OPINION: Legislature Needs More Sunlight, New Technology

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On March 29, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves gaveled out the legislative session as head of the Senate for what will be the last time—unless the governor calls a special session later this year. Unfortunately, Reeves did so with a cloud over his head.

The day before, he and others in his party's leadership secretly slipped $2 million for private-school vouchers into an unrelated funding bill. Lawmakers had already made it clear earlier in the session that they would not support an expansion of the voucher program, so leadership did not tell them about the changes before asking them to vote for it just minutes later. That resulted in an angry backlash from legislators in both parties.

I have paid enough attention to the Legislature in the past to know underhanded tactics are nothing new. As a reporter covering our state's lawmakers for the first time, though, I was still surprised by how brazen the double-crossing could be—especially when mixed in with the bipartisan geniality that so often characterizes lawmakers' interactions with one another.

There are some simple steps the Legislature could take that would bolster trust not only among the lawmakers, but also between themselves and the public.

First, leadership could make sure to give lawmakers ample time to read legislation before asking them to vote on it. Voters expect that their representatives will take the time to read bills before they vote on them, but that is impossible when leadership dumps dozens of bills on them all at once and asks them to vote minutes later.

That same standard should apply to committee meetings, where small groups of legislators review bills and decide whether or not to introduce them to the full House or Senate. It offers them an opportunity to discuss and identify any issues with the bills and to iron out

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