AUTHOR: SALTER

- Cleaning out the legislative notebook....

State Rep. Bill Denny's decision to exercise the "pocket veto" of a proposal to make Mississippi laws conform to the federal Motor Voter law last week consigned Mississippi circuit clerks and election commissioners to continue to have to maintain two sets of polls books and print two sets of ballots - one for those registered to vote by traditional means and one for those registered under the Motor Voter law.

The first group are registered to votes in all elections, state and federal. The second, by virtue of Denny failing to allow the Mississippi House to vote as did the Senate to change our state's law in this regard, are only registered to vote in federal elections. That decision has wasted tax dollars in the past and Denny has now insured that more tax dollars will be wasted.

There was more than sufficient support in the House to follow the Senate's lead and pass the measure. Denny, chairman of the House Apportionment and Elections Committee, simply refused to let either his committee or the full House vote on the measure by keeping the bill in his pocket and refusing to let his fellow lawmakers vote.

Denny has defended his stance by pointing to a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision that may allow the state to ignore Motor Voter at the state level. But the fact that 20,000 to 40,000 Mississippi voters are already registered in that manner, according to Secretary of State Eric Clark, means that Mississippi is already locked in to a system that requires dual poll books and dual ballots for years to come.

Some in the Legislature have painted Denny as a racist for his pocket veto shenanigans, but as I pointed out in a previous column, that's not a fair allegation. It is fair, however, to say that Denny is playing hardball partisan politics because the perception among right-wing Republicans in Mississippi is that Motor Voter will help the Democratic Party in this state.

Nationally, the data suggests that it is indeed the Republican Party that has enjoyed the gains from Motor Voter laws in other states.

Gov. Kirk Fordice is a leading opponent of Motor Voter - and it appears that Denny has decided to tote the governor's water on this issue.

The bottom line is that by exercising the pocket veto of the Motor Voter bill, Denny is opposing a measure that simply makes it easier for people to register to vote. That begs the question, then, of just who Motor Voter opponents fear at the ballot box. Blacks? Maybe. Democrats? Definitely.

While Denny leads the partisan political parade, the taxpayers across Mississippi will be footing the bill for the extra poll books and the extra printing of ballots.

-Upon signing the legislation that eliminates the "marriage penalty" in Mississippi income taxes, Gov. Kirk Fordice compared the event to "the Boston Tea Party".

That observation might be a tad melodramatic, but Fordice might have earned a little gloating from the 1997 tax relief measure.

Fordice has been talking about income tax relief since his first campaign for governor in 1991. From 1994-96, Fordice had battled the Legislature for income tax relief without success. Strangely enough, the tax relief measure that was adopted gained momentum while Fordice was flat of his back recovering from injuries suffered in his Nov., 1996 car accident as Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, House Speaker Tim Ford and House Appropriations Committee chairman Charlie Capps reached agreement on a common legislative agenda that included elimination of the "marriage penalty".

But while the credit for passing the tax relief bill likely belongs with the legislative leadership, Fordice indeed set the table over the last five years to build support at the grassroots level for a tax cut and hence is due a "tea party" of sorts.

-One of the major bright spots during the 1997 regular session has been the solid effort by the Legislature and the Fordice Administration on the formulation of Mississippi's welfare reform legislation.

Prior to the session, most observers believed the welfare bill debate would be rancorous and divisive, but the hard work of State Rep. Bobby Moody, State Sen. Jim Bean and State Department of Human Services executive director Don Taylor seems to have paid off in a bill accomplishes significant welfare reform while giving a nod to the extreme level of poverty that exists in Mississippi.

Legislators appears satisfied with the level of oversight the bill leaves them while sources in the Fordice Administration say they were able to salvage most of the original plans submitted to lawmakers by DHS prior to the session.

Drawing particular praise from colleagues in the legislature was Moody long a worker-bee type legislator who has over the course of his career been a loyal committee system laborer, but who has never spent much time in the media spotlight.

Said one Republican lawmaker: "Bobby mastered the federal laws and then showed the rest of the House how strong he was in neogotiating and selling a big, difficult piece of legislation to folks down here regardless of race, party affiliation or philosophical stripe. He did one hell of a good job.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist and editor of the Scott County Times in Forest.

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