In a move that fits the abnormal ongoings of 2020, some members of the Mississippi House of Representatives intend to file a lawsuit against Governor Tate Reeves over recent veto decisions in the seemingly never-ending Legislative session.
Only a few days after lawmakers left the Capitol in July, Governor Reeves vetoed the Department of Education budget, mainly over concerns with the removal of the School Recognition Program that would negatively impact teacher pay.
“It would cut teacher pay by $26 million. 23,157 Mississippi teachers would get money that they’ve earned taken out of their pockets,” said Reeves. “It was done quietly, without much or any conversation. Pretty much nobody in the legislature or education community knew about it until we discovered it in our bill review process this week and raised the alarm. We have to veto this so that they can come back and fix it—otherwise 23,157 teachers will get a pay cut.”
Reeves has publicly asserted that the omission of the program was not accidental. However, top legislators have publicly stated that the plan was to rectify it in January when they returned for the 2021 session.
The same mistake was made in calculations by the Department of Education last year and rectified by legislature in January of this year. In the same manner, the 2020 Legislature made the decision to handle the re-appropriation in the following session. The decision in 2019 was made under the leadership of Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, but instead of letting the MAEP budget stand this year, he vetoed the entire thing.
“Now our teachers are going back but they don’t have any authorization by the state of Mississippi to get paid,” said Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann a few weeks ago. “They’re only going to get paid if the Governor decides to send a check to the schools. That’s not the way to run a railroad.”
Another action at issue surrounds the Governor’s partial veto of HB 1782. This is an appropriation bill related to CARES Act federal dollars for healthcare. Reeves vetoed two line items within the bill. The first was for a $2 million COVID-19 related appropriation to the North Oak Regional Medical Center, which he says in his veto letter, was closed long before COVID-19 and remains closed. The other was a $6 million appropriation to a group called Mississippi Access Group Network (MAGnet). The MAGnet effort was targeted to high poverty rural counties and championed by Legislative Black Caucus members.
The Governor has also shown frustration over the Legislature not funding the budget for the Department of Marine Resources.
The intent to file suit was confirmed to Y’all Politics by multiple sources within the Mississippi House and Senate. Sources said House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tem Jason White met with Governor Reeves Tuesday to discuss the dispute. Subsequently, a series of Zoom meetings occurred that evening among House members where the lawsuit was discussed.
At this point, Lt. Governor Hosemann does not appear to be involved in the lawsuit, nor does there appear to be a movement by Senators to join the legal fight.
The suit will likely first appear before the a Chancery Court (usually Hinds County in a lawsuit of this type) but could take months to comb through the appeals process.
The crux of the proposed cases are reportedly around the constitutionality of line item vetoes. Article IV, § 73 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 states: “The governor may veto parts of any appropriation bill, and approve parts of the same, and the portions approved shall be law.”
There are two previous cases that seem to speak to this set of facts. One is a case involving Haley Barbour and Jim Hood over the constitutionality of a line item veto involving the Department of Corrections. The other involved a dispute between legislators and the late Governor Kirk Fordice. Both were generally found in favor of the Legislature. However, there have been numerous unchallenged line item vetoes since.
There are a variety of scenarios that could occur even before a suit is filled.
Governor Reeves could call a special session to handle the issues specifically.
There is debate as to whether the Legislature, under HCR69, could go back in of their own accord before October 5 and deal with the vetoes. Under that resolution, session was extended only in the case that COVID-19 federal dollars needed to be appropriated. They could also wait until that date to return and handle the discrepancies. The resolution allows for Sine Die to occur on October 10 of this year.
If the Governor were to call for a special session soon, over the issues being disputed, it would give the Legislature a chance to handle those issues one by one. However, Reeves has made no indication as to when he plans to call the Legislature back or for exactly what purposes.
After an outbreak that effected more than 40 lawmakers and staff, the Capitol was closed to prevent further spread. The outbreak also prevented leadership from calling the House and Senate back after adjournment to override any veto made by the Governor.
*UPDATE 2:30 Wednesday*
Wednesday afternoon, Governor Tate Reeves took to Facebook to respond to the potential of a lawsuit.
In his post, he said that the Legislature didn’t have the votes to override this veto and the move to sue him and this current dynamic in the house has in fact made some Republicans irate.
“They don’t have the votes to override the vetoes, so this is their Hail Mary. I wish they wouldn’t waste your money and pull us away from all the crises we’re managing to deal with their nonsense, but it’s their favorite game. I’ll keep trying to prevent the waste and damage,” said Reeves.
You can find a copy of the lawsuit below: