Normally, when we are talking about a willingness to shut down a legislative body, we talk about filibustering. In the Mississippi legislature, the de facto means of filibustering is to force the clerk to read bills aloud – even bills that are hundreds of pages long for no other reason than just to stick it to their colleagues – or by making a point of personal privilege.
That’s what happened in the Mississippi House of Representatives Wednesday night.
Rep. Earl Banks and the Legislative Black Caucus, comprised of Democrat lawmakers, issued a press release Wednesday afternoon saying they would be slowing down the process, which in legislative terms means forcing bills to be read on the House floor or holding bills on a motion to reconsider.
The LBC was upset over a measure, HB 868, which would change black voting population by less than half a percent in the majority minority Supreme Court Central District.
The release also incorrectly stated that Speaker Philip Gunn said that only Republicans would be at the table in developing policy. That was later refuted and walked back by Banks.
After requesting a 400 plus page bill to be read earlier in the day, Gunn tried to implore that the action not be taken, repeatedly requesting that they reconsider for the good of the House and the time constraints the body is under. They refused.
The bill reading took all afternoon.
Then they asked for another to be read.
As a result, Gunn and his Republican leadership team decided it was time for some discipline.
Gunn said in a release:
“Earlier today, the House members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus announced their intention to slow down or stall the legislative process in the Mississippi House of Representatives,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “I met personally with them at length, both as a group and with individual members. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a resolution.
“Their announced strategy appears to include requiring all bills to be read aloud to them on the House floor, resulting in unnecessary delay of the legislative process and waste of taxpayers’ resources,” he continued. “More importantly, these efforts appear designed solely to “run out the clock” under our strict legislative deadlines, with the ultimate goal of thwarting passage of all significant legislation this Session. As duly elected representatives on behalf of the people of Mississippi, we will utilize all reasonable parliamentary means necessary to advance and debate legislation in a meaningful way on the House floor. We invite the House members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus to join us in this effort. Should they refuse our invitation and elect, instead, to continue these obstructionist tactics, we will not allow the people’s business to go undone, and we will implement the necessary changes to move forward with the citizens’ legislative agenda.”
The Mississippi House then voted 71-54 to change the rules and revoke members’ right to make speeches on points of personal privilege, a revision to standing rules that gives the LBC one less method of stalling progress in the chamber.
The press and Democrats rushed to paint the action as childish and dictatorial.
Of this, Rep. Andy Gipson wrote on his Facebook, “House Democrats wasted 6 plus hours of your Mississippi tax dollars and resources reading a 431 page bill that was available to them in paper and online. Now who is acting childish?”
When you are in the numerical minority, you have to pick your battles. It looks like Mississippi House Democrats, short on numbers, picked the wrong fight to fight this time.