Coronavirus outbreak leaves Legislature’s plans in limbo

Print Share on LinkedIn More

Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

The Mississippi House, reeling from its presiding officer, Speaker Philip Gunn, and multiple other members testing positive for the coronavirus over the weekend, sent most of its staff home Monday for two weeks.

The House clerk’s office will remain open to accept Gov. Tate Reeves’ signings or vetoes of the dozens of bills passed by the Legislature last week, according to people familiar with the operations of the House.

Reeves, who met with Gunn last week for the signing of the historic bill to change the state flag, announced Monday he was being tested.

A spokesperson confirmed at least one person on the Senate staff has tested positive for the coronavirus, and the Senate is following the recommendations of the Health Department concerning with COVID-19.

The Department of Health provided tests at the Capitol Monday, where people waited an hour of more in a line of cars that snaked their way through the Capitol grounds to be tested.

It was not clear Monday how or when the Legislature will address the budget for the Department of Marine Research, which is a regulatory and law enforcement agency on the Gulf Coast. The Legislature left last Thursday after funding all of state government for the new fiscal year that began on July 1 except for Marine Resources. There was a dispute over the $50 million the agency receives from oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. House leaders said the Legislature should have more oversight of the funds.

The Legislature was expected to come back late this week to try to reach agreement on a budget for the agency. Now it is not clear what the plans are.

Reeves, who was critical of the House leaders, saying they wanted to take over the funds to spend them on their own projects, tweeted that the agency can provide basic services without a budget for the new fiscal year, but for only a short period of time.

“We were able to find a temporary funding solution…to allow people to safely fish,” he said. “Won’t last long – still need Legislature to do their job and pass a budget.”