Bill could limit Attorney General’s authority

House Bill 1238 passed on Thursday, and if it is signed into law it would limit the power of the Attorney General’s office.

The bill passed through the House by a slim 57-54 margin, and will now be moved over to the Senate for consideration. The bill limits the Attorney General’s office from opening litigation into a business on the basis of the “Consumer Protection Act”.

Back in January, it was announced by AG Jim Hood’s office that Watson Inc, a pharmaceutical company, had defrauded the state of Mississippi for over $33 million. The money was recovered by the state and in a media release following that recovery, AG Hood says that if HB 1238 had already been enacted, this lawsuit would not have been possible.

“House Bill 1238, which passed out of committee last week, would allow companies who are federally regulated, such as Watson, to claim they do not fall under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act,” AG Hood explained. “The Watson case was argued under that Act, and more than $5.2 million in civil penalties were recovered as part of the entire judgment.”

If the bill makes it into law, AG Hood worries about the impact it will have on Mississippi consumers.

“Should HB 1238 pass, it would be devastating to the protection of Mississippians, much of the successes in our office have been protecting consumers from corporate wrongdoers, and the people of Mississippi deserve more than their lawmakers stripping those protections,” AG Hood said.

Author of the bill, Mark Baker argues that the bill stops the AG’s office from “hindering economic development” by engaging in litigation with certain corporations. Baker went on to say that the bill doesn’t stop the AG’s office from filing a lawsuit, only that they can’t do so under the Consumer Protection Act.

“AG’s throughout the country have taken what was supposed to relate to a day-to-day purpose and taken them as an alternate means to extort money out of businesses,” Baker said. “One person is affecting public policy in MS to the point that it affects economic development.”

Baker mentioned that Mississippi leads the country in public policy lawsuits. He went into further detail about what this means from a business’s perspective.

Several lawmakers stood to defend AG Hood’s ability to engage in such litigation. The bill is awaiting a committee referral on the Senate side.