A good argument can be made that Mississippi is better off when the Legislature is not in session than when it is.
As Will Rogers, the famous humorist who died in an airplane crash in 1935, once said: “Never blame a legislative body for not doing something. When they do nothing, that don’t hurt anybody. When they do something is when they become dangerous.”
So a proposal by a Gulf Coast lawmaker to put a limit on regular sessions of the Legislature should get more consideration than it probably will.
Bobby Harrison reports from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal’s Jackson Bureau that Rep. Henry Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, said he intends to introduce legislation during the 2018 session to limit legislators to offering general bills every other year.
“Under Zuber’s proposal,” Harrison wrote, “the Legislature still would meet every year. Legislators would pass a budget every year and have the option to introduce what are known as revenue bills, such as tax bills and bonds bills, every year. But the session where they could introduce general bills, dealing with enacting or changing state laws, could only be done every other year.”
Zuber makes a good point when he says that “not one piece of general legislation is so important it can’t wait one year to see if it is really needed.”
There was a time — before 1968 — when the Mississippi Legislature held regular sessions biennially or every two years.
That didn’t rule out more frequent sessions, though, as lawmakers handled many important issues in special sessions. One was a special session in 1966 when then Gov. Paul B. Johnson Jr. called lawmakers to Jackson to repeal the state’s hypocritical, spottily enforced statewide prohibition on hard liquor.
Going to annual sessions, some argued, would cut down on special sessions.
It hasn’t happened. The Legislature still has too many special sessions, especially when it comes to handing out taxpayer money to corporations in the name of economic development or handling some other issue on which lawmakers can't agree in regular session..
Harrison’s article says there has been some talk of reverting back to biennial sessions, but that would take a constitutional amendment. Zuber’s proposal would not require a constitutional change since the Legislature still would meet every year, but just be limited on the actions they could take on an annual basis.
Zuber said allowing general law to be adopted only every other year would give legislators more time to study issues and prevent “unintended consequences” when passing bills. He opines that it would make it less likely that lawmakers would try to pass bills related to national issues that might be controversial for a short period.
Pressing issues could always be addressed in a special session, which is the case now, but it would be up to the governor to decide how pressing. That, in itself, could be a major reason Zuber’s proposal will be unwelcomed by many lawmakers who don’t want to cede any more power to the executive branch.
Would Zuber’s proposal, in the unlikely chance it passes, save the taxpayers any money? Unlikely. But another Will Rogers quote advises: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”
The proposal could, however, cut down on embarrassing the state with ridiculous laws passed on hot button issues that come and go.