The Legislature is currently back in Session and back to business as usual, at least for now. Lawmakers have resumed the regular calendar deadlines and began working through the process that was postponed when they left in March as a result of COVID-19.
Although, things could still be changing.
Wednesday afternoon, the Mississippi House passed HCR 69, a resolution which would allow for the Legislature to extend session in 30 day increments until the last week of December, in which if they were not adjourned, would be forced to do so before the new year.
As it stands, the deadline schedule released has members adjourning for the year on July 12. However, that date could just be a placeholder.
“As this thing unfolds, we want to be flexible. We want to be responsive to anything that may arise and by considering this it leaves the Legislature able to do its job,” said Speaker Philip Gunn.
Speaker Gunn indicated earlier that morning on Supertalk Radio that there has been consideration for Legislators not to officially sine die this year until as late as possible. This move, he said, would allow them the ability to easily come back in if there was a pressing need concerning COVID-19.
Gunn told talk show host, Paul Gallo, that the Constitution does allow for the Legislature to extend its session in 30-day increments. Gunn says this would not cost the taxpayers any additional dollars as long as they stay within the already scheduled 125-day session.
As of right now the Legislature has only met for 54 days. Generally, the Legislature has a 90-day session, but with this year following an election year, it is 125 days.
If they continue working until the end of June, they will have accrued roughly 85 days of work days. That would still leave somewhere around 45 days left of the 125 days that they could come back for additional work if needed.
“Say they develop a vaccine in September or October and we need to come back in and appropriate money in order to buy that vaccine, this gives us the ability to do that easily. It’s a matter of good public policy. We need to be on standby,” said Gunn.
Gunn told Y’all Politics that within this model it will not impact lawmakers salaries, such as a reduction or increase and any per diem that is paid out would have been anticipated in a typical 125 day session.
The vote came moments before Gov. Reeves’ daily press conference. He briefly touched on the move with the following comment:
“I heard them say on the House floor that this won’t cost taxpayers any more money. So, I think if they’re going to work for free, that’s good,” said Reeves.
Gunn said by having the option to extend the session in thirty day increments they can address anything that may arise regarding COVID.
“As we all know there is uncertainty in the future regarding Coronavirus. The impact on our budget, the impact on the economy. One of the things that has been expressed is the concern over whether or not the Legislature could address those concerns,” said Gunn. “What happens if something occurs in September or October, can the Legislature address it? The Legislature can address it.”
Gunn added they do anticipate having the budget done within the next three weeks so that it is in place for the start of the FY 2021 on July 1.
Rep. Jason White presented the resolution on the House floor and also said that the intention of the legislature would be to complete all other work, including budgets, before the end of June. If they were required to come back in throughout the rest of the year, it would be to handle COVID-19 issues specifically.
Typically, if the Legislature is adjourned for the year it would require the Governor to call a Special Session and set an agenda for lawmakers to return to work. Gunn indicated that by continuing to extend the session 30 days at a time there would be no need for a special session and members could come back to work on their own.