BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A five day conference that brings together legislative leaders from around the south begins Saturday. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn is chairman and host of the 71st annual Southern Legislative Conference.
The organization's website says the SLC Annual Meeting provides policymakers a forum for engaging regional and national policy experts on the issues that matter most to them and their constituents. It allows state government officials to share their experiences with others facing similar challenges and opportunities. And it brings together regional and national policy experts to address an array of key topics impacting every southern state.
This year, the conference will be boycotted by many members of the Mississippi Black Legislative Caucus because of the state's confederate flag. The caucus chairwoman is Gulfport Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes. "There is a continuing need in Mississippi for a more inclusive environment that is welcoming of citizens from every racial and ethnic background," she said in a news release that mentions the boycott.
Williams-Barnes said legislative black caucuses from Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee are expected to join the Mississippi boycott. So are supporters from Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina. "Going forward," the Williams-Barnes news release says, "the Caucus should be front and center in future SLC discussions regarding race relations."
In recent days, House Speaker Gunn said as many as 13 Mississippi black caucus members would attend the SLC meetings. The Mississippi Black Caucus has 51 members.
A discussion about race relations hosted by former Mississippi Governor William Winter's institute is expected to be held during the conference. Williams-Barnes says the addition is the result of the boycott. Her news release calls the race relations discussion "a small first step."
The SLC says its annual meeting "reminds participants of the tradition of hospitality that is the trademark of the South. By combining substantive programming on pressing state policy issues with opportunities to share experiences with colleagues, the SLC Annual Meeting has emerged as the premier regional public policy gathering for state legislators, legislative staff, and government officials serving the South."
The Southern Legislative Conference runs through August 2.