Sen. Sojourner details legislative absences

Published 12:05am Saturday, March 8, 2014

NATCHEZ — Sen. Melanie Sojourner has missed five of 46 legislative roll calls since the start of the session in Jackson Jan. 7.

That’s approximately 1-in-10 — or 10.8 percent — of the roll calls posted on the Mississippi State Legislature’s website.

The other members of Adams County’s delegation all have perfect attendance, according to the website. Those include Reps. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, America Chuck Middleton, D-Port Gibson and Sam Mims, R-McComb, and Sen. Kelvin Butler, D-Magnolia.

Days Sojourner was not present for roll call in January include Thursday, Jan. 30, and Fri. Jan. 31. Missed days in February included Monday, Feb. 10, and Fridays Feb. 14 and Feb. 28.

The senator has not missed any days in March.

Sojourner said the missed days were because of work conflicts, adding most of the missed days were missed Friday or Monday, when legislative work is typically not as intense.

“We are citizen legislators —it is a part-time position — and every legislator who is here also has a job,” she said. “If for some reason you have to do something for work (during the session), you do it on a Friday or a Monday because a lot of times on those days you gavel in at 9 a.m. and right back out at 9:15 a.m. Very seldom are any bills of legislative importance taken up (on those days).”

In some instances, the legislature will bank days, so legislators might not work on a Friday if a lot is not on the schedule for that day, Sojourner said.

“In the two years previous that I have been here, I don’t know if I have missed a single day,” she said. “At the end of the day, I am still a working parent who has to pay the bills.”

On all five days Sojourner missed roll call, Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisvlle, also missed roll call. Sojourner is managing McDaniel’s primary campaign challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, and she said the campaign “is one of (her) paid jobs.”

Sojourner said one of the Friday sessions she missed was working on McDaniel’s campaign.

“Until this session is over, we try to schedule events in the evenings and on the weekends,” she said. “Pretty much any activity going on campaign-related is occurring in the evenings or early in the morning.”

Sojourner said she reviewed the days she missed, and of the votes taken, the overwhelming majority were unanimous votes or passed with only two or three dissenting voices. Included in those votes is the Natchez Regional Medical Center bankruptcy bill, which passed without any opposition.

“Before bills come to the floor, you test the waters, and we knew that bill was going to fly through, but I did not anticipate it to come up that Friday,” she said.

“The overwhelming majority of those bills that came up were commendations (to citizens).”

Sojourner said that while bills that rarely inspire debate or controversy come up on Fridays or Mondays, she made a point Friday — March 7 — to be present for roll call because she wanted to make sure the state appropriations bill did not come up and pass without serious discussion. The appropriations bill did not come up Friday.

Sojourner’s colleague in the Senate, Butler, said knowing when certain measures will be discussed is often difficult.

“You never know when legislation is going to be brought up, when something that will be important to you comes up,” he said. “The main thing is to be at work and keep up with things as they go along.

“That is why I was elected, to go to work.”

In the House, Mims said he feels it is important for legislators to be in session in order to cast votes for the people of Southwest Mississippi.

“I have asked for the taxpayers to hire me and to do a job, and they expect me to be in attendance,” he said.

“I think this is a very important job we have, and we work for the taxpayers. I believe the taxpayers expect us to be at the capitol when we are in session. I (think) it (is)  very important, and that is why I attend the sessions, why I attend the meetings and why I attend my job.”

The legislative session will adjourn April 6.