JACKSON • The Mississippi Legislature will continue working amid a handful of positive coronavirus cases, though lawmakers will conduct meetings partly over videoconference for the next few weeks.
At least two senators have tested positive for COVID-19, said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who leads the Senate. At least one House member also tested positive, Mississippi Today reported last week.
“As you know, we are challenged in the Senate again with COVID,” Hosemann said. “Please pay attention.”
In the Senate, the positive cases mean several senators who were in contact with those who tested positive will receive quarantine notices from the Mississippi State Department of Health. They will be required to quarantine for five days and have a negative test result before returning to the Capitol, Hosemann said.
Lawmakers took several precautionary measures after convening for the session earlier this month, though many have still been seen around the building without masks. Hosemann and many senators favor pausing the session for several weeks and returning once daily COVID-19 case counts in Mississippi have decreased.
“We requested a postponement to allow vaccinations and other (things) to occur and hopefully avoid exactly what has happened to the Senate,” Hosemann said Thursday.
But leaders of the House — where a resolution to postpone the session would need to pass first — have not shown interest. House Speaker Philip Gunn said Thursday that social distancing and masking protocols have allowed lawmakers to continue their work at the Capitol this session.
Still, both chambers on Thursday agreed they must take further steps to prevent a large outbreak — including conducting committee meetings virtually over the videoconference service Zoom. Dozens of lawmakers and staff — including Gunn and Hosemann — battled the virus over the summer following an outbreak at the Capitol, and legislators hope to avoid a similar outcome. Hosemann said Thursday the effects of his case were “horrific.”
Both chambers will primarily debate bills in committee meetings through a deadline of Feb. 2. Hosemann and Gunn, both Republicans, said Thursday they want to limit how many people are in committee rooms watching bills being debated. Members of the public, lobbyists and advocates will be able to watch online.
The Senate has already been livestreaming many of its committee meetings on YouTube this year, and starting next week the House will do the same in two of its committee rooms. Lawmakers who want to join the meetings by Zoom will be able to, both Hosemann and Gunn said, in order to socially distance.
In the House, Gunn said lawmakers will not need to come into the chamber at all until early February, but instead check in daily via Zoom.
“This is a road we’ve never been down before,” the House leader told his colleagues Thursday. “There’s no playbook, so we’re proceeding in the manner we think is best and still allows us to accomplish the work.”
Live and archived legislative meetings can be viewed on YouTube, at youtube.com/c/MississippiLegislature.