Legislative session was a mixed bag
Mississippi lawmakers could have taken some credit for finishing this year’s legislative session early if they had actually finished. They will have to return to Jackson for a special session at least to pass a budget for two state agencies, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Attorney General’s Office,
In fact, their unfinished business may end up being more of a hallmark of the 90-day session than what they did get done. Besides the two budgets still in limbo, the much-anticipated rewriting of the funding formula for public schools didn’t materialize. House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves never got so far as to produce a plan for lawmakers to consider, although they say one is still coming and they hope to get it approved in, you guessed it, a special session.
It would be unfair, though, to describe the 2017 regular session as a “do nothing” affair.
Some things got done — including some very good things.
At the top of the list is the campaign finance reform measure the Legislature passed. It’s not perfect and doesn’t take effect soon enough, but the reforms are meaningful and should curb some of the worst abuses of politicians using their campaign contributions as supplemental income, as their personal retirement fund or both. The current system has been an invitation for lobbyists and other special interests to legally launder bribes through lawmakers’ and other state officials’ campaign funds — the type of activity that would get officeholders in most other states indicted.
Lawmakers also updated the state’s divorce law to make it easier for a spouse to get out of an abusive union. And a personal favorite of ours, they improved the state’s Open Meetings Act by mandating that public bodies notify the public and media when they call a special meeting. Some local government bodies, from school boards to city councils, have routinely overused special called meetings — and the minimum notice requirements in the old law — to try to conduct public business in secret. That is going to be much harder to do.
Furthermore, although we are disappointed that lawmakers were unable to address the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges or online taxation, some inaction wasn’t all bad. At least there were no successful efforts to rile up emotions — and give the state a worse eye nationally — by trying to roll back gay rights or further endorse the controversial and divisive state flag.