Law prevents extra pay amid session breaks

A state law that prevents Mississippi lawmakers from receiving extra pay while a special session is on hold is saving taxpayers money.

And, because of it, some lawmakers aren’t as willing to travel to Jackson for committee meetings, especially amid rising gas prices. Committee members live all over the state.

Leaders of Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, a legislative watchdog committee, decided to cancel a meeting last week after some members voiced concern.

Others wanted payment for “discretionary days,” the days outside legislative sessions that lawmakers travel to the state Capitol to work.

But in a letter to key leaders, House Clerk Don Richardson wrote that state law bars lawmakers from receiving extra money during a special session break unless they travel out of town to legislative or governmental conferences and only if that travel was approved before June 4. The special session started May 21.

Lawmakers could have received the extra money if they had adjourned with the intention of not returning to the Capitol. But, last week, they agreed to resume the special session June 26 at 2 p.m.

“Are we going to lose discretionary money?” House Corrections Committee Chairman Bennett Malone asked on the House floor before lawmakers went home Wednesday.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said they likely would.

“Well, we’ll be working for free,” Malone, D-Carthage, said. He received $56,643 last year, making him the second-highest earner in the House. Almost $33,000 of that was for mileage expenses.

Senate staffers said they haven’t heard the same concerns in that chamber. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who successfully pushed for a shorter regular session, said the savings from that decision are helping cover the cost of the special session.

Lawmakers are paid $10,000 each during the three-month regular session and $1,500 per month out of session. They also receive a per diem whenever they attend meetings out of session, and are paid federal rates for mileage. Salaries for special sessions range from $75 for one day to $225 for three days for each lawmaker.

Clarion Ledger
6/8/8