under attack during debate, Tindell remained confident in his defense. Bryant left the Capitol shortly before the bill was debated, but his policy director Drew Snyder sat at the smokers’ table to the side of the Senate floor and listened attentively. He interacted several times with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ staffers, and he answered questions from several senators.
“These folks who sit on these occupational boards right now have immunity from anti-trust lawsuits,” Tindell said. “But as the Supreme Court ruling stated, if proper regulation isn’t put into place, those members could have liability in these lawsuits. Those board members should be very, very concerned if we do not do anything on this bill.”
The bill was held in the Senate on a procedural motion that will require further action before the bill moves back to the House for consideration. If the House votes to uphold the Senate’s amended version, it will be placed on the desk of Bryant, who would be signing into law a new executive power.
Occupational boards included in the updated legislation (according to obtained email from Gov. Phil Bryant’s policy director Drew Snyder):
Accountancy, Architecture, Auctioneers, Barber Examiners, Chiropractic Examiners, Contractors, Cosmetology, Counselors, Dental Examiners, Engineers and Land Surveyors, Registration for Foresters, Funeral Services, Registered Professional Geologists, Massage Therapy, Medical Licensure, Nursing, Nursing Home Administrators, Optometry, Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, Polygraph Examiners, Psychology, Real Estate Appraiser Licensing and Certification, Real Estate Commission, Social Workers and Marriage Family Therapists, and Veterinary Examiners.