JACKSON • State lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol at 1 p.m. today to deal with budget issues with the Mississippi Department of Education and the Department of Marine Resources and address issues related to COVID-19.
The return comes in the middle of a tense feud between the Legislature and Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who partially vetoed the education department’s budget bill and a bill appropriating federal coronavirus relief funds to hospitals. On Wednesday, House Speaker Philip Gunn and state Rep. Jason White, the top Republican leaders in the House, filed a lawsuit against Reeves over the vetoes.
The suit claims the Reeves’ use of a partial veto on the bills is unconstitutional and draws from previous rulings from the Mississippi Supreme Court as justification of its position.
Reeves criticized the suit and said it was an attempt of a “power grab” by legislators and claimed the effort was being led by liberal Republicans who have formed a coalition with liberal Democrats.
State Rep. Jerry Turner, a Republican from Baldwyn and the chairman of the House Rules Committee, told the Journal that legislators are expected to take action on the Reeves’ veto of over $2 billion for the Mississippi Department of Education’s budget.
In June, Reeves partially vetoed the majority of the budget over lawmakers removing a program from the budget that provides merit-based bonuses to educators in high performing or improving school districts.
Rep. Richard Bennet, the Chairman of the House Education Committee, said that the removal of the performance program was an oversight by lawmakers and it was not the intent of the Legislature to remove the program.
Lawmakers floated the idea of fixing the problem with a deficit appropriation bill, which would fund the program at a later date, but Reeves rejected that idea saying that a future fix was not an adequate solution to the problem.
State Sen. Hob Bryan, a Democrat from Amory, told the Journal that the governor’s veto was “counterproductive and insufficient” for public school districts.
Bryan said he has not received any official plan for what legislators are expected to address if called back into session, but if any of the governor’s vetoes are taken up, he will vote to override all of them.
“We should override this absolutely useless veto of education money so that public schools in the state will actually know how much money they’re receiving.”
Bryan was also a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against then-Gov. Kirk Fordice in the 1990s. The state’s highest court ruled that Fordice unconstitutionally vetoed portions of bond bills.
People familiar with the situation also told the Daily Journal that discussions are ongoing about lawmakers potentially taking up legislation that would appropriate federal coronavirus relief funds to help address staff shortages and intensive care unit bed shortages at hospitals around the state.
Lawmakers’ return is set to be another tense standoff where legislative leaders clash with Reeves, who is a member of their own party. Earlier in the session, legislative leaders publicly clashed with the governor on who has the authority to appropriate over federal coronavirus relief funds.