The 2019 Mississippi legislative session will begin with the specter of the two highest-ranking lawmakers having recently been arrested on charges related to driving under the influence.

Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, R-Newton, was charged with driving under the influence Wednesday night in Starkville. This was his third DUI arrest in four years.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, pleaded no contest last month in Meridian Municipal Court to refusing a breathalyzer when suspected of driving under the influence in late September.

The Senate and House pro tems, considered powerful and enviable posts in the Legislature, serve in absence of the presiding officer. The posts draw extra campaign contributions and lobbying efforts from interest groups, and both pro tems also oversee the operational management of their respective chambers.

“I know firsthand what it is like to make a mistake and to accept the consequences for those mistakes,” Burton said in a release on Thursday. “I respect and applaud law enforcement for always erring on the side of caution. I truly believe this is a misunderstanding.”

When asked if he would consider stepping down as pro tem, Burton replied: “No. No plans to do that.”

It remained unclear Thursday afternoon how Senate leadership would handle Burton’s arrest. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who serves as president of the Senate, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Snowden’s future as House pro tem could lie in the hands of the House Ethics Committee and the greater House body.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, referred the issue to the House Ethics Committee. Gunn said he had no authority to take action against Snowden even if he chose to since Snowden was elected to the District 83 House seat by voters in Lauderdale County and as pro tem by his colleagues in the House.

Gunn said referring the issue to the Ethics Committee “is the right action to take. That is what I think is appropriate.” But he also said the Ethics Committee would be limited in what it could do. It would be up to the full House to enact any recommendation made by the committee.

Burton, 62, who has been in the Senate since 1992 representing portions of Lauderdale, Scott and Newton counties, was found not guilty by a justice court judge in Newton County in a 2016 DUI arrest. Burton argued that a false positive resulted from him taking cough syrup and breath spray to deal with a scratchy throat.

He pleaded guilty to a previous DUI charge in 2014.

Snowden, 64, has been in the House since 2000. He contended that he was texting when he wrecked in Meridian in September, but he refused to take a breathalyzer, resulting in charges essentially equivalent to driving under the influence under state law. He chose to plead no contest rather than fight the charge. However, he did not admit to driving under the influence and did not receive jail time after being placed in a non-adjudication program.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.

Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.