Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sine Die

Friday, we adjourned sine die, which is a fancy phrase for the legislative session being over. We'll be back sometime in May to try and figure out Medicaid.

There’s a tinge of sadness. I suppose I expected it but was so eager to have it all done with that I didn’t really notice during the week. But most things are wrapped up. I finished getting everyone’s signature in my legislative picture book, except for Danny Guice, whom I'll have to wait and see in the special session. Maybe the signed book will be worth something one day- though I doubt any of us, with the exception of maybe Norquist, Janus, Brandon or Jessica Upshaw, will ever be elected to statewide office. But I’m glad to have a piece of Mississippi history of my own making.

The tomato plants were out. Chairman Charles Young, still effective despite some health problems, said the opening prayer. Both of those occurrences, the prayer by Young and the tomato plants for all the members, signal the last day. There were the handshakes and promises to visit around the state over the summer. I introduced my college friend-now-Lt. Governor's office staffer Adam Buckalew in the gallery. I called Kate to let her know there would be thunderstorms that afternoon, so I told her get on the road, even if we couldn’t meet in Meridian.

I suppose you try to think about all the lessons you learned your first term and make sense of them, in hopes of doing even better next year. As I prepare to wrap up my freshman year, I think of the more prevalent things I know now. Always tell the truth to your fellow member. Don’t get too emotionally involved on any one issue. Don’t get too upset if your bill doesn’t fly the first time- you’ll have three or four opportunities to add your stuff later. Always vote how you want, as if it’s your last day, your last week, your last term in office- and let the chips fall where they may, despite the threats and promises of future retribution. Try not get too discouraged, if in the end, your bill doesn’t fly the first year (thought that’s a really hard one). Finally, know that revenge cometh quickly.

I learned to vote my district (thanks Jessica, Forrest, Wanda and Ray). I learned the art of building consensus amongst people who see things differently (thanks Preston, Mark and Greg Ward). I learned how to handle myself on the floor (thanks Percy). I learned to pick my battles (thanks Philip and Johnny). I learned that Mississippi's future is still bright (thanks to my freshman class).

It was not the most spectacular freshman year imaginable. But it was okay, probably better than some expected of me. The ADEPT School is going to get a good bit of funding. The DuBard School’s funding is up $100,000. The Children’s Center got an increase of $70,000. Southern Miss, in a bad budget year, scored well in bond money. The assistant DAs, legal assistants and criminal investigators for the Forrest/Perry County circuit district, and the Lamar County circuit district, survived. We did not get our judge, and that was a downer. But in the end, I did get a major piece of legislation through- the Mississippi Taxpayer Transparency Act, even if my name wasn't on the final product. So- not a bad year.

My days will now consist of finding a job for the rest of the year, finishing my house, doing long overdue yard work (apologies to my Parkhaven neighbors) and being able to hang out with Kate and other friends on a much-more regular basis. It's going to be hard to defuse myself from the legislative mindset. But in the end, I'll appreciate walking around without having to think about tough votes or the status of my bills. I'll enjoy waking up on Monday morning knowing that I don't have to drive to Jackson. I'll be satisfied just being home- well, at least for a little while.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Circuit Judge for 12th Circuit District Dead

We reached dead, dead, dead status.

When the bill came to the floor for final approval, a representative made a point of order, saying the final bill had sections that were not in the original bill, which is something you're not suppose to do. However, people use this method all the time in order to get things through all the time; and it's a tactic, because of our first bill was killed because of the same fight, that we had to use to get it to this point.

However, because there was an internal dispute in the Madison/Rankin county delegation on how their new circuit judge would be elected, one of their representatives made a point of order and sent the whole bill back to conference. Knowing that the point of order will be made again if it's brought back out with our circuit judges still in, all of the judges were taken out of the conference report.

So because this representative didn't like the way a judge in his/her county would be elected, he/she effectively killed the entire bill and seemed perfectly fine with doing it. So both the Forrest County circuit district (12th) AND the Lamar County circuit district (15th) will miss out on judges, because one person thought that his/her own local fight was worth making all of us miss out on something we desperately needed.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Staring Contest

Tonight, the clock ran out on Medicaid being funded by the end of the 2008 Legislative Session.

On Friday, an agreement had been reached on how money would be spent (not on how we would find that money). Today that agreement went before each chamber of the legislature. The House, despite our opposition to taking out face-to-face, passed the agreement easily. However, a member of the Senate made a point of order on the agreement when it went to the Senate. The point of order was well taken, and the bill went back to conference.

At 11 p.m., with a midnight deadline looming, the conference committee between the House and Senate was held again. For the Senate, it was Nunnelee, Smith and Burton. For the House, it was Dedeaux, Holland and Stringer. After a few sharp disagreements, a sudden calm came over the whole room. Everyone knew an agreement was out of reach, and for the remainder of the hour, the six conferees from the House and Senate just looked at each other, knowing that neither side was going to budge.

So it's midnight, and we have no agreement. There will be a few who try to extend the session, but it's a ridiculous thought. We've spent three-and-a-half months looking at each other, knowing we had to make a decision, and we didn't do it. All that money we were going to save in shortening the session isn't being saved anymore. We shouldn't kid ourselves to think that suddenly someone will soften their line and reach a compromise by extending the session a few days. Nope, I think we can pretty much punch our tickets to come back in June- which is something that no one should be proud of.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Watching Paint Dry

For the majority of the week, the House convened at 10 a.m. and took up motions to concur or invite conference on House bills that were amended in the Senate.
We were usually done by noon.

For the rest of the day, conference committees met throughout the Capitol. Conference committees consist of three House members and three Senate members. Each conference committee takes up a bill from which the Senate and House have both passed; however, there are small (and in some cases big) differences between the House and Senate version. If a compromise can be reached, the bill will return to the House and Senate for final approval.

If you're not a conference committee, your day consists of sitting in the House chamber, checking email or trying to track down a committee chair to make sure your bill is still alive. Freshman legislators can be seen returning long overdue emails or roaming the Capitol halls aimlessly. However, this year, we're joined by several senior members. The sad yet mildly amusing truth is that if you walk in the House chamber around 3 p.m., you see a chamber full of Republicans, both old and young, with nothing to do.

Transparency Act Heads to Governor's Desk

Once it hit the Senate, HB 725 was put into HB 101, which was a bill dealing with DFA. The Taxpayer Transparency Act was now the bulk of HB 101 and passed the Senate 51-0.

The amended bill (with the Transparency Act) then came back to the House, and Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer concurred with the Senate amendment, and the entire bill passed 122-0.

The bill will now go to the Governor's desk for his approval.