Speaker of the House Philip Gunn joined Y’all Politics to discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on the 2020 Legislative Session, what work he anticipates will get done when they return and reminders for people to keep safe.
“Well, first of all I’m proud to report that we are not aware of any legislator that has contracted the virus,” said Gunn. He believes the decision to suspend legislative business and shelter-in-place orders have been a big factor in that.
When the Legislature adjourned due to the spread of the virus, lawmakers had just made it past a major deadline which was for original floor action. That means general bills originating in the House had made it through committee, were acted on on the floor, and were able to be passed off to the Senate, and vice versa.
Since then, Gunn says he was able to submit all bills to the Senate so that members in both chambers could take this time to read up on the legislation. He added that he has been in touch with chairmen daily to get an understanding of what bills they plan to bring out of committee once legislators return.
The next deadline on the calendar is Revenue and Appropriation bills. The Senate will take 53 and the House will take 53, and both chambers will agree on total amounts for the varying state departments.
“We are probably looking at the middle of June before we get that done,” said Gunn.
While he doesn’t believe they’ll come back before May 1, he said there is currently no estimated date to return.
For reference, budgets must be set before July 1 which begins the FY2021.
The 2020 Session had roughly 40 days left, so even if they do not go back until near May 17, there would still be enough time to get all work done before that cut off. Gunn did say that if they are not able to go back until much later, it would mean the most pressing work would be addressed and the rest suspended until the next year.
Lawmakers are not receiving per diem for the time that they are not working, so this break is not costing taxpayers additional dollars, Gunn noted.
The Speaker said he, his staff and other legislators are still working hard, however.
“Work is taking place, we are doing what we can, as much as we can remotely. We are trying to help people and answer questions,” said Gunn.
When it comes to potential emergency funds, Gunn said that is a conversation he is having with Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann almost daily. Specifically they have been concerned about MEMA and the Mississippi State Department of Health. At this time they have been assured that there is not a need for emergency funds, but Gunn said that could change at any moment.
In the event these funds were needed, the Legislature would be called in for an emergency session to appropriate dollars. Just before they left, lawmakers did something similar to allow for employees of local municipalities and teachers to continue getting paid even if they were not able to come in to work.
“We are staying on top of that trying to make sure there is no need for the Legislature to reconvene to address any financial need or shortfall,” said Gunn.
Gunn said he will continue holding Facebook Live question and answer sessions as long as the public requests them. He said these short videos came in response to the public asking questions about what is happening. He said the most common questions his office has received are how to get personal protective gear and the process for filing unemployment.