Gov. Phil Bryant today signed House Bill 211, the Sunshine Act.
"Transparency in government is critical to its integrity," Bryant said. "I have long supported and believed in the need for Mississippi to more clearly define its relationships with outside counsel. Our goal with the Sunshine Act is to make these relationships more open and transparent, and House Bill 211 is a strong example of government being held accountable."
The bill sets new guidelines for the hiring of outside counsel by state agencies and for the hiring of outside counsel on a contingency fee basis.
Under the legislation, state agencies can retain outside counsel in cases where the attorney general declines to represent them or in cases where a state agency feels the attorney general cannot adequately represent its legal interests because of a significant disagreement over legal strategy.
The bill also defines when an outside attorney may be hired on a contingency fee basis.
Before making such an agreement, the attorney general or state official retaining the counsel must provide a written determination that the fee to be paid is both cost-effective and in the public interest.
Other provisions included in the bill:
Requires outside counsel to keep detailed time records
Places limitations on percentage of a recovery that can be paid as a contingency fee. It also provides that "[a] contingency fee shall not be based on penalties or civil fines awarded or any amounts attributable to penalties or civil fines"
Fees paid to outside counsel "shall not exceed recognized bar rates for similar services"
Fee limitations can be waived by majority vote of the Outside Counsel Oversight Commission, which is comprised of the governor, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state
Requires the attorney general to give an agency seven days' notice before taking any legal action on the agency's behalf, unless delay would cause the state "irreparable injury"