JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) – Mississippi’s Bill 555 passed in the Republican-led state House, requiring the attorney general, the only statewide elected Democrat, to seek approval from a commission before pursuing litigation that may recover at least $250,000 in awards.
Bill 555 passed 63-55 in reverse course after failing a week early with the vote 58-60 and undergoing a second round of House debate.
The bill expands the role of the Outside Council Oversight Commission, which would be comprised of all Republican-held offices of the governor, lieutenant governor and the secretary of state. The bill also makes provisions for current contracts to be submitted to the oversight commission for review.
The bill was written by Committee Chairman Representative Mark Baker (R) and is the only one of its kind in the country to Baker’s knowledge. Baker contends that the bill is needed to prevent Attorney General Jim Hood from bypassing the legislature and using lawsuits to set policy for the state.
“Unfortunately, our attorney general and state of Mississippi is engaged in longtime course of practice of basically attempting to set the policy of Mississippi through litigation,” Baker told Legal Newsline. “In my opinion, and obviously the opinion of the House, it’s gotten out of hand.”
Hood called the bill in a statement “an unconstitutional, political power grab that puts the interests of corporations ahead of Mississippi citizens.”
Baker argues that the bill provides much needed transparency and creates a path of communication between the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
“I know it sounds like a political gamesmanship, but it’s really not,” Baker said. “It’s really about who has the oversight of these things. We would be better able to have a handle on how the policy of the state of Mississippi is being affected by this litigation.”
Supporters of Hood note the millions of dollars that he has won and brought to the state budget. Whether or not this new regulation would impact the money in the state’s budget has yet to be seen.
“I think it [Bill 555] will be beneficial for the entire state of Mississippi,” Baker said. “It will provide a clearer and more transparent manner and method in which the state of Mississippi engages in civil litigation. It would provide accountability to the attorney general’s office from the stand point of the lawsuits that are pursued, the action that is taken and the settlements that may occur."
Since Bill 555 passed in the House, it will move to the Senate for a vote.
“I think it will be well-received in the Senate,” Baker said.
Bill 555 is not the first time Hood has faced restrictions through legislation as the state’s attorney general. In 2012, the Mississippi Sunshine Act regulated the attorney general’s use of outside, contingency-fee lawyers. It was also in the 2012 Sunshine Act that the Outside Counsel Oversight Commission was created in order to review the contracts with contingency-fee lawyers.