Senate opens conference committee work to public
March 11, 2001
The Mississippi Senate had a very productive week this past week with several important matters on hand, perhaps none more significant than opening conference committees to the public.
While it's true that most conference committees have always been open, we gave final approval to a rules change that specifies the public will be welcome at all but a few appropriations conference committees.
Maybe we should take a brief look at the process so you can understand what we did. In our legislative process, after bills have been introduced and passed in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, they go to the opposite chamber for approval.
If the other chamber approves the bill with no changes, it then goes to the governor. But that is not a common occurrence. Usually one chamber or the other makes some changes in the bill. If that happens, we then go to what is called a "conference committee," made up of three senators and three representatives.
These six members then try to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. If they are successful, the agreed-upon version goes back to each chamber for approval and is then sent on to the governor for his signature. These conference committees have not been subject to the state's Open Meetings Act.
Wednesday, we unanimously approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 584, which provides that conference committee meetings be held in one of three specific rooms in the Capitol, with notice of which rooms will be used to be posted by the third day of a legislative session. In case of this current session, that notice will be given sometimes this week.
If the room must be changed for any reason, notice must be posted in a conspicuous place. Requiring the meetings to take place in certain rooms makes it easier for the media and the public to know where to go to track any bill they may be interested in.
We think this is a great step toward more open government.
But that wasn't the only item of merit this week. We also approved House Bill 1489, which addresses the management practices of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
There has been a great deal of concern lately about how our highway department conducts its business. What we did is follow the recommendations of the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee, or PEER, and added management practices we think they should follow.
Practices such as creating a master budget for each segment of a highway project and requiring the department to furnish the Legislature each year with an update on each project including final cost and completion dates, changes made in the project and the total cost per mile.
We think that an overall good transportation department will only be made better with these additional oversights.
State Sen. Videt Carmichael, D-Meridian, represents District 33. He may be reached during the legislative session by calling (601) 359-3770 or by writing to P.O. Box 1018, Jackson, MS 39215. To follow state government on the Internet, go to www.ls.state.ms.us.