13 Apr Mississippi House Republican Caucus Illegally Shuts Public & Press Out of Key Policy Meetings, says Mississippi Center for Justice
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 13, 2022
Contact: Donna Ladd (601) 966-0834, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob McDuff (601) 259-8484, email@example.com
Mississippi House Republican Caucus Illegally Shuts Public & Press Out of Key Policy Meetings, says Mississippi Center for Justice
Behind closed doors, Republican House representatives formulate policy without public scrutiny
Late yesterday, the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission alleging that House Speaker Philip Gunn and the Mississippi House Republican Caucus violated the Open Meetings Act by barring a Mississippi Free Press (MFP) reporter from a Caucus meeting where public business was discussed and by routinely closing its meetings to the public and the press. Read the full complaint here.
Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act clearly states that “the formation and determination of public policy is public business and shall be conducted at open meetings.” The complaint, brought on behalf of the MFP and reporter Nick Judin, points out that the House Republican leadership uses the meetings, which are composed of a significant majority of House members, to discuss legislative priorities with members and to iron out differences in secret so that the Republicans can present a united front to the public.
“The Bill of Rights lists free speech and the freedom of press as cornerstones of American democracy,” said Donna Ladd, editor and executive director at the Mississippi Free Press, a statewide nonprofit newsroom. “By barring the press and public from these meetings, these legislators abandon their commitment to America’s founding principles and diminish the public’s right to know about the operations of their government.”
According to the complaint, the House Republicans’ secret deliberations stand in stark contrast to the actions of the Mississippi Senate Republican Caucus, which has declined to close its meetings because of concerns that closure would violate the Open Meetings Act.
“The law is clear, yet for years the Speaker and the Caucus have violated it, conducting their business in secrecy and ignoring the rights of the public,” said MCJ attorney Rob McDuff who filed the complaint. “Thankfully, the Mississippi Free Press has brought this complaint so that the Ethics Commission can address this issue and hopefully open these important meetings so that people can know what is going on.”
“The future of Mississippi should not be decided behind closed doors. Mississippians deserve to know how policymakers are making choices that affect their livelihoods. We need transparency in government, not secrecy,” said Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO of MCJ.
Of the 122 members of the Mississippi House, 77 are Republican. When they gather in caucus meetings, their number far exceeds the majority of House members necessary to form a quorum. According to the complaint, this triggers the requirement of the Open Meetings Act that any discussion of public business by the quorum of a legislative body be open to the public.
The Caucus meeting from which Judin was barred occurred on March 14, 2022. He later filed a brief complaint with the Ethics Commission. Yesterday’s more extensive submission was filed on behalf of Judin and the MFP as a supplement to the earlier complaint.
The Mississippi Center for Justice is dedicated to dismantling the state’s culture of inequity and injustice. Supported and staffed by attorneys and other professionals, the Center pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.
The Mississippi Free Press is a statewide nonprofit newsroom practicing accountability and solutions journalism across Mississippi.