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Phil Bryant

1 bill to strengthen Mississippi governor advances; 1 dies

Mississippi legislators have advanced one bill to strengthen the state’s constitutionally weak governor but killed another.

Senators on Monday reconsidered and killed a bill to let the governor, rather than a board, appoint the director of the state Department of Mental Health.

Senate Bill 2567 passed the Senate last week but was put on hold. Senators voted not to release the bill to the House before a Monday deadline, and that killed it.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, said physicians’ and psychiatrists’ groups supported the proposed change.

“This bill is about fiscal management, increased accountability,” Clarke said.

But Democratic Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory argued that the bill had not been fully examined.

“Once again, there’s just a rabbit pulled out of a hat, and we are told it’s our duty to go vote,” Bryan said.

The House on Monday sent the Senate a bill that says dozens of occupational licensing boards would have to send proposed regulations to the governor, who could approve, modify or veto them. These boards regulate dentists, architects, barbers and people in many other occupations or professions.

House Bill 1425 passed last week and was put on hold. Representatives voted by a wide margin Friday to keep the bill in limbo after Republican Rep. Toby Barker of Hattiesburg implored his colleagues to kill it. Barker made a second appeal Monday, saying the change could give special interests undue influence and could even lead to corruption through campaign contributions.

“It’s not about this governor, who I think we all kind of like,” Barker said. “It’s about the next governor and the governor after that.”

Despite Barker’s speech, the House voted 63-55 Monday to release the bill to the Senate for more debate.

House Bill 1425 was written in response to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling dealing with the power of the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners. The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint saying the board, made up mostly of dentists, had violated antitrust law by blocking non-dentists from offering teeth whitening services. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that sided with the commission.

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