The endless special session
By By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
Nov. 24, 2002
After weeks of negotiations, legislative leaders may finally be ready to call it quits and end a nearly three-month-long special session on civil justice reforms.
If House and Senate members can't compromise by Monday, House Speaker Tim Ford could adjourn the House. Such a move would let members begin preparing for the regular session that starts in January.
That may be the best alternative for a session that began Sept. 5. The special session has become the longest one in recent years and has cost the state more than $1 million in salaries and expenses.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove called lawmakers into session to consider a proposal to help doctors fight the growing expense of malpractice insurance. A medical malpractice bill was approved and signed into law weeks ago.
That left civil justice reform, more commonly called tort reform, as the last issue to tackle. With Mississippi labeled the lawsuit Mecca of the nation and businesses complaining of multimillion dollar verdicts, a lot has been riding on the issue.
But with 174 members to please, 52 in the Senate and 122 in the House, the issue faced an uphill battle from the start. House and Senate negotiators have been trying to work on a compromise for weeks, but have had no luck.
Since then, many lawmakers have lost interest in the issue and public pressure to approve something has weakened.
One alternative legislative leaders may consider: End the session, have negotiators continue discussions the rest of the year and present lawmakers with a compromise bill at the start of the 2003 Legislature.
Speculation around the Capitol continues to center on the possibility that Ford will retire from his House seat next year throwing members into a free-for-all to decide who will succeed him as speaker.
The list of possible candidates includes such longtime, influential House members as Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi; Bobby Moody, D-Louisville; Joe Warren, D-Mount Olive; and others.
But, just like last summer when the possibility of Ford's retirement first surfaced, McCoy appears to have the upper hand. House insiders and rank-and-file members say privately McCoy has enough commitments from legislators to easily win the job.
They say they hope House members agree privately on a new speaker and avoid a divisive, public election, a move that could splinter the body and make it difficult for whoever wins to serve as its leader.
One scenario has Ford stepping down at the end of the 2003 regular session and members immediately choosing his successor months before the November 2003 general election for statewide and legislative offices.
In case you missed the news, Delta State University supporters raised private funds to give President David Potter a $25,000 supplement to his $175,000 state salary as head of the Cleveland institution.
Delta State has followed in the footsteps of other public universities in Mississippi by using private funds to supplement their presidents' pay.
For example, Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat gets a $200,000 supplement to his $200,000 salary and University of Southern Mississippi President Shelby Thames gets a $50,000 supplement to his $200,000 salary.
While higher education leaders no doubt deserve competitive pay, the supplements highlight a serious issue in Mississippi n the use of private funds to pay public officials.
And that raises this important question: To whom do these public officials answer, the people or sources of the private funds?