JACKSON — Mississippi senators rejected the secretary of state’s budget yesterday over an argument about paying lawyers to defend a proposed voter identification law.
It’s probably just a temporary setback in setting an overall state spending plan for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1.
Appropriations Chairman Eugene “Buck” Clarke, R-Hollandale, said he’ll bring the secretary of state’s budget bill back up next week and he expects it to pass when attendance is better. Several senators were out of the chamber and didn’t vote yesterday.
“I think some of them went to lunch early, to be honest,” Clarke told reporters.
Mississippi needs federal approval for any election changes, and a voter ID proposal was submitted to the Justice Department months ago. If it’s rejected there, Republicans want to ask federal judges in Washington, D.C., to approve it.
Senate Bill 2901 says the secretary of state could spend up to $695,000 for voter ID litigation during the budget year.
Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, said it’s the attorney general’s job, not the secretary of state’s, to submit election proposals to the Justice Department. He said there’s no point in paying two agencies to do the same job.
“You can be for voter ID and against wasting money,” Blount said.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann doesn’t want to comment on his budget bill until after the Senate votes on it again, spokeswoman Pamela Weaver said.
Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said he opposes voter ID and said doesn’t want any tax dollars to go toward defending it. Jordan, who is 78 and black, said people of his generation fought, and some died, to secure all citizens’ right to vote.
“I’ve lived long enough to remember poll tax,” Jordan said.
In the November 2011 election, 62 percent of Mississippi voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment that says each voter must show some sort of photo identification before casting a ballot. In 2012, the Republican-led Legislature voted to put voter ID into law. But the mandates can’t take effect without federal approval.
Clarke on Thursday gave reporters a copy of a contract that Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood signed in November 2012 with the Butler Snow law firm of Ridgeland. It says Butler Snow can represent the state on all matters related to voter ID and the firm can be paid up to $100,000 between Sept. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013. The contract can be canceled if state or federal money for it is not approved.
Republican former Gov. Haley Barbour went to work for Butler Snow after he finished his second term in January 2011, but he is not the attorney who’d be likely to work on the Mississippi voter ID case. The contract is signed by Tommie Cardin, an attorney who has been involved in redistricting and other election matters for more than a decade.
Twenty-three senators voted for the secretary of state’s budget bill yesterday, and 17 voted against it. It failed because the state constitution says it takes a majority of elected senators — not just a majority of those voting — for a budget bill to pass. With 51 senators currently serving, and one vacancy, it takes at least 26 votes to pass a budget bill.
If the secretary of state’s budget bill passes the Senate, it goes to the House. It is one of 108 bills that make up a proposed $5.5 billion budget for fiscal 2014, and all other bills have been passed by one chamber or the other. The two chambers have early April deadline to agree on a final budget plan to send to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.