State senators balked Thursday at giving Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann $395,000 to spend on lawyers from former Gov. Haley Barbour’s law firm to defend Mississippi’s Voter ID law. Republicans were caught off guard when they didn’t have enough members in the Senate chamber to pass the $15.3 million budget that included $395,000 for private lawyers in the 2014 fiscal year that begins July 1. The bill failed on a vote of 23-17. The state Constitution requires a majority of elected members — the Senate has 52, but one seat is vacant — must vote for approval before a measure can pass. Supporters plan to try again next week. Hosemann, a Republican, and state Atty. Gen. Jim Hood, a Democrat, signed a contract with the Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada law firm in September that authorizes the outside lawyers to represent the state “on all issues related to pre-clearance of that legislation and any related legislation, rules or regulations and all litigation that may arise or be instituted in connection with pre-clearance.
Matters involving voting in Mississippi must be approved — or pre-cleared — by the U.S. Department of Justice before they can be implemented due to the state’s history of racial discrimination. State legislators, following a November 2011 referendum, last year approved requiring potential voters to produce a photo ID before they could vote.
That law is still awaiting pre-clearance from the Justice Department. Meantime, legislators approved $395,000 last year for legal fees and were poised to do so again when Democrats balked.