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Bill to limit Hood's power killed by procedural problem

JACKSON — A bill to limit Attorney General Jim Hood’s power died yesterday after it was found to violate parliamentary rules in the Mississippi House. But Hood isn’t in the clear yet.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, said he had no choice but to kill his own bill after experts found that it was written in a way that broke rules. Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, raised the objection that killed the bill after Democrats spent nearly two hours questioning House Judiciary A Chairman Mark Baker, R-Brandon.

“My desire is to follow the rules and the point of order was taken, even though it was my bill,” Gunn said after the ruling.

The bill would have let statewide elected officials and agency heads hire their own lawyers when they found that the attorney general couldn’t adequately represent them. It would have required legal contracts worth $100,000 or more to be posted on the Internet. Bills to limit Hood’s powers also have been filed in the Senate.

Republicans have been trying for years to limit the power of Hood, now the lone statewide elected Democrat.

Gunn said he will re-file a corrected bill and that the Judiciary A Committee is likely to consider the new version Monday.

The partisan controversy surrounding the bill was amplified Tuesday after Baker denied Hood’s request for a formal public hearing on the bill. Baker defended that decision yesterday, again saying that neither Hood nor any Democrat asked during a Tuesday committee meeting to give Hood a chance to speak.

“The fact of the matter is he was never requested to speak,” Baker said, noting that Hood sat at the committee table and even walked around the table, speaking to Democrats who were asking questions. “No one asked his input, but he gave his input throughout the process.”

Hood has decried the bill as an unconstitutional intrusion into his powers as the state’s chief legal officer.

Democrats repeatedly questioned Baker about whether the bill would lead to wasteful duplication, whether agency heads would hire cronies and whether the Legislature would have any control over the spending. Baker emphasized that the occasions when a separate attorney would be hired would be relatively rare, and said it was wrong to let the attorney general force a lawyer on an agency.

“In truth and fact we’re not doubling up,” Baker said. “What we’re doing is filling the voice in those times when there is a conflict between the attorney general and the agency.”

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