Public isn’t served by paper-thin meetings law

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Much like the snake oil salesmen of yesteryear, the Mississippi Legislature is trying to pull a fast one over on the taxpayers.

Today, lawmakers are expected to consider – and possibly vote on – a measure that would &uot;open&uot; legislative conference committees. The idea is a great one – and one that’s long overdue – but the thin piece of legislation lawmakers are expected to approve is laughable.

Under the bill legislators must publicly announce the rooms where conferences will be held, but not the time. Without knowing the exact time a meeting is to take place, interested people would be forced to sit for hours in empty rooms. The only way to find out the time is by calling the committee chairman.

Not requiring specific times to be announced is intended to make it difficult for the public to attend these meetings – which, in effect, defeats the true purpose of the law.

The bill comes 25 years after lawmakers required all other tax-funded government agencies to hold public meetings and announce when and where those meetings will be held.

The lawmakers’ sneaky attempt at appeasing the public with the pointless law isn’t surprising. Lawmakers don’t want the public watching what goes on in these conference committee meetings for good reason – without the public keeping watch, who’s to say we’re doing anything wrong?

The issue may seem to be much ado about nothing, but, in fact, the conference committees are where big decisions are made.

Last year the conference committees received lots of attention after lawmakers voted behind closed doors to boost their own retirement benefits. When word of this leaked out public outcry forced lawmakers to rescind the bill in a special session. Not announcing the times of the meetings in advance is utterly ridiculous and needs to be addressed. The snake-oil pitch is getting old.