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Baria: Speaker Gunn reneged on deals, sparked speed-reading debate

By PAUL HAMPTON

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Rep. David Baria,D-Bay St. Louis, is the leader of the House Democratic Caucus.
Rep. David Baria,D-Bay St. Louis, is the leader of the House Democratic Caucus. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The leader of House Democrats says Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has broken promises and destroyed the trust the minority opposition placed in him.

"I thought we had a compromise two weeks ago," Baria said of the deal with Gunn to kill a bill changing the way the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport is governed.

The deal also resumed points of personal privilege, which allows members  to question how legislative business is being conducted.

A Senate version of the bill was passed out of a House committee, Baria said, which he said broke the agreement. He said Gunn afterwards said he agreed to kill only the House bill.

Wednesday, when Gunn began allowing bills to be read by a machine at an incomprehensible speed, Rep. John Hinds, R-Greenville, asked to protest.

Gunn told him to wait until the end of business, Baria said.

"The speaker said he had discretion," Baria said. "But that was clearly a breach of our agreement."

A freshman legislator, Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford, later obtained a restraining order against Gunn, which told the speaker to slow the readings down.

That order likely will be subject of a hearing in Hinds County Circuit Court on Monday, when the judge could either lift it or make it permanent.

"The problem with this is there is no longer any trust," said Baria, D-Bay St. Louis. "They continue to ram through bills without regard to the Constitution and good will." The Republicans have a supermajority in the House, which means Democrats can delay but not stop any bill from passing.

Gunn, at Thursday's session, reminded House members each one was provided a computer and each member could have read the bills before the session.

"If you read the bills and are asking for them to be read, there must be another purpose," he said. "A dilatory purpose."

He said the delay tactics mean the House probably will be in session Friday and Saturday, at a cost of about $70,000.

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