The Mississippi Civil Liberties Union, the Mississippi League of Voters, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Votes, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Mississippi State Conference NAACP and Southern Echo Inc. have filed a complaint with the state ethics commission claiming lawmakers conduct public affairs outside of a formal meeting.
On Wednesday morning, lawmakers introduced and approved a final proposal to redesign the four congressional districts of the state. Prior to Wednesday morning, the proposed map was not available for public review.
In the lawsuit, the nonprofits claim lawmakers violated Mississippi’s open meetings law on November 19, when committee chair Jim Beckett invited lawmakers to his office after the meeting to consider the proposed map.
“The visualization of the map, and any deliberation thereof, was a public matter and should have taken place in a public meeting or, at least, in a properly executed executive session,” it reads in part. in the complaint.
The Open Meetings Act includes any standing, interim, or special committees of the Mississippi legislature, but those committees are permitted to enter into executive session at any time, for any reason.
The complaint comes after groups have already criticized the committee for what they believe is a lack of transparency in the redistribution process.
âLawmakers, especially those on the committee, work for the people and must be held accountable,â said Christy Wheeler, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Mississippi. by refusing to comply with their obligations to perform their work in public.
The committee held nine public hearings over the summer to get public feedback on what they hoped to see in the redistribution process.
Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann issued a statement shortly after the complaint was made public, praising the committee for its work.
“Our Standing Joint Congressional Redistribution Committee, under the Senate leadership of Pro Tempore Dean Kirby, held nine hearings in 2021 in all regions of the state to hear from citizens about the map,” Hosemann said. . âFor the first time, all hearings were webcast and archived for accessibility and transparency.
Rep. Jason White, R-West, is largely responsible for the design of the map approved on Wednesday. In his presentation to the committee, White seemed to imply that the committee had worked together outside of formal meetings on the redistribution plan.
âOf course I have a plan that the committee worked on, and you’ve certainly worked a lot,â White told Beckett, the committee chair.
Public bodies are exempt from the Open Meetings Act when members of the body meet by chance or at a social reception. Civil rights groups, in their complaint, say any work done on the redistribution process would be deliberate and therefore subject to the Meetings Act.
While lawmakers are expected to vote on the final approval of the cards in January, the ten nonprofits are asking the ethics commission to speed up the process of hearing their complaint. While the card itself is still valid, nonprofits are hoping that committees would be forced to comply more strictly with the Open Meetings Act, forcing discussion of a possible legislative redistribution of the state in the sphere. public.
Lee O. Sanderlin is an investigative and political reporter covering the state of Mississippi. Got a tip for the story? You can call him at 601-559-3857, send him to [email protected] or message him on Twitter @LeeOSanderlin.