August 24, 2018 10:03:25 AM
Thursday's opening day the special session of Mississippi Legislature, specifically the proposal to institute a state lottery, is an embarrassing example of how government should not work.
It's not just that such important topics are taken up in the compressed time frame dictated by the special session, it's that the process by which this bill has emerged violates a basic principle of our state government.
How bad was it?
You could smell a rat before the bill even hit the Senate floor. First, the bill was assigned to the Transportation Committee, which is ludicrous because that means it is considered not to be a revenue bill. That's right. A bill that would produce an estimated $80 million in revenue is NOT a revenue bill. Chew on that a minute and then move on to an even more troubling aspect of this legislation.
Senators had just two hours to read the 135-page bill and even the senator who presented the bill on the floor could not answer some of the basic questions regarding the bill, questions such as how the lottery agency that will have oversight over the lottery will be created, whether other state lotteries were consulted as the plan was put together, will the state need to provide seed money to start the lottery and, if so, how much and where will that money come from. These are basic, fundamental, important questions.
Repeatedly, the bill's co-sponsor, Willie Simmons (D, Cleveland) referred those questions to the Governor's office.
The Governor has no authority to write legislation. That duty is the domain of the Legislature itself. But it's clear, given the unfamiliarity with the bill by its own co-sponsor, the Governor's office has usurped the role of the Legislature.
Here's what's even more embarrassing.
Despite serious misgivings from Senators on both sides of the aisle, the bill passed 30-20 and will move on to the House.
One Senator suggested that the Legislature could always come back and plug holes and make adjustments to the law in the next legislature session. But that's an uncertain proposition.
The Legislature is already weakened to the point where nothing moves through the process without the permission of House Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
These positions have always exercised influence over legislators. But the absolute control Gunn and Reeves exercise goes far beyond that. They do not lead. They dictate.
As a result, our state's laws are determined, to a large degree, by three men - Gunn, Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant.
When the Governor's office can write the laws and the Speaker and Lt. Gov. rule the chambers without challenge, our system is broken.
The concentration of power in the hands of just three people is an affront to the integrity of our government and an insult to the people of the state. The people elect representatives from their communities to act on their behalf. When those representatives are stripped of their roles - or when they abdicate that role as appears to be the case here - we don't have a representative form of government.
We have an autocracy.
And our government is little more than a sham.
Thursday was a day of shame in Jackson.
Friday will probably be more of the same.