/‘We really don’t know what’s going on’ Confusion abounds as Capitol leaders mull postponing session due to coronavirus

‘We really don’t know what’s going on’ Confusion abounds as Capitol leaders mull postponing session due to coronavirus

Kirby stated, just minutes after returning from Hosemann’s closed-door meeting that featured Gunn and Rep. Jason White (House speaker pro-tem). “Gunn (and Hosemann) are trying some things out. “We have a serious situation. But we are checking with legal staff to ensure that we are doing everything correctly.” Republican and Democratic legislators at the Capitol wondered for several hours Monday afternoon why the legislative session hadn’t been rescheduled. The COVID-19 virus has spread throughout the state and health officials and government officials suggest avoiding large gatherings exceeding 10 people. The Legislative Black Caucus and the Senate Democratic Leaders asked Monday afternoon for the delay of the legislative session. After state health officials confirmed that the state had its first cases of coronavirus, Gunn and Hosemann started to talk about postponing the session. In response, legislatures from other states closed their doors and shut down their statehouses. Mississippi legislators meet once per year to adopt new legislation, amend existing legislation, and to pass a budget to finance government operations. The current legislative session, which began early January, will not end until May. Postponing the session could result in delays in funding key government services, as key tax and budget bills for this year are moving through the building. If lawmakers did suspend the session they would need to return in time to pass the state budget for the next fiscal year. This fiscal year begins July 1. On Monday, legislative leaders and staff continued to meet behind closed doors to discuss postponing the session due to increasing pressure from both chambers. According to Mississippi Today, sources close to the discussions said that Mississippi leaders were considering passing at least one bill to address issues arising from coronavirus response. After Gov. Tate Reeves closed the state’s license bureaus, one of the key components of that legislation would be to waive penalties for drivers who have expired their driver’s licenses. Tate Reeves closed down the state’s license offices. Sources said another piece of legislation is being considered to move money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund in order to create a multimillion-dollar fund that state leaders can dip into when necessary to combat the new coronavirus epidemic. As the virus spread, several other states set up similar funds. It would be unprecedented for modern times if the Legislature votes to suspend session. It has happened before that the Legislature would not reopen at the time scheduled and then had to return weeks later to resolve conflicts. On Monday, the top state health officials advised Mississippians not to gather more than 10 people because the coronavirus is spreading throughout the state. More than 400 people can be found inside the Capitol building at any one time during a legislative session. This includes 174 legislators and their staffs as well as lobbyists, lobbyists and reporters. Last week, Mississippi legislators tightened restrictions on who could enter the state Capitol. Gunn stated to the House that anyone with business in the Capitol, including journalists and lobbyists, could return to the building. However guests and other visitors will be prohibited from entering. Hosemann however announced to Senate that there were stricter guidelines and no lobbyists. Capitol Police officers were the ones who guarded the main entrances of the building, as a result of the confusion caused by legislative leaders. On Monday afternoon, one officer said to Mississippi Today that he was instructed not allow lobbyists in the building. On Monday afternoon, a Mississippi Today photographer with a current Capitol badge had to be turned away by the gate. Multiple lobbyists claimed they were denied entry Monday. However, other lobbyists were permitted in the building, increasing confusion over who was allowed inside. Both chambers’ actions on Monday afternoon made it clear that the Legislature was struggling to deal with the pandemic. The Senate quickly adjourned Monday afternoon, having taken up no item. Minutes after lawmakers had left the building, Kirby thought to Rules committee members, “I’m sure we meant to abort for the afternoon, but it was what it was at this point.” Gunn informed House members that it would be business as usual at the Capitol, adding that precautions would still be in place. Gunn said that he had spoken to Thomas Dobbs, the state’s Health Officer. He “led me to believe it was OK to continue meeting.” Gunn then added: “I am going take Dr. Dobbs’s lead. “As long as he tells us it’s OK to meet, we will keep plugging away.” However, just before adjourning, Gunn was approached by a member from Gunn’s staff. They had a brief conversation. The speaker asked for a recess and left the House members on the floor. Gunn then walked to Hosemann’s office with Trey Dellinger, his chief of staff and White, the House speaker pro tem. They stayed for five minutes in Hosemann’s office before they left through a back door, avoiding reporters. Gunn returned to the House floor after more than an hour and informed members that they would meet again Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. Gunn was asked if his earlier statements still held. Gunn replied that they would meet again Tuesday at 10 a.m.