February 24, 2017 11:18:24 AM
JACKSON -- A bill to limit the powers of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood is "pretty much dead" after a committee voted to set it aside without making a final decision, the chairman said Thursday.
House Bill 555 proposed to limit the attorney general's power to file civil lawsuits, requiring permission from a three-member panel including the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state for any lawsuit where the state could win more than $250,000. That would force Hood, Mississippi's only statewide elected Democrat, to get permission from three Republicans.
The Senate Judiciary A Committee voted Thursday to table the bill. Chairman Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, said that he had sought some sort of compromise that would impose less strict limits on Hood's ability to sue, but couldn't reach one.
"I commend the actions of the Senate Judiciary A Committee and its chairman, Senator Tindell, in choosing to table this unconstitutional and ill-advised bill that would hamper the office of the attorney general from protecting the taxpayers of Mississippi from corporate wrongdoers," Hood said in a statement.
Republicans accuse Hood of pursuing civil lawsuits to help plaintiffs' lawyers, some of whom contribute to his political campaigns. Hood says he files the lawsuits to protect Mississippi consumers. Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, a Hood critic who sponsored the bill, calls it "taxation by litigation." He said Hood is improperly setting state policy through his suits, a role which should be reserved to lawmakers.
Hood's victories have contributed tens of millions of dollars to patch state budget holes in recent years. He has said budget limitations force him to hire outside lawyers who get paid only if they win.
Tindell said he disagrees with Hood's claim that lawmakers are constitutionally barred from setting limits on Hood's ability to file civil suits, noting that Hood can only prosecute a person criminally if a grand jury agrees.
"Are we really pursuing these claims because there are issues, or are out-of-state law firms soliciting the ability to come in and file lawsuits so they can get a cut of the settlement?" Tindell asked.
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