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Analysis: Lawmakers love to praise the folks back home

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

Mississippi legislators will flail their arms and raise their voices to disagree about substantial issues like education funding and state employees’ job protection. But they generally find bipartisan peace and harmony in the act of commending the folks back home.

The House and Senate adopt hundreds of resolutions each year to congratulate sports teams, beauty queens, writers, actors, singers, painters, preachers, teachers and even other politicians.

If you’ve lived in Mississippi a while and haven’t been commended, you might want to look in the mirror and consider why you’ve fallen short. Or just keep perfecting your basketball skills and know your time is coming.

Most “commendatory” resolutions, in legislative-speak, are noncontroversial. Sometimes, an unexpected one will sail through with broad support.

Such was the case Jan. 19, the last full day President Barack Obama was in office, when the Mississippi Senate adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 552 honoring him as “one of the most consequential presidents in recent history” and recognizing the significance of his being the first African-American elected to the nation’s highest office.

Republicans hold seven of eight statewide offices and majorities in the Mississippi House and Senate, and the state resisted many of the Obama administration’s policies during his two terms. As Obama prepared to leave the White House, though, Mississippi Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton sought bipartisan support for the Democratic-sponsored resolution commending him. Burton, R-Newton, said that “politics aside, party aside,” only 44 people had served as president, and holding the office is an honor.

The resolution was adopted with no debate and no opposition, although Republican Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula voted “present,” which counted neither for nor against. Six Republicans and one Democrat were absent.

The Mississippi House adopted the Obama resolution 116-0 last Friday. Four Republicans didn’t vote, and two were absent. The Obama honor was one of 30 Senate concurrent resolutions brought up as a block, which meant voting for one resolution meant voting for them all. There was no debate, but House Rules Committee Chairman Jason White, R-West, asked House members to carefully review the list before voting.

There was a bit of confusion about another resolution listed on the House calendar Friday.

House Resolution 9 was filed by Democratic Rep. Oscar Denton of Vicksburg to commend the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi for a public stance it took in 2016 — that the Confederate battle emblem should be removed from the Mississippi flag, and that the state should adopt a new flag that “represents, unites and respects the dignity of all the citizens of Mississippi.”

White quickly told the House that the flag resolution was not cleared by the Rules Committee and should not have been printed on the calendar. Because of that, the House didn’t vote on it.

The Confederate battle emblem has been on the Mississippi flag since 1894, and the design has generated strong emotions on all sides for years. Several bills filed this legislative session proposed either redesigning the flag or punishing schools, universities, cities and counties that don’t fly it. All of the House bills died in the Rules Committee last week because White chose not to bring them up for a vote before a deadline.

“We’ve got so many issues other than that, that we have deal with,” White said later. “And there’s no consensus on the flag.”

While bills have deadlines, resolutions do not. The House Rules Committee could consider Denton’s proposal any time before the session ends in early April, though that’s unlikely.

But, hey, that swim team that won a state championship? Those kids need commending.

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