Thursday, January 31, 2008

Deadline for Legislation Requests Passes

Last night at 8 p.m., the deadline for filing legislation requests with the legal staff downstairs passed. In the next few days, they'll deliver our bill proposals to us, where we then try to find legislators who will agree to be co-sponsors (it somewhat resembles yearbook signing parties back in high school), and then we drop them in the "House Bills" box in the front of the House Chamber.

After that, our bills are assigned bill numbers and are referred to the appropriate committee(s).

I ended up getting eight requests in for bills in which I will be the lead sponsor. I'll probably co-sponsor several more.

Tuesday in Public Health we had a report from the Autism Task Force. Today, we'll hear from the Mississippi Trauma Care Task Force.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Funniest Moment Thus Far

As I was gathering something from my desk to take to the Legislative Services Office, I heard something unusual resonating on the House Chamber floor. At first I dismissed it, because surely this would not be sounding from the Mississippi House of Representatives' floor. But alas, it was so. Coming from a desk one aisle over from a senior representative's laptop was the song "Soulja' Boy." While this representative will remain nameless, after he noticed my double-take, he asked passively:

"Toby, you know that Soulja' Boy?"
"Me too."

It was random- but the word had already spread to the pages, and by the time we convened at 2, there were several other representatives around learning the song as well. It was something to behold. What generational gap?

First Committee Meetings; Promotion

Yesterday afternoon we had our first committee meetings. Transportation met at noon, Education convened at one and Universities and Colleges came together after adjournment around 2:30. We're starting to run around so much, the Capitol is, as Rep. Norquist pointed out, as "tore up as a sack of monkeys." He also came up with several other metaphors from which I will draw in later posts.

I also learned today that I was being promoted to Vice-Chairman of the Special Committee on Poverty. I'll be working with Chairman Reecy Dickson.

Finally, my pages are up this week from Hattiesburg. I've got two Hattiesburg High students- Taylor Willis and Claire Ratliff. Both have done a fine job and are making new friends.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bill Proposal Deadline Set

Our deadline to meet about drafting legislation has been moved up to next Wednesday, three weeks earlier than the previous deadline. So far, I've put two in the pipeline, with possibly another 9 to submit over the next week. So- this will be a busy rest of the week.

Three of my committees will commence tomorrow. Transporation, Education and Universities and Colleges will all have their first meeting tomorrow afternoon.

Yesterday, the Hattiesburg delegation met with representatives from the Mississippi Highway Patrol about making our driver's license station more efficient and less time-consuming for citizens. It was good information, and there were a number of different ideas discussed; we'll see what comes of it. I'm learning the obstacle to nearly every new idea is finding the money to carry it out.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Committee Assignments

Our committees were assigned today. Mine were:

Special Committee on Poverty,
Public Health,
Public Property,
Universities and Colleges,

House Adopts Rules for 2008-2012

Today, after two debates on amendments, the House adopted its permanent rules for procedure for the 2008-2012 term.

The first debate centered on what percentage of the House membership it would take to poll a bill out of committee. This is used in instances where a committee, or committee chairman, might keep a particular bill from a full vote from the House membership.

Until 1987, it took a two-thirds vote to poll a bill out of committee. It 1987, the system changed to a majority vote and held there until 2004. During the tort reform debate, the rules changed back to a two-thirds vote, making it more difficult to poll a bill out of committee.

Today, the amendment was offered by Rep. Herb Frierson to revert back to the pre-2004 "majority" rule. Mr. Frierson, Philip Gunn and Danny Guice made the most powerful arguments for the amendment, while Steve Holland and Percy Watson made the most convincing arguments to keep the present rule.

My thoughts were similar to Mr. Gunn's. I believe in majority-rule, but I believe also that the majority must always protect the rights of the minority. I believe having a majority vote to poll a bill out of committee makes the House more democratic. A prime example of a "pocket veto" from a committee chairman happened just last year in the Senate with Senator Robertson not allowing the tax swap bill to go to the floor. While I am unsure of what the Senate rules to poll a bill out of committee are, I know that these instances occur. Good legislation for Mississippi's progress is kept from seeing the light of day, and making it easier to poll a bill out of committee is key to giving the people a greater voice. However, the amendment failed, along lines similar to the Speaker's vote last week.

While I cannot speak for my other colleagues that voted for the amendment, I'd like to think that even if the Speaker's race had turned out differently, I would still have voted to change this rule to a "majority" vote instead of two-thirds.

One thing concerns me. If you look at the members spoke for and against the amendment, it broke down on party lines. Again, the vote broke down on lines similar to that of the Speaker's race. I am ready to move beyond petty disputes on procedure to the issues that affect the lives of Mississippians.

However, the second amendment presented encouraged me. Rep. Bill Denny presented an amendment to broadcast the House proceedings on the Internet, similar to what the Senate did last week. This creates transparency, allowing viewers to watch both the Speaker's podium and the well (lectern) of the House chamber. After Rep. Denny, a Republican introduced the amendment, Bo Eaton and Tommy Reynolds, both Democrats, also spoke in favor the amendment. It was encouraging to finally have a bipartisan, majority-vote.

The House Rules finally unanimously passed after the amendments.

In closing the week, Rep. Mark DuVall would like to let my readers in Mantachie (I had to ask him out to spell it) know that he enjoyed participating in democracy at work through this very spirited debate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

House Votes to Shorten Session to 103 Days

Today, the House voted to shorten the session to 103 days. While this pretty much assures us of closing up shop in early to mid-April, we do not yet know if our session will end in 103 days or 104 days. The Senate has passed its version of the Joint Rules (which governs things like the length of the session) and the House has passed its own version.

Now, the two versions will be resolved in Conference, with three members from the House and three members from the Senate.

After the Conference Committee reconciles the two, one version will go to both the House and the Senate for final passage.

Supervisor's Reception

Last night, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors held their legislative reception at the Jackson Hilton. While many counties had only two or three of their supervisors in attendance, it was refreshing to see all five of Forrest County's supervisors present.

Web Updating

Just to give thanks for the one who is continously putting the effort into redesigning and updating the website- Sunny Corral.

Sunny is the Director of Innovation at the Lott Center at Southern Miss. She is also an incredibly talented and kind friend who sets aside time from husband Christian and dogs Jazz and Mango to make sure the people of District 102 know what is going on in the legislature.

Thanks to Sunny.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

First Delegation Meeting

This morning, we had our first Hattiesburg delegation meeting. It was very productive to share ideas, strategy and goals for the people and entities we represent. I think the greater benefit was just the sharing of information between our Hattiesburg counterparts on the Senate side. We have a solid delegation, with each member on the House and Senate side adding something important to the mix.

A nice treat happened when newly elected Lamar County Supervisor Ben Winston gave the opening prayer for the House this morning.

It's a short day today- the Inauguration ceremony for Gov. Haley Barbour will take place at 11 a.m.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Progress Abounds

Maybe the title was a little misleading. For now, any sign of progress is a cause for excitement. We've put in for committees, and now the waiting starts. While the Senate can usually appoint committees within a week, the House usually takes a couple of weeks. This is because the Senate knows who its leader will be in November, while we find out the first day of session in January.

Today we drew for parking spaces. By using the same process, the class of 2008 was again at the rear of the selection. However, this time, I drew the prized #1. By that time, however, all the parking spaces were on the street. So, luck is a relative term.

We're starting to get the ball rolling on adding another circuit judgeship to the Forrest/Perry County circuit district. We should be receiving some caseload information tomorrow to start building our case. If we can win this, it will help clear a great deal of backlog in cases in the Hattiesburg area.

In one final note, all of the new statewide officials (minus Haley Barbour, who will be inaugurated next week) took the oath in the House chambers today.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Seating Draw; Other Updates

Today we drew for seats. The way it works is that the members who have been there the longest get to choose their seats first. So, starting with the class of 1980 (which still have several members in office...including our own Rep. Percy Watson), the members of a class draw numbers to see who chooses first.

The idea is to avoid getting stuck on the front row, especially on the middle aisle. Landing on the front row in the middle aisle means that you will spend the next four years right in front of the well (the main lectern) of the House chambers. The problem occurs during particularly passionate speeches in which errant saliva might be thrown from whomever is speaking at the well.

So, after a good hour-plus, the class of 2008 was finally called. Out of 19, I drew #10 (not as good as Bob Evans or Mac Huddleston- but not as bad as Bubba Carpenter or Mark DuVall, who drew #18 and #19, respectively). In the end, I took one of the few remaining seats on the next-to-back row, in the middle aisle. I'm sitting on a row with Tommy Woods, Alex Monsour and Larry Baker.

Other notable news is that J.P. Compretta from the Gulf Coast was re-elected Speaker Pro Tem. Rep. Percy Watson of Hattiesburg was elected again to the Management Committee. This is good news for the Pine Belt because the Management Committee helps select which members go to each committee.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

McCoy Re-Elected House Speaker

By a vote of 62-60, Speaker Billy McCoy was re-elected Speaker of the House. Obviously, I was on the short end of that vote, seeing as though I supported Rep. Jeff Smith.

The tone of the day was set by two tie votes for temporary Speaker, with Robert Johnson tying Ed Blackmon 61-61 twice before Blackmon won on the third try 62-60.

The First Seating

I guess the reality of it all still hasn't hit me. I walked up the lawn and through the basement doors of the Capitol building. After explaining to security that I wasn't a page, I walked into the ground floor while everyone milled about. There was a guy with his keyboard in the rotunda playing "Lean on Me". I grabbed my passes from the House office, strolled past the House staff and onto the House floor. It's awe-inspiring to think of all the past leaders, statesmen and scoundrels, who once walked the walls of the Capitol and debated legislation that would forge the future of Mississippi. I'm grateful to be here, and I look forward to all the experiences I'll have the privilege of living.

Monday, January 7, 2008

First Session Tomorrow

Tomorrow is our first session for 2008, and I look forward to being sworn in for District 102. I'll post more information after the day's events.