House Republicans abruptly end debate as Democrats offer amendments to help poor women, children

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The House Republican majority flexed its muscle Tuesday and abruptly cut off Democrats’ efforts to offer amendments that aimed to improve the health of poor Mississippi women and children.

The debate came on Republican-authored House Bill 1671, which provides multiple tax credits for businesses and individuals for making contributions to pregnancy crisis centers that were created to try to curb abortion in the state and for contributions to various adoptions services.

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The bill, Republican supporters said, was designed to provide additional help for women and children after the 2022 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ending a national right to an abortion and resulting in a near total abortion ban in Mississippi.

Democrats had planned to offer multiple additional amendments that they said would provide additional help for women and children. The amendments, all based on Democratic bills Republicans killed earlier in the session without debate or a vote, included:

  • Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to one year as at least 35 other states had done.
  • Increasing welfare benefits for poor mothers and children.
  • Placing more oversight over the Mississippi Department of Human Services as a result of the ongoing scandal where at least $77 million in welfare funds were misspent, resulting in the criminal conviction of some public officials and private contractors.

“We let rich Mississippians steal welfare funds. This amendment simply says we will raise the allotment for (poor) women and children,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, the House Democratic leader from Natchez. “If you don’t want to take care of them in the hospital, at least vote to feed them.”

But Democrats didn’t get the chance to offer and debate most of their amendments. On motions by Rep. Steve Massengill, a Hickory Flat Republican, the GOP majority voted to cut off debate on two Democratic amendments, though a handful of Republican members voted with Democrats to debate those issues.

Then Rep. Jody Steverson, a Republican from Ripley, voted to stop the amendment process and to end debate on the bill. Steverson’s motion to end debate prevailed 68-46, though four Republicans voted with the Democrats. The four Republicans opposing the Steverson motion were Becky Currie of Brookhaven, Jansen Owen of Poplarville, Kent McCarty of Hattiesburg and Dana McLean of Columbus.

Before the vote, various Democrats pleaded with their Republican colleagues that debate be allowed to continue.

“These amendments are in support of women, families and children in the state of Mississippi,” said Zakiya Summers, a Democrat from Jackson. “…Let’s vote them up or down. That is the process.”

Johnson said, “When a motion is made to table an amendment, that means they (Republicans) don’t want to hear what you have to say. That means they don’t they want anybody to know what we are up here doing. That means an issue as important as mothers, children and the birth and the life and the ability to survive, nobody wants to talk about it …The public will know that not only are you against women and children, but against the democratic process.”

READ MORE: How House Republicans are avoiding tough votes on health care solutions

As Democrats made their case to Republican colleagues to allow debate on the amendments to continue, several House Republicans sitting in the chamber were noticeably ignoring their Democratic colleagues. Republican Rep. Nick Bain, pictured above, tossed a ball and laughed loudly with several GOP colleagues as Summers spoke about the need to continue debate and help poor women.

The Republicans’ motion to cut off debate came after Rep. Omeria Scott, a Democrat from Laurel, had opted to slow the legislative process down earlier Tuesday by requiring a handful of bills to be read before final passage. Scott demanded the reading of bills after Speaker of the House Philip Gunn prevented her from asking questions on a bill. Gunn had ruled the time to ask questions had passed.

“The chairman asked me to do it,” Steverson said when asked why he chose to make the motion to end debate. “I was glad to do it. If they (Democrats) want to lengthen the day, we can shorten the day. It is a two-way street.”

Rep. Trey Lamar, the Republican from Senatobia and powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the decision was made to cut off debate because of the bill reading.

“It looked like it was going to go on for a while,” Lamar said.

Rep. Tommy Reynolds, a Democrat from Water Valley and one of the longest serving legislators in the House, said of the cutting off of the debate: “The thing is, all the cartilage that was there in years past is now gone. It’s bone on bone … I miss moderation. But it’s not in fashion anymore these days.”