House actions signal little desire for change

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 21, 2008

Citizens’ hopes for significant change in the MississippiLegislature were dealt a setback Friday through several actions inthe Mississippi House of Representatives.

First, for the most part, Speaker of the House Billy McCoy keptthe same roster of committee chairmen that he had during the lastfour years. McCoy’s decisions surely are disappointing for thosewho had hoped for change, especially following the 62-60 vote bywhich he held on to the speaker’s post.

Among area lawmakers, District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-BogueChitto, was returned to the House Gaming Committee chairmanship andfreshman District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, was namedvice-chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee.

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Fellow freshman District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, wasnot expecting to get any committee leadership posts. However, shewas appointed to panels she requested, including Public Health,Medicaid and a few others.

Another setback to change came when representatives rejected aRepublican effort to lesson the power of committee chairmen. Theproposal would have changed House rules to require only a simplemajority to remove a bill from a committee instead of thetwo-thirds margin needed now.

Opponents of the proposed change claimed current rules givechairmen the ability to block bad legislation. Perhaps, but goodlegislation in the eyes of everyone but the committee chairmancould – and often does – fail to see the light of day under thecurrent scenario.

That Democrats have maintained power in the House and in keypositions is not a bad thing entirely. It is a dangerous path totravel when one party is in control of both the executive andlegislative branches and the other party’s ideas and considerationsare effectively not a part of the discussion.

Now, as in the past four years, the key will be for executiveand legislative leaders to build bridges of compromise in the formof legislation that will best serve all people.

That construction must not be held up by any single committeechairman unwilling to consider another point of view in the debate.Given the last four years of acrimony between Gov. Haley Barbourand some parts of the Legislature, the House’s recent decisions donot bode well for any new bridge building.