Jackson • Lawmakers do not have to wait for a special session called by Gov. Tate Reeves to return to Jackson to deal with his veto of more than $2.2 billion in funding to the local school districts, according to various legislative sources.
Legislators could reconvene on their own under the conditions of the resolution they passed extending the session until Oct. 10.
Reeves has said he is waiting to call legislators back into special session to deal with the education veto and the lack of funding for the Gulf Coast-based Department of Marine Resources until the COVID-19 outbreak amongst legislators is quashed. About 30 legislators tested positive for the coronavirus, including both presiding officer Philip Gunn in the House and Delbert Hosemann in the Senate. Most tested positive in early July.
In recent days legislative leaders have said most of their members have recovered and they are ready to return to the Capitol in early August to deal with the education budget, the DMR budget and other issues.
Reeves is being non-committal on when he might call them back.
“We are looking to bring them back at the right time when it is safe for everyone for them to come back,” Reeves said recently on the Paul Gallo radio show.
The state constitution gives the governor the sole authority to re-convene the Legislature in special session once lawmakers adjourn the regular session for the year. Normally, regular sessions begin in early January and conclude in March, April or May.
But because of the pandemic, this is not a normal year. In June, legislators passed a resolution (requiring a two-thirds majority) to give them the authority to reconvene up until Oct. 10 to deal with coronavirus issues. Under the resolution, legislators could only return if the federal regulations changed on how the state could spend $1.25 billion in federal funds to combat the coronavirus.
Various leaders say regulations have changed, giving legislators the reason and the authority to re-convene.
Once they are in session, they could address the vetoes or other issues with a two-thirds vote to change their rules. But a key is the resolution only allows them to return for six days, though, that also could be changed once they are in session.
Regardless of whether Reeves will call legislators back in special session or they will return on their own, it is clear the veto of the education budget has stirred more contention and distrust between lawmakers and the governor. The legislative and executive branch have been at odds this session – the first of Reeves’ gubernatorial term – on multiple issues, including who should have authority to spend the $1.25 billion in federal funds to whether the Legislature should remove the state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem in its design, without a vote of the people. On both of those issues, Reeves acquiesced.
Reeves maintained that he vetoed the education budget because legislators refused to fund the School Recognition Program, which provides merit bonuses to teachers and other certified staff in top performing and improving school districts.
“The governor did not have to veto that bill,” White said.
Whenever the Legislature returns, members also will have to decide whether to try to override a veto of a bill designed to provide the state Parole Board with more options to release inmates and whether to override a partial veto of a bill disbursing federal funds to health care providers to combat COVID-19.
Questions exist as to whether the partial veto of the health care bill is constitutional. The state constitution gives governors the authority to partially veto appropriations bills, but past rulings by the Mississippi Supreme Court have placed restrictions on that authority.
The Legislature left on July 1 with the intention of coming back because they could not agree on a budget for Marine Resources, which provides regulatory and law enforcement services in the Gulf of Mexico.