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A packed gallery forced some visitors to try to watch proceedings through the ornamental frosted glass windows above the House chamber on the first day of the Legislature at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. Mississippi lawmakers begin their four-month session at noon, and committees in the House and Senate will also start considering challenges to three disputed elections. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Miss. lawmakers start 4-year term with new Senate pro tem

Mississippi lawmakers are at the Capitol to start a four-year term, and senators have chosen a longtime colleague as one of their top officers.

Republican Sen. Terry Burton of Newton, who’s been in the Senate since 1992, was unanimously elected president pro tempore shortly after the four-month session was gaveled to order Tuesday. He will rank second only to Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and will preside over the 52-member chamber when Reeves is unavailable.

“You have been elected to represent your people. I recognize that your people may not want the same thing on the issues as my people,” Burton told his colleagues. “I pledge to you to try to reach consensus with each of you.”

As pro tem, he succeeds Republican Sen. Giles Ward of Louisville, who didn’t seek re-election to the Legislature in 2015.

The 122-member House is keeping the same Republican leaders, with Rep. Philip Gunn of Clinton winning a second term as speaker and Rep. Greg Snowden of Meridian winning a second term as speaker pro tempore. Members voted unanimously for both men, but spectators erupted into laughter when a small child at the back of the House chamber yelled “No!” on the question of electing the speaker.

Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, referred to his faith while thanking his colleagues.

“You have seen that I’m not a perfect man,” Gunn said. “I am a sinner saved by grace. Despite that, you have chosen to look past my shortcomings.”

Two House seats and one Senate seat remain in dispute. Because the chambers have different rules, the certified winners of the House races were sworn in Tuesday with other lawmakers, but the certified winner of the Senate race was not inaugurated.

Reeves appointed a Senate committee, led by Burton, to consider the District 37 dispute in Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties. Former Sen. Bob Dearing defeated one-term Republican Sen. Melanie Sojourner by 64 votes in the general election, but Sojourner said voting irregularities should invalidate Dearing’s victory. Both are from Natchez.

Other senators on the committee hearing the dispute are Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth; Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson; Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven and Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall.

A House committee on Tuesday said it will recommend that the full House dismiss a dispute over the Democratic primary in District 98 in Pike and Walthall counties. Chairman Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said the House doesn’t have the power to decide a primary dispute.

Tasha Dillon lost by 144 votes to five-term Rep. David Myers, but she said voting irregularities should invalidate the results. Both are from McComb. Dillon said Tuesday that she will continue to ask a judge to seat her as the winner.

Attorneys on Tuesday were given more time to file papers in the House District 79 dispute in Smith and Jasper counties. The Nov. 3 general election ended in a tie between five-term Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville and Republican Mark Tullos of Raleigh.

Eaton won a tiebreaker by drawing straws, but Tullos said the race should never have been tied because he believes some votes were improperly counted. If the House decides to seat Tullos rather than Eaton, Republicans will gain a three-fifths supermajority in the chamber, which means the GOP could enact tax changes without consulting Democrats.

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