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‘Punch in the face, stab in the back’: Legislature overrides Gov. Reeves’ veto of education funding bill

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Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves

“It’s the law. It’s the law. It’s the law,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said. “We can engage in name calling and in slanderous comments, but the bottom line is what does the law say? We are trying to follow the constitution.”

Reeves, for his part, chalked it up to politics, claiming some members of the House are “trying to get a pound of flesh from me” for political reasons. The governor declared victory from lawmakers, who approved a teacher bonus plan whose absence had prompted his veto in the first place.

“If individual House members want to punch me in the face, or stab me in the back, that’s fine as long as teachers get that money,” Reeves said.

Gunn and House Pro Tem Jason White still have a lawsuit pending over Reeves’ partial vetoes of the education budget and of items in a measure spending federal coronavirus relief money for health care providers.

In the House, the veto override vote was 109-6. In the Senate, the vote was 41-1. A two-thirds majority is required to override a gubernatorial veto.

While there were six no votes, no one in the House argued against the override, which was done promptly soon after lawmakers reconvened.

In the Senate, negotiations took much longer, and the vote came after no debate on Monday evening after a long delay.

Reeves, in his first year as governor, said he issued the partial veto of the education budget because the bill did not fund the School Recognition Program, which provides bonuses to teachers in top performing and improving school districts. About 23,000 teachers are slated to receive the bonuses.

Legislative leaders said not funding the program was an oversight and could be corrected at a later date without the governor vetoing the legislation. Reeves said he believed the veto was necessary to ensure the teachers received their funds.

In addition to overriding the governor Monday, lawmakers passed a separate bill for the School Recognition Program on Monday night. The bill will be funded by pulling $28 million from a capital projects fund.

Reeves’ partial veto of the budget for education essentially put in question the flow of all state funds — more than $2.2 billion — to local school districts. Reeves, relying on an official opinion from former Attorney General Jim Hood, said he had the authority to send state funds to the local school districts in the absence of a legislative appropriation. The official opinion said the state Constitution mandates the funding of local school districts regardless of whether there is a legislative appropriation.

Gunn said the Legislature’s recent battles with Reeves boil down to one thing: “The governor cannot spend dollars.”

“That is the prerogative of the Legislature,” Gunn said. “That has been the law for 200 years, and it’s the law in every state and it’s the law in Congress. The Legislature appropriates and the governor administrates.”

The new fiscal year began July 1. On July 13, Reeves sent a letter to the state fiscal officer authorizing the expenditure of funds to pay for the basic operation of local school districts through the Mississippi Adequate Education Program — based on what was appropriated by the 2019 Legislature for the previous fiscal year.

House Education Chair Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, pointed out that Reeves’ executive action left multiple programs unfunded — such as teacher supply funds. Bennett said it was particularly important for teachers to receive the $12 million in supply funds as they struggle with starting school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Republicans control the Legislature and initiated the override of Reeves’ partial veto, Senate Democratic Leader Derrick Simmons of Greenville said he supported the override effort. He said Reeves, who was the former presiding officer of the Senate during his tenure as lieutenant governor, understood that legislators could take care of the School Recognition Program in a deficit appropriation in the 2021 session and that the governor did not have to issue the veto.

“Our school districts were really concerned about how they would be funded,” Simmons said.

Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch, one of seven no votes on the veto override, said, “I agree with the governor. The way we are doing this is wrong.”

Criswell said that funds going to the local school districts were being increased while most agencies were being cut during the pandemic-caused economic slowdown. He argued the $28 million going to the School Recognition Program should come from existing funds instead of additional money being appropriated for the program.

In a normal regular session, legislators would be dependent on the governor to call them back to deal with a veto. The governor had refused to call them back, saying multiple legislators tested positive for the coronavirus soon after the session adjourned on July 1 and he feared another outbreak if legislators returned to Jackson. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs confirmed Monday that 49 of the 174 members of the Legislature have tested positive for the coronavirus in the months of July and August.

Legislators were able to return on Monday because in June they passed a resolution by a two-thirds vote to allow them to return to take up COVID-19 issues. On Monday, legislators also expanded a program they passed earlier to provide grants to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

While in session to deal with the coronavirus issues, legislators also took up the veto. Monday’s session played out against the backdrop of Gunn and White suing Reeves claiming the partial vetoes of the education bill and a bill that provides grants to hospitals and other health care providers to help them deal with the coronavirus were unconstitutional.

Legislators did not take up the partial veto of the health care providers bill. The legal action on Reeves’ partial veto of that bill will continue.

The Legislature also did not take up vetoes of bills passed to expand the authority of the Parole Board to release inmates.

As legislators worked Monday most members, unlike in late June, wore masks and practiced physical distancing.

Lawmakers adjourned late Monday night until Tuesday morning. They are still haggling over a bill to fund the Department of Marine Resources. Lawmakers left in July without funding the agency, over a fight over whether Reeves has control of millions in Gulf restoration funds the state receives each year.


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

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Monday’s I-20 crash in Louisiana claims the life of a Texas man

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On Monday, Oct. 12, shortly after 8 p.m., Louisiana State Police Troop F responded to a crash on Interstate 20 near milepost 182 in Madison Parish. The crash claimed the life of a man from Fort Worth, Texas.

The initial investigation revealed a 2018 Chevrolet Silverado, driven by 41-year-old Nathan Ribelin of Fort Worth, Texas, was traveling eastbound on Interstate 20. For reasons still under investigation, the Silverado rear-ended a 1999 International 18-wheeler that was stopped for traffic. After impact, the International 18-wheeler struck the rear of a 2008 Ford F-350 that was also stopped. Ribelin, who was properly restrained, was transported to a hospital where he later died because of his injuries.

A toxicology sample was obtained and submitted for analysis. The crash, which shut down the eastbound lanes of the interstate for several hours, remains under investigation.

To date in 2020, Troop F has investigated 38 fatal crashes resulting in 40 deaths.

 

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Governor announces two MS Board of Ed appointments

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Gov. Tate Reeves announced two Mississippi State Board of Education appointments Tuesday: Angela Bass from Jackson and Glen East from Gulfport. The appointees reflect the Governor’s commitment to continuous improvement in education.

“Mississippi’s children deserve our steadfast commitment to improving education. We must continue to improve outcomes for these students without fear of upsetting the status quo. I am confident that Angela and Glen will serve with honor and represent the interest of parents, teachers and — most importantly — students. Their achievement has to be our top priority,” Reeves said in a statement.

Dr. Angela Bass served as a Teach for America corps member and studied education policy and management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, later becoming a teacher in both the Tunica and Desoto County school districts and an administrator at the KIPP Memphis Collegiate High School. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the Mississippi Early Learning Alliance.

Mr. Glen East serves as the Superintendent of the Gulfport School District. The district represents 10 schools and approximately 5,800 students. It has been designated an Excellence for All School District.

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MS Dept. of Agriculture offering organic certification cost-share program

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The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is offering a cost-share program for Mississippi organic producers and handlers receiving certification or continuation of certification by a United States Department of Agriculture accredited certifying agent, Commissioner Andy Gipson announced Tuesday.

“This is a great opportunity for farmers that have received the USDA Organic Certification in the past year to help offset some of the costs associated with this certification,” Gipson said in a statement, “I am glad that we are able to offer this program again for 2020, and I encourage our farmers to take advantage of this opportunity during these unprecedented times.”

Funding is available for those who received the certification between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020. Individual organic operators are eligible for reimbursement of 50% of their fiscal year 2020 certification costs up to a maximum of $500 per category of certification. The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program currently recognizes the following categories of certification eligible for reimbursement: crops, wild crops, livestock and handler.

To be eligible for reimbursement, the following must be provided to MDAC by applicants: proof of certification issued by a USDA accredited certifying agent, a reimbursement form, an itemized invoice for certification-related expenses, an IRS W-9 form and documentation of the payment in the form of a canceled check. Applicants must be Mississippi organic producers and handlers located within the State of Mississippi. Funds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis until the funds are depleted. Operations may receive one reimbursement per year. The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 15, 2020.

For more information about this program or to obtain an application, visit the MDAC website or contact Susan Lawrence at [email protected] or 601-213-7542.

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