By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The Mississippi House, locked in a bitter dispute between the Black Caucus and the Republican leadership for the past two days, adjourned Friday afternoon with both sides saying there would be harmony when they return to the Capitol Monday.
“We worked it out,” said Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, as he walked to this office after adjourning for the weekend. “This is just part of the legislative process. Nothing to be alarmed about.
“It was just a small glitch in the road. We are back on schedule.”
Rep. Earl Bank, D-Jackson, the Legislative Black Caucus leader, echoed similar comments.
“I think we had good dialogue,” said Banks, referring to multiple meetings he and other Caucus leaders had with Gunn Friday to try to resolve a dispute that erupted over the Republican leadership’s passage of a bill to redraw the Supreme Court districts in a manner that Caucus members said could put the only African-American on the nine-member high court in jeopardy.
After passage of the legislation, the Caucus members began to employ their constitutional right to have bills read before a vote on final passage. One 400-plus page bill took more than five hours for a computer application to read Thursday.
In response to the bill reading, late Thursday, the House leadership took the unprecedented step of eliminating the long-standing rule of personal privilege, which allows a legislator to speak from the well at any point the member believes his or her integrity has been impugned.
That change led to additional delay tactics being employed by the Black Caucus.
Asked if bill reading would continue Monday, Banks said, “Monday is a new day. There may not be bill reading. There probably won’t be.”
Asked about the Supreme Court redistricting bill that created the furor, Banks said it was the property of the Senate since it had passed the House.
“But we hope that bill dies,” he said.
After the House adjourned Friday a little before 3 p.m., several key Black Caucus leaders and the House Democratic leader, David Baria of Bay St. Louis, were seen walking to the office of Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate. Reeves’ decision on what to do with the bill in the Senate could be key to lasting harmony in the House.
The House is facing a Thursday deadline to take up about 200 bills or they die.
On Friday, before the meetings between Gunn and members of the Black Caucus began, the speaker tried to work on legislation in the House.
The Republican leadership had started a process of not explaining the bills from the well, as is the custom. Instead the bill would be introduced, read and then the members would vote on legislation while hearing no explanation of the details of the bill.
But after passing legislation Friday, despite the delays, allowing the state to hire an independent contractor to hunt for fraud in the Medicaid program and in other governmental assistance programs, Gunn suspended operations and began a series of meetings behind closed doors.
When asked whether the rule allowing the point of personal privilege would be restored, Banks said, “We will see what happens with that. They may surprise us by restoring it. Who knows?”