Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The "Sunshine" bill is now being debated on the House floor

You can watch live by clicking here.

I'll do my best to give live updates.

Rep. David Baria (D - Bay St. Louis) just finished questioning Rep. Mark Baker (R - Brandon), who is handling the bill just as last week.  Speaker Pro Tempore is presiding today, just as he did last week when this matter was before the House.  I still haven't heard a reason for Gunn not presiding over this.  Perhaps because of the ethical concerns raised in an earlier blog post; perhaps not.  We may never know.

Rep. Earle Banks (D - Jackson) is now raising a point of order. (11:11 a.m.)

Rep. Rufus Straughter (D - Belzoni) now has the floor, and he is asking Baker about the Pythagorean theorem or something.  (Actually, he's asking Baker questions about Baker's method of handling questions on the bill.)

Rep. Cecil Brown (D - Jackson) will apparently ask the last set of questions, and he is beginning now.  Banks' point of order is being researched by the House legal staff.  Brown is questioning Baker about his statements that the bill is needed because Hood refused to intervene in the lawsuit against the national health care plan.  Brown points out that the people of Mississippi just had an opportunity to pass judgment on Hood's decision not to intervene, as his opponent ran almost exclusively on that decision.  Hood was reelected by over 60%.

Questioning is over.  A slew of folks have amendments to offer.  Starting with Rep. Robert Johnson (D - Natchez) now.  His amendment is to reinforce that the AG is the chief legal officer of the State with respect to the Division of Medicaid.  This amendment is needed for purposes of receiving federal funds.  Amendment fails 62-54.  Johnson offers a second amendment that would reinforce that the AG is the chief legal officer for the Department of Transportation.  This amendment also fails, 63-53.  Those were all of Rep. Johnson's amendments.

Rep. Brown is now offering an amendment that would make clear that the bill would not apply to current, ongoing litigation.  Baker speaks against it, basically says he'll look at it in conference.  Brown says no guarantee that the bill will go to conference.  The amendment fails 61-55.  That may well guarantee the bill will be stricken by the MSSC.

Rep. Brown is now offering an amendment that would prohibit legislators from representing agencies.  This should be illegal already, but this would make sure.  Brown is getting some laughs by saying some slimy trial lawyer may, 15 years from now, snake in and get in good with an agency head, leading to a Democrat making money.  Brown says its good Republican legislation to stop trial lawyers.  Baker raises a point of order, saying that the amendment amends other code sections by reference.  Amendment is laid aside until the research can be completed.

Rep. John Hines (D - Greenville) is now offering an amendment that would set the fees for outside counsel at $65/hour, the rate the AG currently charges state agencies for his counsel.  Hines says that lawyers typically charge around $195/hour (true), which is obviously more than the state lawyer rate.  Hines says that when he was a freshman and the tort reform debate was going on, everybody was furious at how much money lawyers were making.  This is a chance for the legislature to make sure lawyers don't make too much money.  Hines says this is a good, fiscally conservative amendment.  Baker comes back and says the amendment is an attempt to gut the bill.  Baker says no lawyer would have taken the lawsuit against "Obamacare" at $65/hour.  Rep. Omeria Scott (D - Laurel) raises a point of inquiry about whether or not it is proper to refer to laws by a slang term.  Baker gets mad at Snowden for recognizing her, and the House floor gets rowdy for a bit.  Hines comes back and says the only thing the bill would gut would be fat cat lawyers.  Hines says that good stewards of taxpayer dollars would have to vote for this amendment. (This amendment really does provide a way to keep attorneys fees in check.)  Amendment fails 63-54.

Back to Brown's amendment, which Snowden has ruled is proper.  (Baker's point of order was denied.) Brown reiterates that this amendment is to prevent lawyer-legislators from profiting off the passage of the bill.  The amendment fails 61-56.  (This vote will come back to haunt some sitting Republican legislators.)

Rep. Bob Evans (D - Monticello) is now offering an amendment.  This amendment will allow the AG to recoup taxpayer monies spent by agencies. Evans withdraws amendment due to numbering issue and will fix it.  Evans offers a second amendment to rename the bill "The Private Lawyer Employment and Retirement Act."  (Good one, Bob.)  The amendment fails 71-42.

Rep. Earle Banks (D - Jackson) is offering amendments.  His first one is to force all contracts to go before the Personal Services Contract Review Board that are amended to an amount over $100,000.00.  The amendment fails 49-68.  His second amendment is to prevent any one law firm from having more than 4 contracts to represent state agencies.  Baker says the AG has 8 contracts with one firm to represent the state.  Amendment fails 49-68.

Alright, got to break.  Will fill y'all in as best I can this afternoon.

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