COPY-A-G's Take on "Sunshine" Legislation - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 1/28/08

COPY-A-G's Take on "Sunshine" Legislation

by Jon Kalahar

By passing Senate bill 21-88, the Senate hopes it took the first step to bringing more accountability and openness to the Attorney General's office. But Jim Hood doesn't agree with this "sunshine" legislation and he has his own ideas.

So what are the chances both sides can agree to let the "sun shine in" on hiring outside counsel to work for the state?

The battle over new restrictions for the Attorney General's office is just beginning. The state Senate wants to require the Attorney General to bid out legal services, cap fees that outside attorneys can earn at one million dollars, and any contract over $500,000 should be reviewed.

Attorney General Jim Hood disagrees saying, "There is a misperception that sunshine doesn't currently exist.  Outside counsel contracts have always been public records.  Still, recognizing the need for reform in this area, I have introduced my own bill."

Hood's proposal looks this way:

He wants a seven day notice of proposed suits, contracted firm or attorney should maintain reports and records, contracts will be files with the Secretary of State's office, and upon conclusion of work, all expense reports and records will be filed with the Secretary of State's office.

Representative Phillip Gunn of Clinton worked to pass the sunshine legislation last year in the House. He believes this bill makes good sense: "I can't for the life of me see why anyone would oppose this. This is good government; it doesn't matter who the Attorney General is, whether he be Democrat or Republican. It requires him and the attorneys he hired to show how they're spending their time, what they're doing to earn their fees."

Representative Earle Banks believes some sunshine is needed, but not so much that it keeps the Attorney General from doing his job.

"Here in the legislature we will work to make sure we have the proper amount of sunshine and we do have the proper amount of ability, whether the Attorney General can go after corporate bad citizen, legal bad citizen, or any bad citizen," said Banks.

Many lawmakers think the judicial bribery case in the state will put pressure on lawmakers to pass more legislation that will allow Mississippians to know how their tax dollars are spent.

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