Attorney Waverly Harkins takes a cell phone photograph of the expanded view of newly proposed congressional boundaries between Hinds and Madison counties following a meeting of the Joint Congressional Redistricting and Legislative Reapportionment Committees at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

A coalition of groups has filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission saying the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee has violated state law “by deliberating, making decisions and conducting public business outside a properly noticed open meeting.”

The complaint was filed on Wednesday — the same day the Redistricting Committee approved a plan to redraw the state’s four U.S. House seats to match population shifts ascertained by the 2020 Census. That plan will be offered to the full Legislature for approval during the 2022 session beginning Jan. 4. The committee also is working on a plan to redraw the 52 state Senate seats and 122 state House seats.

Those filing the complaint include the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, League of Women Voters of Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Justice, the state conference of the NAACP, Mississippi Votes, Southern Echo and Southern Poverty Law Center.

The complaint said the bulk of the work of the committee has taken place behind closed doors, including the drawing of the congressional redistricting plan approved Wednesday in open session, the complaint said.

“The extent of the redistricting work that the Committee has performed thus far makes it apparent that the Committee has performed public business in private,” the complaint alleges. “In fact, following its November public meeting, Chairman Jim Beckett invited the Committee’s members to his office to view the U.S. congressional map that would be, and was, offered, voted on and adopted by the Committee” on Wednesday.

Traditionally the Legislature has met in public to take up legislation, but often the legislation was crafted behind closed doors. The Ethics Commission will be tasked with determining when the crafting of legislation behind closed doors violates the open meetings law.

Any ruling on open meetings and open records conflicts issued by the Ethics Commission can be appealed to chancery court.

Of the work of the Committee, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said, “Our Standing Joint Congressional Redistricting Committee, under the Senate leadership of Pro Tempore Dean Kirby, held nine hearings in 2021 in all regions of the state to hear from citizens about the map. For the first time, all hearings were webcasted and archived in the interest of accessibility and transparency. We are grateful for the Committee’s work and look forward to seeing their progress on the legislative lines in 2022.”

The complaint said there was no instance of the public comments and redistricting plans offered by the public being considered in open meeting.

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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.