Senators Push Bill To Specify Lawmakers Must Meet In Public

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A group of lawmakers is backing legislation to specify the Mississippi Legislature is subject to the state’s open meetings law and essentially prohibit the House Republican Caucus from conducting closed-door meetings, the Daily Journal reported.

“I just think the government should be transparent,” Sen. Jason Barrett, a Republican from Brookhaven who authored the bill, said.

The legislation comes after a dispute over House Republicans meeting in private, although Barrett, a first-term lawmaker, told the newspaper that had nothing to do with his decision to file the bill. The newspaper reported that 19 other lawmakers have signed on in support of the bill with many citing campaign promises they made to support open government.

Republican members of the House, which make up a majority of the Legislature, meet regularly in closed-door caucus meetings where policy and legislative strategy are sometimes discussed.

The Mississippi Ethics Commission last year ruled that Mississippi’s House Republican Caucus does not have to meet in the open. The ruling came after the Mississippi Free Press had filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, arguing that the caucus meetings violated state open meetings law because a majority of the House chamber meets outside of public view.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and House leadership contend that the Mississippi Republican Caucus is not a public body and is not subject to the state open meetings laws.

The staff of the Ethics Commission, led by longtime executive director Tom Hood, had recommended that the commission should find the Mississippi House of Representatives is a “public body” as defined in the Open Meetings Act and require the caucus meetings to be open. But the politically appointed commission overruled Hood’s recommendation 5-3.

The news outlet appealed the ruling to a Hinds County court, where it remains unresolved.