Mississippi court hears rep's challenge over machine that speed-reads bills

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A Mississippi lawmaker is suing the speaker of the state House for allegedly abusing a speed-reading machine that House members have referred to as the “demon chipmunk.”

The case was heard by the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The challenge was brought by first-year Democratic state Rep. Jay Hughes, who accused Speaker Philip Gunn of violating the state Constitution by setting the machine to read bills at a speed so fast that the words are unintelligible.

Hughes’ attorney S. Ray Hill III wrote in a brief that the bills were played at a “brisk pace,” but slow enough to hear.

Any member of the Mississippi House or Senate can demand that a bill be read aloud immediately before a final vote on it, according to Section 59 of the 1890 state Constitution. Bill-reading is also a common filibuster tactic.

When House Democrats demanded a reading in March, Gunn allegedly retaliated by “having the machine play at warp speed so that no member could understand what was being said,” wrote Hill.

In response, Hughes petitioned the Hinds County Circuit Court for a temporary restraining order. Judge Winston Kidd issued the restraining order on March 23, which forced Gunn to slow down the readings.

But when Gunn appealed the decision, the state Supreme Court put Kidd’s order on hold.

Gunn’s attorneys argued to the Supreme Court that all lawmakers have computers and can read bills on them if they so choose.

Having heard the arguments, the court has not specified a time frame for a decision.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.