/Ethics complaint filed after reporter barred from House GOP meeting

Ethics complaint filed after reporter barred from House GOP meeting

Mississippi Today reported that the journalist was barred at the March 14 meeting. This article details what happens inside the meetings. Many major pieces of legislation that were authored or supported in part by Republican leaders (including Speaker of the House Philip Gunn) are discussed and debated in the backroom meetings. These private discussions about policy can often result in lawmakers not asking questions at public committee meetings or on the House floor. According to several legislators, Republican members were asked to vote on certain bills in caucus meetings under Gunn’s leadership. READ MORE: Speaker Philip Gunn holds secret Capitol meetings in order to pass his bills and limit public debate. Is this legal? It is legal? The law is clear. Yet, the Speaker and the Caucus have been violating it for years, conducting their business secretly and disregarding the rights of the general public,” Rob McDuff, a Mississippi Center for Justice attorney, stated in a statement. The Ethics Commission and state courts had not challenged the caucus meetings. However, several opinions from the past, including a 2017 Mississippi Supreme Court decision, suggest that the caucus meetings may be illegal. The House Republican Caucus is more than just a majority of the House of Representatives. It also deliberates public policy in private. State Senator Sollie Norwood (a Jackson Democrat) requested an opinion from the Ethics Commission on the controversial meetings. However, the commission leadership instructed the senator to file an ethics complaint or seek an opinion from the attorney general. Gunn’s staff claims that the House Republican Caucus does not have to follow the Open Meetings Act as it is not considered a “public entity” under state law. Gunn’s communications director Emily Simmons stated that the House Republican Caucus was not a public entity under the Open Meetings Act. Gunn’s chief staff officer Trey Dellinger shared the same argument. Senate leaders disagree. When Lt. Governor. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann was elected lieutenant governor in 2020 and became the presiding officer for the Senate. Second-term Republican state Senator Mike Seymour asked whether caucus meetings are legal under the Open Meetings Act. After some research by Senate staff, Hosemann decided not to convene Senate Republican Caucus meetings as the staff suggested that they could violate the Open Meetings Act. The Ethics Commission, consisting of eight members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to four-year terms, is currently considering the decision. Many of the members of the commission have close ties with the state’s political apparatus and the officials who appointed them. Spencer Ritchie was appointed to the commission by the then-Lt. Governor in 2018. Tate Reeves was the executive director of Mississippi Republican Party for over two years. Erin Lane is an attorney who was appointed to the commission by the now-Gov in 2020. Reeves is the wife Colby Lane, a college fraternity brother and donor to Reeves. Hosemann named Ben Stone, a Republican donor who is a long-time friend of Hosemann, to the Ethics Commission for 2021. Every lieutenant governor has reappointed Stone to the commission since 1981. Sean Milner is one of Gunn’s appointees on the Ethics Commission. He is the president of Mississippi Baptist Children’s Village. Both Milner and Gunn were leaders at Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton. It is not clear whether Milner will withdraw from the commission’s consideration of Norwood’s request for an opinion regarding Gunn’s private meetings. Editor’s Note: Vangela Wade, the president and CEO at Mississippi Center for Justice is a member Mississippi Today’s board.