A Mississippi lawmaker says the state constitution is at stake in his lawsuit against the House speaker over a speed-reading computer voice that’s been called the “demon chipmunk.”
Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford says Republican Speaker Philip Gunn violated the constitution by setting the machine to read bills aloud at a superfast speed. Hughes’ attorney says House members called it a “demon chipmunk” voice.
“No one, not even the speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, is above the Constitution,” Hughes’ attorney, S. Ray Hill III, wrote in a brief filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court.
Any member of the Mississippi House or Senate can demand that a bill be read aloud immediately before a final vote on it, according to Section 59 of the 1890 state Constitution. Bill-reading is a common filibuster tactic.
House Democrats forced readings in March because they thought their ideas were being ignored by the Republican supermajority. Hughes sued Gunn over the speedy voice, and the dispute awaits consideration in the state Supreme Court
In the brief for Hughes, Hill wrote that Gunn had used the computer voice at a fast but understandable pace in previous years.
“In the 2016 legislative session, however, when legislators sought to exercise their rights under Article 4, Section 59, Speaker Gunn retaliated by having the machine play at warp speed so that no member could understand what was being said,” Hill wrote. “On the House floor, members began to refer to Speaker Gunn’s machine as the ‘demon chipmunk.’
“On March 23, 2016, Speaker Gunn again set loose the ‘demon chipmunk’ in response to a member’s request to have a bill read aloud.”
In arguments filed with the state Supreme Court on June 7, Michael Wallace and other attorneys representing Gunn said legislators can read any bill for themselves on paper or on a state-issued computer, so it isn’t necessary for them to understand a bill when it’s read aloud.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd issued an order March 23 to block Gunn from using the fast setting for the reading. The Supreme Court tossed out Kidd’s order hours later, and the speed-reading resumed.
Gunn’s attorneys said legislative disputes must be resolved within the Legislature, not by the courts. They noted that in 2001 the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to interfere with how then-Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck handled an internal dispute in the state Senate.
The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments July 19. Justices have said that they will not listen to recordings of the computer voice speed-reading bills as they consider the case
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