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Rep. Yates’ controversial recall bill doesn’t include lawmakers. A Senate bill does.

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Rep. Yates’ controversial recall bill doesn’t include lawmakers. A Senate bill does.

Two bills are pending in the Mississippi that would allow voters to recall their elected officials.

House Bill 370, authored by Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson, would allow the recall of municipal elected officials.

Senate Bill 2299, authored by Jeremy England, a Republican from Vancleave, would allow voters to recall all elected officials, including himself and other legislators.

“I thought it was a fairness issue,” England said, explaining he did not want the law to allow voters to recall municipal and county officials and not officials.

Through a recall, voters can gather signatures to place a proposal on the ballot to vote an elected officialout of office. Normally, the way it works is if a majority votes to recall the official, he or she is from office. If a majority opposes the recall, the official remains in office.

England and Yates did not coordinate on their bills.

Yates has taken criticism from some African American members of the House who say her proposal is aimed directly at Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has faced criticism and blame by many for the failures of the Jackson water system that has left residents at times without access to water.

Yates’ bill gives the governor the authority to establish a panel to decide if a recall should occur if 30% of the voters sign a petition in support of a recall. Many of the Black legislators have at times been critical of Lumumba, but they still balked at passing legislation to give Gov. Tate Reeves, who has constantly feuded with the mayor, so much authority over the Jackson mayor.

Rep. Robert Johnson, a Democrat from Natchez, questioned the timing of passing such legislation now that the federal government has provided Jackson more than $600 million to fix its water system that many contend both state and city officials have ignored for years.

Yates told her fellow House members that the bill is not aimed just at Lumumba, but covers all elected municipal officials. Yates, who represents a portion of Jackson, admitted that she filed the legislation after some of her constituents asked about recall possibilities.

In responding to her constituents, Yates said that she discovered existing law already allows for the removal of county officials through the process involving the governor, but the same law did not include municipal officials.

Yates said her bill just ensures that municipal officials have the same accountability as county officials. She added that state elected officials, including legislators and members of the judiciary, already can be removed during the middle of their terms through constitutional provisions.

Members of the executive, such as the governor or , and judges can be removed through a legislative impeachment process. Each chamber of the Legislature can one of its members for ethical lapses by a two-thirds vote.

But there is no mechanism in state law that allows Mississippi voters to recall a legislator or other state or judicial officials for ethical lapses or for general incompetence like currently is allowed for county officials.

England said he has filed his bill multiple years. He admits he first filed it because of concerns with municipal officials. But in filing the legislation, he reasoned it should apply to all elected officials and not just local officials.

“I put safeguards in the bill,” he said, explaining that there are time limits on when the recall can occur. For instance, the bill prohibits any recall effort early in an elected official’s term.

In addition, to place an elected official on the ballot for possible recall, 35% of the registered voters must sign a petition. For a legislator it would be 35% of registered voters in a member’s district. It would require 35% of the voters from across Mississippi equally divided among the congressional districts to recall a statewide official.

“I think it (the recall process) is good additional accountability,” said England.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states currently have some type of recall mechanism.

Yates said including her and her legislative colleagues in any recall process would be OK with her.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.

Of course, Yates or any other member of the House could offer an amendment to her bill to include legislators. Or, if the England bill passes the Senate and makes it to the House, Yates could place her support behind that proposal instead of her bill. England’s bill accomplishes her goal of placing accountability on municipal officials.

Of course, it is far from certain that England’s Senate colleagues will pass his bill giving voters the authority to recall them.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Senate bill would override Ethics Commission ruling that Legislature is not public body

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Senate bill would override Ethics Commission ruling that Legislature is not public body

In a controversial December ruling, the Mississippi Ethics Commission said the is not subject to the ’s open meetings law.

But a new Senate bill, pending before the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, would clarify that the Legislature is covered by the open meetings law.

“I just think you should be transparent,” said freshman Sen. Jason Barrett, R-Brookhaven, who filed Senate Bill 2667. “…I believe you should be transparent.”

The bill is designed “to clearly subject the Legislature to the provisions of the open meetings law.”

The Ethics Commission by a 5-3 vote in December ruled that the Legislature was exempt from the state’s open meeting. The ruling was eyebrow-raising since in no place does the law specifically say that the Legislature is exempt, even though it does list entities that are not covered by the law such as law enforcement and jury deliberations. The law goes on to say all policymaking entities are supposed to meet in public.

The issue arose from an ethics complaint filed by the Mississippi Free Press saying House Speaker Philip Gunn was violating the open meetings law when the Republican Caucus, which includes 75 of the 122-member House, meets routinely behind closed doors. The Mississippi Constitution mandates that a majority of either the House or Senate is a quorum or enough members to conduct business. Plus, the constitution mandates for the Legislature to meet in public.

has documented, based on multiple accounts, that the House Republican Caucus often discusses policy issues and legislation during the closed-door meetings. When other public bodies have met behind closed doors to discuss policy issues, it has been deemed to be a violation of the open meetings law by the courts.

READ MORE: Speaker Philip Gunn uses secret Capitol meetings to pass his bills and restrict public debate. Is it legal?

At one point, Senate Republicans also were contemplating holding regular caucus meetings, but opted not to based on the belief such meetings would violate the open meeting law.

Barrett said he did not want to comment on whether he believed the Ethics Commission made the right ruling. He also said he was not forming an opinion on the recent House Republican Caucus ruling.

But if his bill becomes law, it presumably would stop the House from having such meetings. House Republicans have continued to hold the meetings this session. Various sources told Mississippi Today that hours before the House recently took up and passed legislation banning gender affirming surgery and drugs for age 18 and under, the bill was discussed behind closed doors in a House Republican Caucus meeting.

Barrett’s bill has 19 — mostly Republican — co-sponsors in the 52-member Senate. If the bill does pass the Senate, it will need to be OK’d by House leadership to be considered in that chamber.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Josh Harkins, R-Brandon, also has filed legislation to bring forth the entire open meetings law. While he made no changes in the bill, it would allow him and other legislators to make changes to the law through the amendment process during the 2023 session.

Barrett’s bill also would allow those filing a complaint alleging an entity was violating the open meetings law to bypass the Ethics Commission and go straight to chancery court for a ruling.

Rulings of the Ethics Commission already can be appealed to chancery court.

READ MORE: Ethics Commission contradiction: Members take oath to constitution, but can’t consider it in rulings

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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