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New rules open all legislature conference committee meetings

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New rules open all legislature conference committee meetings

  • The Mississippi legislature granted public access to all state House and Senate conference committee meetings, including those for bills appropriating money.

Feb. 24, 2004 — The Mississippi legislature last week approved a procedural rule change that opens all House and Senate conference committees — including appropriations committees — to the public.

Both chambers passed similar versions of the new rules on Feb. 18 . The joint bills did not require Gov. Haley Barbour’s signature, and immediately went into effect.

Three state senators and three representatives serve on each conference committee, where the details of a bill are worked out prior to being presented to each House. The bills are then returned to the committee for refinement before a final vote.

Conference committees had negotiated in private for decades prior to 2001, when conference committee meetings for non-appropriations bills were opened to the public, according to Dick Johnson, chairman of Common Cause/Mississippi. However, committees that appropriated money had remained closed.

“Any time you are able to conduct business in the view of the public, that’s a good thing,” said state Sen. Terry Burton (R-Newton), in a Feb. 21 Associated Press article.

According to the new regulations, conferees can also no longer communicate about bills with lobbyists or any other non-legislator via cell phone or e-mail during committee sessions.

The Mississippi Press Association, the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information and Common Cause/Mississippi are among the organizations that sought open access to all conference committee meetings.

“The rulings help all those in the public to know what’s going on,” said Barbara Powell, a lobbyist for Common Cause/Mississippi, “The legislative process is now more open to the public than it has ever been.”

(House Concurrent Resolution 43) AB

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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