Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he plans to talk with House Speaker Philip Gunn on Tuesday afternoon about postponing the 2021 legislative session from January to March as COVID-19 numbers continue to spike in Mississippi.
Hosemann, who leads the Senate, told reporters he thinks lawmakers should return to Jackson on Jan. 5 as scheduled, complete pressing work in a week or so, and recess the session until the first week of March.
“I’m concerned about my legislators going back to different parts of the state and spreading it to places that didn’t previously have it,” Hosemann said. “And I’m worried about the people who work here (at the Capitol). We have several hundred people who work here every day.”
But House leaders in recent days and weeks have expressed hesitation about that idea. Hosemann himself acknowledged on Tuesday that his idea has met resistance from the House.
“I just don’t see us doing that, not while schools are open and teachers and others are working,” House Education Chair Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, told Mississippi Today earlier this month. “I think the Legislature needs to be working, too.”
Hosemann and Gunn were among a few dozen legislators who contracted COVID-19 earlier this year at the Capitol. The large outbreak, which also affected at least one Capitol staffer and one Capitol police officer, was also responsible for at least one death — a family member of a legislator, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said earlier this year.
The Capitol COVID-19 outbreak occurred in June after lawmakers recessed in March because of concerns over the coronavirus. When they returned, multiple safety precautions were implemented. The number of people allowed in the House and Senate chambers, where the members’ desks are only a few feet apart, were limited. Health officials took temperatures of everyone who entered through the main doors of the building.
Throughout that time period, recommended safety precautions to combat COVID-19 like wearing masks and social distancing were largely ignored by many legislators, though some did wear masks. Many of the lawmakers who later confirmed they contracted the virus were previously seen without masks and not distancing from colleagues.
Citing the 2020 Capitol outbreak, Hosemann suggested that lawmakers should meet for a week or so in early January to address pressing issues, including ratification of the new state flag, confirmation hearings and any necessary federal stimulus spending.
Hosemann said if lawmakers recessed until early March, they could finish their work for the year by the end of May.