Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn on Friday said they’ve asked fellow Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to call lawmakers into special session next week to deal with medical marijuana and the COVID-19 crisis in Mississippi.
“We believe the number-one issue going on in our state right now is the pandemic crisis,” Gunn said. “We have a crisis in Mississippi and we want to give some attention to that.”
Reeves’ office on Friday had little comment and was noncommittal on whether he would call a special session or when.
House and Senate negotiators and legislative leadership agreed on a draft of a medical marijuana bill to replace the program adopted by voters in November but shot down in May by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Reeves has said he would call lawmakers into special session on medical marijuana provided they reached such an agreement.
But the governor, who has sole authority to call a special session and set its agenda, has appeared less open to adding other issues to the call. He has had a rocky relationship with the Legislature, and has clashed particularly with lawmakers over control of spending federal pandemic stimulus money. Reeves has also said he doesn’t want lawmakers tied up at length in a special session, which would cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a day.
Asked for comment on Friday, Reeves spokeswoman Bailey Martin in a statement said: “Staff from the Governor’s office and Legislature met together to discuss it today, and we are looking forward to engaging further.”
Hosemann and Gunn said they asked Reeves to call the session for Friday, Oct. 1, and they believe lawmakers could finish business in one day.
Besides medical marijuana, Hosemann and Gunn said they asked Reeves to allow lawmakers to address:
The COVID-19 nursing shortage in Mississippi. Gunn and Hosemann said they want to give federal American Rescue Plan Act money to hospitals to pay nurses to help with what some health officials said is a shortage statewide of 2,000 nurses during the pandemic. Hosemann and Gunn would provide few details or an estimate of spending, other than they plan to allocate the money to hospital leaders, and let them use it to retain and recruit Mississippi nurses. Gunn said one proposal is for the hospitals to use the money to pay nurses extra under five-month contracts to entice them to stay and work in Mississippi.
Reeves, who has used other emergency funds to hire out-of-state firms and nurses under contract to help with the nursing crisis, has said legislative action and ARPA spending is not needed. Nurses and other health officials have complained that out of town nurses are being paid far more than those already here, further exacerbating the problem of nurses retiring or leaving Mississippi.
Benefits for first responders who die from COVID-19. A 2016 state law that provides $100,0000 death benefits to first responders who die in the line of duty, public safety officials have determined, does not allow payments to families of responders who die from COVID-19. This has brought an outcry from Mississippi law enforcement and others, as numerous first responders have died from the pandemic. A similar federal law providing first responder benefits was changed last year to provide such payments for COVID-19 deaths.
Gunn said a simple change to wording in the law would allow the state to provide payments to law enforcement, firefighters and other first responders who die from COVID-19. Lawmakers on Friday said they knew of eight such deaths in Mississippi, but Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said, “I would expect that number to be more like 30 to 50, if you include firefighters.”
Provide emergency funding to child abuse and domestic violence shelters and programs. Hosemann and Gunn said that regular sources of funding for such programs have been drastically reduced due to the pandemic, while cases of abuse have increased. Hosemann said an initial estimate is that the programs need about $11 million, which would come from the federal ARPA funds.