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BILL CRAWFORD: House leadership plays loose with rights, rules

When it comes to guns, the Mississippi Constitution is a fortress for sacred rights. But, when it comes to reading bills, the Mississippi Constitution is a ridiculous antique.

Since our marvelous state constitution allows legislators to authorize carrying guns into churches, courthouses, sporting events, etc., the Mississippi House under the leadership of Speaker Philip Gunn is passing laws left and right to enable such.

Since our fossil of a constitution allows any legislator to require every bill to be read aloud before passage, the House under Gunn’s leadership has decimated this provision by putting in a machine that reads bills so fast noone can understand a word.

So, we stand by our constitution, except when we don’t. And those in power decide which rights are important.

Perhaps this attitude can help explain the Speaker’s power play to ignore the rules that govern House proceedings. In addition to the constitutional provision allowing bills to be read, the House rules allow members the right to challenge rulings by the Speaker. Recently, the Speaker decided one of his rulings could not be challenged.

Longtime capitol reporter Bobby Harrison of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal took exception to this. “The bottom line is that in a deliberative, legislative body, adherence to the rules is paramount to ensure fairness,” he wrote. “The rules are, in a very real sense, the only protection the minority has.”

You see, the minority in the House, particularly black members, has been using the rules to protest what they see as unprincipled actions by the majority, particularly the Speaker. Gunn sees these actions as dilatory, so he has used his power to minimize their impact … no matter the rights provided by the constitution and the rules.

Speaking of playing loose with rights and rules, the House decided it needed to study up on whether members should be allowed to continue using campaign funds for unrelated personal expenses.

When the House proposal to study the issue got to the Senate, it got upended.

“It’s really common sense,” Senate Elections Chairwoman Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, told the Clarion-Ledger. “The question you ask yourself is, ‘Is this a campaign-related expense, or an expense related to holding office?’ If the answer is yes, you’re fine. If it’s no, then you shouldn’t do it.”

“We know politicians are living out of their campaign funds,” Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville said. “That’s not allowable. It’s basically legalized bribery.”

Senators voted unanimously to ban using campaign funds for unrelated personal expenses.

Perhaps House leaders were trying to prevent a sudden change in money flow for members whose lifestyles have come to depend on access to campaign funds. Whatever, the House will get another shot at this. Members can accept the Senate’s changes, go to conference, or let the bill die.

Given their tepid faithfulness to rights and rules, it won’t be surprising if House leaders just let this bill die.

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2 comments

  1. Bill, I appreciate your courageous journalism. Please keep it up!

  2. Excellent job.

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