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Governor Could Take Authority from Legislature if Bills Pass Today

Legislation to give Gov. Phil Bryant (pictured) control of the Department of Mental Health and the state's occupational licensing boards must pass the Senate and the House (respectively) to stay alive.

Legislation to give Gov. Phil Bryant (pictured) control of the Department of Mental Health and the state's occupational licensing boards must pass the Senate and the House (respectively) to stay alive. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

Update: House Bill 1425 discussed below passed out of the House this afternoon, but Senate Bill 2567 failed by three votes to make it out of the Senate and is now dead.

Gov. Phil Bryant would get authority over the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and supervise the state's occupational licensing boards if legislation makes it out of the Mississippi Senate and the House today to stay alive.

The fate of House Bill 1425, which gives the governor responsibility to supervise the state's occupational licensing boards, is likely dead, unless several House members have a change of heart. The bill only passed by three votes on Feb. 9, but then was held on a motion to reconsider.

The proposed legislation says the state policy of Mississippi regarding occupational regulations and their boards should be to "use the least restrictive regulation necessary to protect consumers from present, significant and substantiated harms that threaten public health and safety."

On Friday, when Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, tried to table the motion to reconsider on the bill and send it to the Senate, Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, got up and spoke against the bill in blunt terms..

"When you see a venomous snake creeping around your house, you don't try to reason with it, you don't try to change its nature so maybe it won't bite you. You just kill it," Barker told the House. "Please understand what you're doing in House Bill 1425—based on an individual situation in North Carolina, we are giving one person, the governor, the ability to modify or veto the enforcement or regulation of I think 24 individual boards. One person."

House Bill 1425 gives the governor responsibility—correcting state boards that act out of line—that Barker said the Legislature has done well in the past.

Should the law pass, the governor would be responsible "to ensure compliance with state policy in both the adoption and enforcement of occupational regulations promulgated by occupational licensing boards." It also authorizes the governor "to employ or engage one or more competent attorneys to carry out the duties and functions of this act."

Barker said ceding that kind of power to one person in state government instead of leaving those decisions to the state Legislature was starting down a dangerous road of destroying the separation-of-powers principle.

"You came here to defend what you believe in, and you came here to take care of your people, and when you start ceding that authority and ceding that ability to another branch, you start to lose that, and I don't want to see us go down this road," he said.

Several lawmakers changed their initial votes on the bill because the motion to table the motion to reconsider and send it to the Senate failed by a vote of 85-31.

On the Senate side, legislation to give the governor authority over the Department of Mental Health instead of its board passed by two votes last week. To survive, those votes will need to stay the same today when the Senate tries to table the motion to reconsider entered on Senate Bill 2567.

The House voted to keep House Bill 1425 alive on Monday afternoon, but in the Senate, some senators had a change of heart and voted to kill Senate Bill 2567 by a vote of 27-24. That bill is now dead.

This story will be updated once the House and the Senate vote on these bills this afternoon. Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at arielle@jacksonfreepress.com.

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