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Legislative leaders plan early return to Jackson to strip Gov. Reeves of sole CARES Act spending authority

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Legislative leaders spent most of the day Wednesday discussing plans to return to the Capitol as early as Monday to consider legislation that would keep Gov. Tate Reeves from having sole spending authority over the $1.25 billion coronavirus stimulus windfall from the federal government.

Reeves has said the past several weeks that he would dole out the CARES Act funds himself but has added that he would work with lawmakers and that “the Legislature should have a significant role in how that money is spent.”

But legislative leadership worked this week to take matters into their own hands, aiming to return to the Capitol as soon as Monday to pass legislation that would strip Reeves of the spending power, several lawmakers told Mississippi Today on Wednesday.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, the third-term Republican, called GOP caucus members in a conference call on Wednesday night and told them to be prepared for a Monday return to consider the legislation. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the first-term Republican, called most of the state’s 52 senators in several phone calls on Wednesday to discuss the governor’s spending authority.

“We’re not going to bow down to the governor to let him spend this money by himself,” a high ranking GOP lawmaker told Mississippi Today. “The people’s legislature should have input. It’s not legal for him to do it, and it’s not the right thing to do. We’d be sitting on our hands if we didn’t do something like this.”

The Legislature has been in a coronavirus-related recess since mid-March and was previously scheduled to return on May 18. But several lawmakers told Mississippi Today on Wednesday evening that a Monday return — two weeks earlier than the planned May 18 date — is “very likely.”

Legislative leaders are also considering whether they would have enough votes to override a potential veto from Reeves of any legislation they passed. Two-thirds of both the Senate and House would have to vote to override a veto for the legislation to go into law. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate, in both parties, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday that they felt confident the override votes were accounted for.

The last time the Legislature successfully overrode a governor’s veto was in 2002 when Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was in office.

Reeves, in defending his authority to spend the money himself, cites a 40-year-old state law that gives the governor the authority to accept and to disburse federal funds in emergency scenarios. He said it was the process used in the past in appropriating federal funds in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Great Recession in 2009 and the BP oil spill in 2010.

Reeves has said he wants to use the funds in a variety of manners, such as making schools more prepared to conduct distance learning should another event occur forcing schools to be closed; providing training and financial help for workers who lost their jobs because of the pandemic; and helping local governments.

“We have to be transparent,” Reeves wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “We have to be careful. We have to make sure the money gets in the right hands because there are always some people who want to take advantage of a crisis.”

But legislative leaders suggested to their members on Wednesday that transparency would be in question if the governor had the sole spending authority. On one of the calls with senators, Hosemann said that legislators, who are elected to represent individual districts, know how better to spend the funds than a single governor.

Several House members told Mississippi Today that the state Constitution clearly gives the Legislature such spending authority, and clarifying language in state law would solidify that.

Staffers for Gunn and Hosemann did not return requests for comment on Wednesday.

The federal funding in question is part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act that Congress passed in late March. The bill provides funding in a litany of areas as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including help for individuals, businesses, educational entities, state public health agencies, and various other aspects of state and local governments.

Included in the massive bill is a $340 billion package for state and larger local government to help with expenses associated with the pandemic. Mississippi’s share of that particular section of the bill is $1.25 billion. No local government in Mississippi was large enough to qualify for a direct earmark under the bill.

Under the federal guidelines, the $1.25 billion the state is set to receive in CARES Act funding is not supposed to be used to fill budget shortfalls caused by the current economic downturn related to the pandemic.

In a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday night, state Rep. Jarvis Dortch, D-Jackson,  became one of the first legislators to say publicly that he believes the Legislature, which has the duty to appropriate funds under the state Constitution, should have input in spending the funds. He added that a portion of the funds the state is receiving should go to local governments to help offset their coronavirus-related expenses.

“We are going to be pushing for the Legislature to have a say in how the money is spent,” Dortch said on Tuesday night. “(The local governments) need to be reimbursed for the work they have done.”

Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House Democratic leader, said in the coming days Democrats will be sending in a formal letter a list of projects they believe the federal money should be used to fund. Johnson said the Legislature should be involved in the process.

“It would make sense for (Reeves) to sit down and collaborate with us,” Johnson said. “A lot of the funds should be spent within the framework of the legislative appropriations process.”


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

Crime

High speed chase ends in fiery crash

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(photo by David Day)

A high-speed chase Saturday evening that began near the Waffle House in Vicksburg has ended in a crash in Claiborne County and a vehicle in flames.

First reports indicate the incident began around 5:10 p.m. as an argument at the Waffle House at 4100 Pemberton Square Blvd. A man and woman left the scene and stopped at a Shell gas station on U.S. Highway 61 South where the man pulled the woman, who is pregnant, out of the vehicle by her hair.

The man, Bojara O’Quinn of Claiborne County, then fled, leading Vicksburg police officer Michael Battle on a high-speed chase south on 61 South. The chase exceeded 110 mph at times.

The chase ended just inside the Claiborne County line on Shiloh Road in a crash where the vehicle, reportedly a rental with Illinois plates, burst into flames. The crash occurred right at 5:30 p.m.

O’Quinn is in custody and received minor injuries in the crash. The woman involved received very minor injuries and is apparently safe.

Deputies with the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department, and troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol assisted in O’Quinn’s capture.

Bojara O’Quinn (photo by David Day)

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Crime

Woman in custody for Friday’s shooting over a parking space

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UPDATE: Akeyah Daniels, 26, of Vicksburg, appeared before Judge Penny Lawson on Saturday in Vicksburg Municipal Court. Lawson set her bond at $50,000 and bound her over to the Warren County grand jury.

Original story:

The woman is in custody in connection with a shooting that occurred Friday, allegedly over a parking space.

The shooting took place around 3:30 p.m. Friday at an apartment building at 2230 Grove St. in Vicksburg.

Akeyah Daniels, 26, turned herself in to Vicksburg police officers at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28. She was arrested at the police station.

Three men were also briefly detained and released in connection with the shooting, according to the Vicksburg police.

Daniels faces one count of drive-by shooting is being held without bond until her initial appearance, which is taking place Saturday.

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Business

Vicksburg entrepreneurs got the basics of business ownership at boot camp

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Kendra Reed and Willie Johnson were among the dozen entrepreneurs attending the Vicksburg Entrepreneur Boot Camp. (photos submitted)

Last week participants graduated from the first Vicksburg Entrepreneur Boot Camp where 12 individuals received information to start or expand their own businesses.

Myra Harris, who recently started a company making masks, joined the boot camp shortly after her grandchildren informed her of the opportunity.

“They provided all the resources you would need to start your business, and they also made themselves available after class just in case you had any questions,” Harris said.

Vicksburg Entrepreneur Boot Camp participants. Top L to R: Marcus Dufour (Vicksburg Warren Partnership), Tim Sanford, Cathy Sanford, Olivia Foshee, Amy Warren, Patricia Anderson, Willie Johnson, Myra Harris, Ginger Donahue (Regions Bank) and Pablo Diaz (Vicksburg Warren Partnership). Bottom L to R: Gwen Green, Kendra Reed, Rob Burnham (Instructor), De’Jonae Curtis and Anthony Curtis. Not pictured William Wooten. (photo courtesy Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce)

Retired businessman Rob Burnham facilitated the class and helped the participants plan out their businesses, assisting with marketing, accounting and distribution. Marcus Dufour and Pablo Diaz from the Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce hosted the class, bringing in successful entrepreneurs as speakers including Kevin Roberts who owns Fit Chef Catering in Vicksburg.

“Every speaker gave us the opportunity to ask questions, and it definitely gave me the information I need to open a business, and I would recommend the class 100%,” said participant Willie Johnson.

Johnson was born and raised in Vicksburg. He’s now retired from the military and looking to launch a consulting business, which is what led him to attending the boot camp.

By having capable individuals at the boot camp such as James Harper from the Small Business Development Center at Hinds Community College, the participants were able to learn about available grants and other resources for entrepreneurs.

Starting a business can be stressful for first time entrepreneurs, but the boot camp provided planning advice to the participants, breaking down the information that participants need to launch their businesses.

“In the business process of starting and running a business, owners get very busy running the day-to-day aspects,” said boot camp participant Kendra Reed. “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp gave me the chance to step back and plan through the whole process to prepare my new company to be successful.”

Reed is the owner of Delta Dirt Shirt, and she was proud to be a graduating member of the camp.

Now that the camp has ended, the participants are in competition for a $1,000 seed grant for the best business plan presentation. A winner will be announced Dec. 8.

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