Rep. Trey Lamar wants to amend the Mississippi Constitution to limit the governor’s power to appointInstitutions of Higher Learning trustees— a response to a controversial chancellor search the IHL conducted at UM last fall.
Lamar, a UM alumnus whose mother sits on the IHL, filed two measures that would split IHL appointment power between the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and a confidant of House Speaker Philip Gunn, Lamar is one of the most powerful lawmakers.
“It dawned on me over the last year that maybe it’s not the best policy to have all 12 board seats appointed by the same person, as is the case right now,” Lamar told Mississippi Today this week. “Especially after what happened last year (at UM), I think it’s worthy of some discussion and debate.”
IHL members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. After legislators amended the constitution in 2004 to reduce terms from 12 years to nine, former Gov. Phil Bryant became the first governor in the state’s history to appoint every member.
Because appointment power is in the state Constitution, Lamar’s proposal to change how IHL members are appointed is more complex than the passing of a typical bill.
To amend the Constitution, lawmakers must file a concurrent resolution. Concurrent resolutions require a two-thirds majority in the House and the Senate to pass. If vote requirements are met, the resolution does not move to the governor’s desk; instead, the amendment would be placed on a ballot for voters.
In this case, state code must be changed to accommodate Lamar’s plan, so he filed a separate regular bill. That bill, which changes language in law to split IHL appointment power, must be approved by a majority in the House and the Senate. If passed by the chambers, the bill would move to the governor’s desk.
If the governor vetoes, a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate have to vote to override the veto.
The resolution and the bill must pass for changes to be enacted.
The IHL came under public scrutiny in October when the board skipped steps in their process to appoint Glenn Boyce, the former IHL commissioner, as chancellor at the University of Mississippi.
Critics of the search process, many of whom believed Boyce was less qualified than other applicants, signed petitions and called for IHL reforms. Faculty at the university fumed and considered whether to formally censure the IHL.
Talk of reform became so widespread that lobbyists representing the eight universities met in late fall and discussed strategy in case the Legislature made a run on reform in the 2020 session, sources told Mississippi Today.
Lamar said many people contacted him about the Boyce appointment and asked about reforms. This week, Lamar reiterated his support for Boyce and insisted his measures were unrelated to his mother’s position.
“Just after observing the process and hearing people’s perceptions of the how the process unfolded in that (Boyce) hire and other hires the board has made, I thought filing this bill and starting a conversation about what, if anything, should change was appropriate,” Lamar said.
The resolution and the bill face a March 3 deadline to pass out of committees. After that, the House has until March 12 to pass measures before they can move to the Senate.
The terms of four members— Hal Parker, Ford Dye, Shane Hooper and Ann Lamar — expire in 2021. Under the constitution, Gov. Tate Reeves will appoint new members to replace them. Four more IHL members will be out in 2024.