One Democrat and two independents (both former Democrats) will receive one of 46 committee chairmanships in the House after House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Clinton) announced them last week.
With the Republicans adding to their advantage in the chamber, there will be plenty of continuity in several important committees.
Four critical committees will retain their previous leaders. State Rep. John Read (R-Gautier) remains Appropriations Committee chairman. State Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach) will return as chairman of the Education Committee, while state Rep. Charles Busby (R-Pascagoula) remains at the helm of the Transportation Committee. State Rep. Sam Mims (R-McComb) returns to the chairmanship of the Public Health and Welfare Committee
Last year, the House was 74 Republicans and 48 Democrats and Democrats had two chairmanships. This year, the Democrats have lost five seats — three of which have gone independent — and still have two committee chairs. Compared with the Senate, where 60 percent of Democrats have committee chairmanships, only four percent of House Democrats have chairmanships.
Chairmen are key in the legislative process because they have an important gate-keeping function. If a chairman doesn’t support a bill, he or she can omit it from the committee’s agenda. A chairman’s support, on the other hand, means a bill is very likely to make it to the floor for a vote by the full chamber.
Using legislation authored by the new chairmen in past sessions and utilizing an annual rating of legislatures by the American Conservative Union (ACU), one can make an educated guess on what measures are likely to make it out of committees for a floor vote.
The ACU graded Mississippi legislators on their votes on 21 measures, which included: landowner protection, the Heartbeat bill, funding for the Board of Cosmetology and funding for public television, among other issues.
In the House, the overall average rating was 49 percent, with Republicans averaging 59 percent and Democrats 33 percent. Out of the 46 committees, 26 chairmen received a score of 57.
The highest-scoring chairman was state Rep. Chris Brown (R-Amory), who will direct the Conservation and Water Resources Committee and received a 79 percent score.
The Judiciary committees in the House will have a new look, as state Rep. Angela Cockerham (I-Magnolia) switches chairmanships to Judiciary A and new Republican state Rep. Nick Bain (R-Corinth) takes over Judiciary B.
Bain, who’s been in the Legislature since 2012 and switched parties in March before the qualifying deadline, filed several unsuccessful bills that would mandated a $5 fee on traffic citations to pay for electronic filing, another that would’ve banned texting while driving, and another that would’ve created the crime of indecent assault. None of these became law.
He received a 55 percent grade from the ACU.
Cockerham’s big issue was campus sexual assault and she’s tried in the last three sessions to get something passed. Her first attempt at a bill in 2017 would’ve made a now-superseded controversial “dear colleague” letter sent to federally-funded universities and colleges by the Obama administration in 2011 concerning Title IX and sexual harassment and assault law.
The U.S. Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights instructed higher education institutions in the letter to use a lower evidence standard to determine guilt and also mandated that accusers would also have the right to appeal a verdict, which meant even baseless allegations could result in a retrial.
She earned a score of 33 percent from the ACU. A new version of her campus sexual assault bill has been submitted this year and will likely make it onto the House floor as it’s been assigned to her committee as it has in past years.
With the problems with Mississippi prisons, state Rep. Kevin Horan (I-Grenada) will have an unenviable task of finding a solution as chair of the Corrections Committee. He earned a grade of 38 percent from the ACU.
In 2012, the former Democrat proposed a bill that would’ve suspended a student’s driver’s license if they dropped out of school. He also proposed a bill that would’ve created a civil offense for open containers of alcohol in vehicles.
State Rep. Joey Hood (R-Ackerman) will take over the Medicaid Committee. Hood received a 57 percent grade from the ACU.
He authored a bill in 2015 that exempted health care facilities from the certificate of need law for repair or rebuilding when significantly damaged in a natural disaster. The bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Phil Bryant.