Leaders failing democracy

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, March 24, 2016

The fundamentals of democracy seem to be eroding. One aspect of democracy is that elected officials voters send to the capitol are allowed to vote on legislation.

Unfortunately that is not the case in more and more instances.

Bills are debated in committees and then head to the full house of the Mississippi legislature, particularly during deadline weeks, but only if the committee chairman allows it.

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For instance, education chairman Gray Tollison decided a bill dealing with vaccinations would not be allowed to leave the committee and head to a floor vote in the state Senate chambers. It’s a tactic used by many committee chairmen to prevent a bill they do not approve from becoming potential laws.

I’m not sure that is how democracy was planned to work by the Founding Fathers.

This practice has been so frequent in the state legislature that some Democrats in the Legislature decided to filibuster bills, causing more delays in the legislative process. Republicans in the House countered the filibuster on Wednesday by speed reading through the bills Democrats wanted read aloud. First-year legislator Jay Hughes of Oxford filed suit against House Speaker Philip Gunn in Hinds County Circuit Court where Judge Winston Kidd ruled the bills must be read “in a normal way.”

Gunn, who wields power over the Republican controlled House, accused Democrats of preventing legislators from “doing the work of the people.”

Democrats, lead by Sen. Barbara Blackmon (D-Canton) said Republican committee chairs are only allowing bills “blessed” by those GOP leaders to come out of committee.

Blackmon said it is unfair to legislators, and their constituents, for a chairman to try to block amendments to divisive legislation.

It’s hard to not agree with the veteran state senator, despite the fact I disagree with her on most policies she favors.

The reason we as constituents elected legislators in the first place is for them to vote on legislation. Right now, when a bill offered by liberals that is considered by Republicans to be divisive, it dies in committee and never makes it to the floor for a vote. Or the GOP circumvents their Democratic counterparts.

The Senate Judiciary A Committee met, unknowingly by Blackmon and other Democrats, to pass a bill opposed by gay rights activists that says state officials, private business owners and others who provide services to the public couldn’t be punished for acting on religious beliefs that marriage should only be between a man and a woman

Chairman of the committee, Sean Tindal (R-Gulfport) said he didn’t want any changes or amendments to the bill, which means if it clears both chambers without any alterations the bill goes directly to the desk of Gov. Phil Bryant who favors the legislation.

Although I agree with the legislation, I don’t agree with the process in which it came about. I believe real leadership should be inclusive rather than exclusive and right now the GOP controlled legislature is not allowing democracy the way it was originally intended to work.

Rob Sigler is managing editor of The Oxford EAGLE. Contact him at rob.sigler@oxfordeagle.com.