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Lawmakers strip Reeves’ spending authority for $1.25 billion in federal aid

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Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, left, and House Speaker Philip Gunn, right, led the effort to strip Gov. Tate Reeves. center, of his power to solely allocate $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. (Photo composite from various sources)

The Republican-led Mississippi Legislature voted to strip Republican Gov. Tate Reeves of his sole spending authority of more than a billion dollars in federal coronavirus stimulus funds on Friday.

Lawmakers returned to the Capitol more than two weeks earlier than planned to claim spending control of the $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

Before both chambers passed the bill Friday afternoon, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn and Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann rebuked Reeves, who for weeks insisted he should have sole spending authority of the funds.

The governor says that by letting him spend the money, he can get it where it needs to go more quickly,” Gunn said on Friday morning.” That makes for a good sound bite, but what voice does that give to our citizens in the decision making process? Under our system of government, the only place and the one place where the citizens have the voice in how their taxpayer dollars are spent is in the Legislature.”

The process began on Friday afternoon in the House, where members amended Senate Bill 2772 to move $1.15 billion of the federal funds to the budget contingency fund where the federal money could not be spent without legislative action. The bill that was amended is known as “the transfer bill” that is passed every year to establish a mechanism to move state funds around to meet various budget needs. Legislators left $100 million of the federal money in a fund that could be accessed by state agencies if they had immediate needs related to COVID-19.

The House passed the bill unanimously by a vote of 112-0. In the Senate, only Sens. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, and Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, voted against it. Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, voted present.

The Legislature had been in recess since mid-March because of COVID-19 safety concerns, but last week they scheduled a May 18 return. As Reeves ratcheted up comments about how he’d spend the funds, legislative leaders opted to call the legislators back into session on Friday to ensure that Reeves would not be able to begin spending the stimulus funds on his own.

While the Senate was debating the bill on Friday, Reeves held a news conference across the street from the Capitol. He accused legislators of engaging “in petty political difference” and said under “the worse case scenario (because of the legislative action), people will die.”

Reeves said the Legislature was trying “to steal” the federal spending authority.

“I cannot do my job without the funds the Trump administration acquired and expects the governors to use,” he said.

Reeves said he was using the funds just as former Gov. Haley Barbour used federal funds after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Great Recession in 2008-09, and as former Gov. Phil Bryant used funds the state received after the 2010 BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Legislature’s actions could force the extra 300 people hired to handle unemployment claims to be laid off, Reeves said, because they were going to be paid with the federal funds. Legislators did leave $100 million in a fund to pay for immediate coronavirus needs and will be back later this month, when they will presumably appropriate additional federal funds to deal with the pandemic.

The governor also went further to imply that the transfer of the money to the Legislature’s authority might mean there would not be enough money to pay unemployment claims. The money for unemployment claims, though, is in a separate pot of money and not impacted by the action of the Legislature.

The governor also indicated that he might ignore the bill because he said it was in conflict with other state laws, but he would not say on Friday whether he would veto it. When the Legislature is in session, the governor has five days to veto a bill after it is passed.

“In an emergency, a governor is responsible,” Reeves said. “You cannot manage an emergency by committee. Somebody has to be in charge.”

Legislators repeatedly said no one person should have sole authority of the funds.

“We think the governor has done a good job in the pandemic,” Hosemann said. “This is not about the governor… this is about the process for the money that was given to the state of Mississippi and it should be allocated by the Legislature.”

“What we are doing is not about politics, but about preserving the people’s voice in government” said Rep. Jason White, R-West and Speaker Pro Tem of the House.

About $1 billion in additional funds in the CARES Act was sent to various state governmental and education entities, including $34 million to the governor to be used for educational purposes. The Legislature did not try to address those funds Friday.

Legislators met in bizarre circumstances. The Capitol, which normally is bustling when the Legislature is in session, was near empty. Those entering the building had their temperature checked before they could walk inside. Access to the chambers was limited.

In the House, many legislators listened in offices on the sound system and members were given time to come to the chamber to ask questions, make a motion or to vote. The Senate spaced out senators by putting some in the gallery, typically where visitors come to watch. Most everyone was wearing masks.


This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Two officers graduate academy with top honors

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Officer Michael Whitley, Chief Milton Moore and Officer Jeremy Hooper (photo by Thomas Parker)

The ranks of the Vicksburg Police Department grew by two today as Michael Whitley and Jeremy Hooper graduated from the Mississippi Law Enforcement Training Academy at Pearl.

The curriculum at the academy has been modified due to COVID-19. Recruits have been required to stay at the academy for 8 straight weeks. Previously, the program ran several additional weeks while allowing weekends off.

Both officers took top honors, with Hooper being recognized as the best in the class in physical agility. Whitley was recognized for the highest average academically.

There were 53 recruits in their class, which was the 245th class of the academy.

The officers will report back to their respective shifts for additional training with a field training officer before being assigned to one of four shifts with Patrol Division of the Police Department.

Congratulations Officers from your friends at Vicksburg Daily News.

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Thomas Hudson named president of Jackson State University

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Thomas Hudson (photo courtesy IHL)

Jackson State University officially has a new president.

The board of trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning named Jackson State University Acting President Thomas Hudson as president of the university at its meeting held Thursday in Jackson. Hudson was named acting president earlier this year.

“As a Jackson State University alumnus, I am extremely pleased that we have identified one of our own to serve as president,” said Dr. Steven Cunningham, a member of the board of trustees, in a statement. “We have witnessed the great strides he has made over the past nine months and have full confidence that he will continue to demonstrate the great love he has for this university by providing outstanding leadership for the students, faculty, staff and alumni.”

As acting president, Hudson has provided leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and the university’s Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges reaffirmation process. He has also helped to improve the university’s financial position.

“Naming Thomas Hudson as president provides much-needed stability in leadership at the institution,” said Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., commissioner of higher education. “He has done an excellent job leading the university during an extraordinarily difficult time. I am pleased to continue working with him to advance Jackson State University and the university system.”

As special assistant to the president and chief diversity officer, Hudson served on the executive cabinet and provided guidance to senior leadership on all topics related to the university’s future course and trajectory. With the Division of Human Resources and Office of General Counsel under his purview, Hudson oversaw institutional EEO and Title IX implementation and collaborated with other executive administrators on matters of curriculum, guidelines and practices.

“I am extremely appreciative and beyond humbled for the opportunity to continue to build upon Jackson State University’s extraordinary legacy,” Hudson said. “I recognize that it is an honor to serve in a leadership role, but it is an extreme honor and privilege to serve my alma mater – Jackson State University and the community I grew up in.

“My focus remains the same and that is to ensure the success of our students, faculty and staff and the long-term viability of JSU. I would like to thank the IHL board of trustees for entrusting me to lead. I want to thank my wife, daughters, mother and all my family for their infinite love and support. I also want to thank JSU administrators, faculty, staff and alumni for their deep-rooted dedication to JSU and their immovable belief in the power of a JSU education.”

Hudson has been on staff at JSU since 2012. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Jackson State University and a law degree from the University of Mississippi. Before joining the staff at Jackson State, Hudson founded his own law practice and served as an EEO specialist for the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA in Clinton.

Hudson and his wife, Phylandria, have two daughters.

 

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2.0 earthquake recorded in northern Mississippi Wednesday

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(Image source: USGS)

Yalobusha County experienced a mild 2.0 earthquake early Thursday morning.

The quake, which was centered near Enid Lake and Water Valley and about 18 miles south of Oxford, was the third one recorded in Mississippi this year. Previous rumblers were recorded near Booneville and Tunica Lake.

It’s unlikely that anyone felt much with this quake as it occurred about 6.5 miles underground, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. At 2.0 on the Richter scale, an earthquake can be felt slightly by some people; however, they cause no damage to buildings.

Globally, about a million 2.0 to 2.9 quakes occur every year.

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Vicksburg
57°
Partly Cloudy
6:37am5:00pm CST
Feels like: 55°F
Wind: 8mph ESE
Humidity: 71%
Pressure: 30.36"Hg
UV index: 0
FriSatSun
77/54°F
75/52°F
73/48°F

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