/Legislators avoid catastrophe despite large COVID-19 outbreak among their ranks

Legislators avoid catastrophe despite large COVID-19 outbreak among their ranks

It hasn’t been anything but a minor catastrophe. If the COVID-19 epidemic that engulfed the Legislature in July had not occurred two weeks before, it could have been a disaster. The first day of the new fiscal years, July 1, saw legislators complete their task of approvating a $21 million budget to fund the state government. This includes everything from education and transportation to law enforcement. The Legislature must approve more than 100 bills, and work with a dozen staff members to enact a budget. The budgeting process usually takes place in March, April, or sometimes early May. The coronavirus interrupted the March session, causing the Legislature to complete the budgeting process right as the new year began. It would have been nearly impossible to complete the budgeting process on time if the Capitol COVID-19 epidemic had occurred a week earlier. This would have made it difficult, if not impossible, to pay for the treatment of Medicaid patients. Also, the functions of several agencies are being questioned, such as the ability to pay health care providers, the possibility that Highway Patrol troopers could have been patrolling Mississippi roads and so forth. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer, recently stated that 49 of 175 legislators, which included the lieutenant governor were infected with coronavirus. Most tested positive within a few hours after the Legislature adjourned July 1. Dobbs said that four of the 175 legislators were admitted to hospital, with three being in intensive care. Tragically, one person died after contracting the virus from a legislator. House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor were among those who tested positive. Delbert Hosemann, some of the key committee chairs, were among those who tested positive. The Legislature completed the budget before the virus took over, but the governor vetoed a portion of the $2.5B education budget. The Legislature also hasn’t been able to reach an agreement on a budget for the Department of Marine Resources, which is located along the Gulf Coast. These issues have caused enough chaos. Imagine how chaotic it would be if the budgeting process was delayed for two weeks or more due to the coronavirus. Reeves’ veto override of the education budget was overruled by a coronavirus-free, mostly mask-up Legislature that returned to Jackson last week. The veto override itself was historic in that it was the first since 2002 and was the first time at least since the 1800s a Republican governor had been overridden by a Republican-controlled Legislature. To add to the unusual session, Gunn and House Speaker pro Tem Jason White sued fellow Republican Reeves. They claim that the governor’s partial veto over a bill disbursing money to health care providers in the fight against the coronavirus was unconstitutional. This lawsuit comes on top of the public spat between legislators and the governor over who was allowed to spend $1.25 million in federal funds that were disbursed to Mississippi for the coronavirus. The Legislature won the fight and was disbursing large amounts of these funds up until July 1, when members adjourned. It would have been shameful if the coronavirus epidemic had prevented legislators making these disbursements. In reality, nothing would have stopped legislators returning to the legislature after the COVID-19 epidemic had passed its course among legislators. To the dismay of the governor, legislators changed their rules to allow them to remain in session for nearly a full year. However, they are still in Jackson for roughly the same amount of time as they would in a normal year. Their time in Jackson is just as spread out. Despite the ongoing conflict with the governor and the pandemic, the Legislature accomplished many remarkable feats in this unusual session. These feats include: The bill to change the flag could also have been in danger if the coronavirus hadn’t struck legislators earlier. The 2020 session is unique and historic for many reasons. It isn’t over yet.