Friday, January 18, 2008

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.

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