More than 1,300 legislators and staff members from the region are expected to attend the Southern Legislative Conference this weekend in Biloxi.
The conference, which is chaired this year by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, includes legislators from 15 Southern states. The group will gather at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.
“I am pleased to welcome Southern state lawmakers and their guests to the 71st SLC Annual Meeting,” Gunn in a release. “I know attendees will enjoy their stay with us, and I hope they will leave the Gulf Coast more informed about the advances Mississippi has made.”
The meeting has received headlines recently regarding some Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus members’ boycott of the event over the state flag, which is the last in the nation containing the Confederate battle emblem. Despite the boycott, organized by Black Caucus leadership, 13 members of the Black Caucus are expected to attend the conference.
“A stronger statement would have been to conduct the 2017 meeting in another state,” wrote Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport, in a May letter to Gunn. “As a body, the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus voted to boycott this year’s SLC meeting. We believe participation at the meeting would send a message of support for the continued use of the Confederate flag.”
A roundtable discussion about race relations has been added to the conference’s agenda.
Other sessions at the conference will focus on Mississippi’s stance on education policy, economic development and coastal restoration following Hurricane Katrina.
Attendees will also tour several Mississippi facilities: Huntington-Ingalls Industries, NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center, The University of Southern Mississippi’s Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center and the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.
Mississippi natives Archie Manning and Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise will speak, and Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith will keynote a session on women in leadership.