/Legislative leaders defend uneven enforcement of Capitol event policy

Legislative leaders defend uneven enforcement of Capitol event policy

In a joint statement, President Pro Tem Senator Terry Burton and Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Greg Snowden acknowledged the “unfortunate optics” of policy enforcement. Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration manages events in the Capitol. Recently, they notified groups that had been granted permission to use the space. Press conferences will now be limited to 25 people. Rallies are strictly forbidden. Empower Mississippi, a school choice advocacy group, was permitted to hold a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, with hundreds of people, including the Governor. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. DFA has informed a Jackson-based parent teacher group that it cannot hold a similar event within the rotunda space. “We recognize that enforcement of this preexisting policy at the time (mid-Session), opens us up to allegations that we are somehow playing favorites, or appearing unfair,” the statement stated. “We are able to accept the sad circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are not ready to allow the bad situation to get worse through inaction. Rallies cannot be held on Capitol steps, but must be outside. In September, Empower Mississippi and Jackson Council PTA requested to hold a press conference during legislative sessions. Both stated in their applications that more than 25 people were expected to attend. Burton spoke with Mississippi Today to explain why one group was allowed and not the other. Burton stated that the PTA group applied to hold a rally in the building. However, Mississippi Today records show that the group requested a press conference. We spoke to Empower and they said that a press conference was not permitted. The Senate Rules committee chair stated that although we were assured that they would, the crowd became out of control. They can get into here and you don’t have the ability to control them. Empower Mississippi advertised repeatedly via email that over 1,000 people would attend the event. Others have also evaded the policy. Public school supporters held a rally last year to demand inclusion in any possible rewrite of school funding formula. This was at the “Seat At the Table” rally that took place in March 2017. The rally was attended by both the Senate and the House, but no legislators spoke. On Thursday, the legislative leaders made a statement acknowledging that “enforcement has been lax and uneven and sometimes even nonexistent”, and they will enforce the policy as it is. The leaders released the following statement: JOINT STATEMENT PRO TEMPORE SCHNEIDER AND PRESIDENT PRO PRO TEMPORE BUTON
January 25, 2018, The Department of Finance and Administration’s long-standing policy is that “rallies” cannot be held within the Capitol Building. If an organization or group applies to DFA, they may allow press conferences with 25 participants or less. However, signs, chants and other characteristics that would be considered a “rally”, are not allowed inside the Capitol Building. Unfortunately, the policy’s enforcement has been inconsistent, lax and sometimes non-existent. We take full responsibility. Last Session saw many disruptive events that were sponsored by different groups allowed to take place, which negatively impacted the working environment for legislators and staff. We met shortly after the start of the current Session and agreed to enforce the policy. We believe that our guidelines were clearly communicated regarding an incident in the Rotunda on Tuesday. These guidelines were not adhered to, however, for whatever reason. We both reiterate our agreement that the current policy will be enforced immediately. DFA and Capitol Police were instructed to prohibit any activity that is not in compliance with the policy and to disperse any group that does not act in the expected and required manner. According to tradition, “rallies”, as per DFA’s instructions, are allowed on the Capitol’s southern (main) steps, but not inside. DFA and Capitol Police have been assured that both the Rules Committee and Management Committee will be supported in their duties. We recognize that the enforcement of this preexisting policy at this point (mid-Session), opens us up for being accused of playing favorites or appearing unfair. We are able to accept the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in. We are not ready to let a terrible situation worsen by inaction. The policy will be enforced for all groups and organizations, without exceptions or favoritism. DFA has the complete written policy. Representative Greg Snowden
Speaker Pro Tempore
Chairman, House Management Committee Senator Terry C. Burton
President Pro Tempore
Chairman, Senate Rules Committee. Support this work by making a regular donation to us today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story You can republish our articles online or in print for free under a Creative Commons licence.