The Mississippi Legislature waits on no holiday. It meets on Marin Luther King Jr. Day, on Valentine’s Day, Fat Tuesday and Good Friday. On occasion it has been in session on Easter Sunday.
The start of the Mississippi legislative session often begins during the 12 Days of Christmas, or the period on the Christian calendar between the birth of Christ and the visit of the Magi to see the infant.
There often isn’t much time between the holiday celebration of Christmas and New Year’s and the start of the legislative session. For legislative staffers and many others who work in and around the Capitol, they often must plan their holiday celebration around the consuming task of preparing for the start of the session. It is a safe bet that there will be legislative staffers working during the holiday to draft the literally thousands of bills filed each year by the 174 House and Senate members.
This year the Mississippi legislative session begins on Jan. 4. According to information compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only seven state legislatures will begin as early or earlier than does the Mississippi Legislature in 2022.
The Mississippi Legislature will meet earlier than the legislatures in the four contiguous states. The Alabama and Tennessee legislatures convene on Jan. 11, while the Arkansas regular session starts on another holiday — Valentine’s Day — because all Arkansans love their legislators. Louisianans, perhaps thinking of their holidays, do not begin their regular session until March 14 — after the completion of the Mardi Gras season.
The Mississippi Constitution mandates that the Legislature convene each year on the Tuesday after the first Monday of the new year. That means the session can start as early as Jan. 2 and as late as Jan. 8.
The Legislature used to meet every other year. But during the 1968 regular session, legislators, perhaps thinking they could not get too much of a good thing, approved by a two-thirds vote in each chamber a constitutional resolution that established the current process of convening in regular session every year. That resolution establishing the annual session of the Mississippi Legislature was approved by voters in the summer of 1968.
The first session of each new four-year term can be as long as 125 days. The other three are set for no more than 90 days, though legislators could theoretically remain in session for the entire year via two-thirds vote of both chambers.
The longer session during the first year of a four-year term was included presumably to give newly elected legislators and governors time to acclimate and to organize. But since the leadership of the Legislature often does not change and since governors can now serve two consecutive terms (via a 1986 amendment to the Constitution approved by voters), often the additional legislative time is not needed. In many instances, legislators meet less than their 125-day allotment during that first year of the new term.
The 2022 session, which will be the third year of the four-year term, is slated for only 90 days.
And even though the session will begin so soon after the New Year’s celebration, legislators can ill afford to get off to a slow start.
There are a litany of major issues facing legislators in 2022 ranging from the potential of historic tax cuts to the decision on how to spend a staggering $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds to legislative redistricting, which occurs only once every 10 years after the U.S. Census.
Any one of those issues could consume much of a legislative session. There are multiple others that could do the same, such as teacher pay and medical marijuana. Plus there will be controversial and time-consuming issues that no one was expecting.
During a recent interview, House Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, in answering a question confirmed that it is likely that the Legislature most likely would take up the issue of redrawing the four U.S. House seats during the first week of the session. He then smiled and added, “But I heard of about 10 things (to be taken up) in the first week of the session.”
In other words, legislators cannot afford any holiday hangover when the session begins at noon on Jan. 4.
This analysis was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.