Mississippi News Nonprofit Governor Phil Bryant was part of a large and boisterous crowd at the Capitol rotunda. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn surpassed the limits of what is allowed for such events. The 25-person limit was strictly enforced by Jackson-based public school advocates, who plan to hold an event in February. The agency responsible for the space, the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration(DFA), issued permits to both groups last fall. This crackdown on the limit is surprising considering that it comes after the school choice rally, which received wide media coverage and caused Capitol to be jammed full of participants. There have been many variations in the enforcement of rules regarding the use of the rotunda. Some groups have been told by Capitol police officers that rallies are not allowed inside in the past. Other times, that rule has not been enforced. Events held at the Capitol are managed by the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration. A reservation request must be submitted through the department if you wish to hold an event or press conference at the Capitol. These events are usually held in the second-floor rotunda. The Capitol hosts press conferences every day during legislative sessions. If a group wants to protest or hold a rally inside the Capitol, a permit will be revoked. Michelle Henry, a Jackson Public Schools parent, submitted a reservation request for the Jackson Council PTA to hold a February 20 press conference. She urged them to support teacher retention and fully fund education. Henry, vice president of middle school section of PTA, stated that they expect at least 100 people. On Tuesday evening, Henry received a memo by DFA officials that detailed the requirements for holding a press event inside the Capitol. According to the memo, reservations are only allowed at 2nd Floor Rotunda for Press Conferences and not Rallies. The Capitol will limit press conferences to 25 people, excluding media. Press conferences are often attended by more than 25 people. Signs are prohibited on the Capitol’s second floor. Reservations for press conferences within the Capitol that are advertised as rallies or events are subject to cancellation. The Capitol rotunda was packed with advocates, parents, and students. At the rally, many people held signs in yellow that read “Choice is hope!” and “Celebrate Teachers – Celebrate Choice!” Bryant and Gunn spoke, and urged parents to support programs that allow them to use public money to send their children to private schools, or to purchase tutoring. Grant Callen, Empower Mississippi president, stated that this year’s event was their largest yet and that they plan to host the event outdoors next year in order to accommodate more people. Callen stated on social media that the event would attract 1,000 people. Callen stated that they had been granted permission to hold the event inside this year and had made plans to reevaluate next year. Empower Mississippi has both educational and political arm and donates to candidates. According to Empower PAC’s latest campaign finance filings, it donated $10,000 to Reeves and $500 to Republican Rep. Missy McGee in 2016. This former representative Toby Barker was replaced by. The group supported the election of four DeSoto County Republican legislators who had blocked a charter school bill from being passed by a key House committee. The PAC spent approximately $100,000 on the campaigns for Republican Reps. Dana Criswell and Dan Eubanks, Ashley Henley, Steve Hopkins, who all support expanding school choice in Mississippi. The Federation for Children in Washington, D.C., partially funds Empower. This group advocates for voucher, tax credit scholarship, and education savings account laws. Chuck McIntosh, a DFA spokesperson, stated that it has been DFA’s policy to restrict the Capitol’s second floor to press conferences and allow groups to hold rallies only on the South Steps. McIntosh stated that the group holding yesterday’s event had reserved the space for a conference. He also said that a memo was sent to all applicants reminding them of the 25-person limit on Jan. 19. According to Mississippi Today, Empower Mississippi requested in September that a press conference be held with 100 people. McIntosh stated that this group made reservations prior to the creation of the attached Memo, and they were therefore grandfathered in. Henry submitted her request in September at the same time Empower Mississippi did. She also said that the timing of policy’s implementation was unfair. She stated that she believed we should also be grandfathered in. McIntosh stated that the second floor is traditionally reserved for press conferences and events approved by the Senate Rules or House Management Committees. McIntosh stated that the agency noticed several groups using the space to hold press conferences in the past year, when it was intended to host a rally. McIntosh stated that these are two different types of events, and the latter was not intended for the second level. McIntosh stated that DFA is currently revising the policy, but sent the memo to all groups with reservations to let them know they can move their rally outside if necessary. McIntosh stated that the current use policy was reviewed in light of changes to the original intent of the second floor. To support this work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. 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