State Politics

This Ocean Springs lawmaker has a plan to keep the Mississippi Legislature on track

House Banking and Financial Services chairman Hank Zuber III, R-Ocean Springs, right, hands his committee member, Rep. Jeff Hale, R-Nesbit, a bill explanation at the speaker's well at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Lawmakers in both chambers were rushing to meet deadlines.
House Banking and Financial Services chairman Hank Zuber III, R-Ocean Springs, right, hands his committee member, Rep. Jeff Hale, R-Nesbit, a bill explanation at the speaker's well at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Lawmakers in both chambers were rushing to meet deadlines. AP file

An Ocean Springs lawmaker wants the Legislature to consider general bills every other year rather than at every annual legislative session.

While some good comes of the thousands of general bills filed each year, lawmakers have to wade through some doozies to unearth them.

Some examples from the last session:

▪ HB 1: Venomous snakes; classify as inherently dangerous to humans. It died in the Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee.

▪ HB 195: Home economics; require to be taught in “D” and “F” rated school districts.

▪ HB 324: Stallions or jacks; repeal provisions regarding public view of.

▪ HB 713: “Scarlet Letter DUI License Plate Act”; create.

▪ HB 714: Deceased bodies; require report of, if found.

Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, said a law limiting general bills to every other session should lead to more thoughtful legislation and fewer problems with bills that become law.

“Every bill that is passed has unintended consequences,” Zuber said. “A lot of the issues we’re facing now are issues we created over the last 30 to 40 years. That will stop or slow down self-created issues or problems. We won’t have that knee-jerk reaction to national issues. It’s a true fundamental reform that brings back confidence in the system. The system is just not working. I think this will make the process better and will provide a much better product.”

For example, last year, Gov. Phil Bryant vetoed a bill that would have allowed parolees to have online interviews with their parole officers, not because he opposed the intent of the bill, but because an error in a section number could have made habitual offenders eligible for parole after they served a quarter of their sentences. That error was made late in the session when there typically is a flurry of votes up against deadlines.

Critics of House Bill 1523, the “religious freedom” law, said they feared that bill also would have unintended consequences.

“To close doors. To build walls. To draw lines, and to entrench the fears and suspicions of our past — these are the fruits of this law,” wrote author Benjamin Morris, who bicycled 500 miles across Mississippi in protest. “Unintended, to be sure, but real, and already among us. As believers, as seekers of truth, as Mississippians, as Americans — this is not who we are.”

That law has been subject to numerous court hearings and rulings and likely will see more court action before it’s settled.

Last year, Zuber proposed a constitutional amendment to limit sessions to every other year. The bill he plans to introduce this year won’t be nearly that sweeping, he said.

“It’s not having any effect on the appropriation process, on being able to take up bond bills or being able to take up three-fifths bills (revenue and tax bills) — anything other than just general legislation,” Zuber said. “It’s my opinion and based on the feedback I’m getting, no bill is that important that it can’t wait a year.”

He said support for the bill transcends party politics.

“Republican and Democrat. Black and white,” he said. “And the House leadership is open to it.”

Pre-legislative briefing

Who: Reps. Scott Delano, Charles Busby, Greg Haney, Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes and Sens. Brice Wiggins and Michael Watson

What: The Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce will have questions for six Coast lawmakers.

Where: Golden Nugget Biloxi.

When: 7:30 a.m. Tuesday

Price: Chamber members $20 and $35 for nonmembers. Breakfast is included.

Details: Ashley Butsch, 228-604-0014. To submit a question: Ashley@mscoastchamber.com.

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