Analysis: Space crunch crimps Miss. Capitol

Mississippi’s state Capitol is quiet and empty now that the 2014 Legislature has gone home.

But the grand spaces of the rotunda and House and Senate chambers can’t hide it — the people’s house has grown too small.

Spectators routinely stand through committee meetings when the Legislature is meeting, and the lack of an office for every lawmaker leads to a constant tension over space. Leaders are trying to manage the room they have, but there’s little discussion of long-term solutions. At the very least, lawmakers could have to disrupt longstanding traditions to better use limited space. And building more square footage would cost money.

Veterans of the Capitol say committee meetings were not always as crowded as they are today. But as lobbyists have proliferated, rooms have filled.

“We do have more lobbyists at the Capitol,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian. “We also have more citizen participation at the Capitol, and that’s a good thing.”

In the House Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, some spectators are typically standing, or at least sitting on the heating and air conditioning units. That’s also true in the House and Senate Education committees and in the House Insurance Committee. In 2013, during the fight over charter schools, officials forced some people to stand in the hall because the House Education Committee room was too full.

Snowden, as chairman of the House Management Committee, is in charge of allotting space for House functions. It’s a tough job, because there aren’t enough offices for each lawmaker, meaning some House members don’t have a private space to meet with a constituent. Some senators, too, lack an office.

“People assume we all have these big staffs and all have offices,” Snowden said, when even some lawmakers with offices have tiny cubicles and most share staff members.