Anticipating the pandemic to persist, lawmakers plan to extend session to Dec. 31

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, walks out of the Capitol during a recess in the special session of the Legislature in Jackson Tuesday, August 28, 2018.

In a short discussion with no questions, members of the House voted unanimously to do something that’s never been done before in modern history: stay in session until the end of the calendar year.

The Legislature returned Tuesday to resume the work of the regular 2020 session, and on Wednesday the House passed a resolution that would allow lawmakers to remain in session until the end of the year if necessary, to pass any necessary bills surrounding the coronavirus.

The resolution would allow for the Legislature to extend the session by 30 days at a time and unless approved by both chambers, sine die, or the final day of the session, would be Dec. 31. This would apply specifically for bills of any sort related to the coronavirus; regular legislative deadlines would not apply. The Legislature would still have to pass a budget for the state and finish regular business according to those deadlines, which run into mid-July.

“This would allow us to do what we were elected to do, respond to this pandemic and the needs of our state,” said Rep. Jason White, R-West.

White said this would not add any additional costs to taxpayers. Lawmakers are paid $10,000 a year for the legislative session, and every month they are not in session they receive $1,500. They could still receive that $1,500 a month under the extension.

When asked about the resolution during a daily press conference Wednesday, the governor suggested it was a decision for lawmakers themselves.

“I think it is the prerogative of the Legislature,” Reeves said. “If they are going to work for free I think that is good.”

Before the pandemic, the legislative session was originally scheduled to adjourn for the year in April, but the coronavirus forced lawmakers to put the session on hold and reschedule the ending date for July 12.

The state Constitution allows the Legislature to extend the session by 30 days at a time, with a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate. Remaining in session indefinitely would allow Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann to call the Legislature back to work whenever they see fit. If the session officially ends, then it would take a special session called by the governor to allow the Legislature to meet and take up bills.

The resolution still needs to pass in the Senate, which will likely take up the legislation on Thursday.