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Mississippi Legislature Not Yet A ‘Public Body’ After Legislation Fails: ‘There’s Always Next Year’

The Mississippi Legislature is not yet a “public body” subject to full transparency under the Open Meetings Act this year after lawmakers failed to advance a bill to clarify its status before a legislative deadline.

Senate Bill 2667 would have altered Mississippi Code § 25-41-3 to clarify that the list of “meetings” covered by the Open Meetings Act includes “a quorum of members of a public body that may deliberate or act upon any matter” under their purview.

That decision came after the Mississippi Free Press and reporter Nick Judin filed complaints with the commission about the House Senate Caucus meeting to discuss and decide legislative positions with a majority of the House present.

After a majority of the Mississippi Ethics Commission voted last year that the Legislature is not a public body under current law, Sen. Jason Barrett, R-Brookhaven, sponsored the bill this session along with 19 other members. The legislation died in committee after Mississippi Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee Chairman John A. Polk, R-Hattiesburg, failed to bring it up for a vote before the Tuesday, Jan. 31 deadline.

“I decided not to bring it up—I talked to Senator Barrett, and we discussed it, and it needs more work,” Polk told the Mississippi Free Press on Tuesday. “It’s dead this year; there’s always next year.”

When the Mississippi Free Press told Barrett what the chairman said, the Brookhaven senator said he would speak further with Polk about it.

‘We Are Morphing Into A Parliamentary System’

On March 14, 2022, Mississippi Free Press reporter Nick Judin entered room 113, where state representatives had gathered for the House Republican Caucus meeting. Because Republicans hold a supermajority in the House, lawmakers there often make decisions about legislation without any non-Republicans present and outside the view of the public.

After Judin said he was there “under the Open Meetings Act,” a staffer told him the “caucus is not subject to the Open Meetings Act.”

“This is not subject to the Open Meetings Act?” Judin asked.

“No,” Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn and numerous other legislators replied.

The caucus, which consists of

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