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Speaker Gunn: Lawsuit over Gov. Reeves vetoes ‘unfortunate,’ but necessary

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Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn speaks during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. (Photo by Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America. Used with permission.)

House Speaker Philip Gunn said his pending lawsuit against Gov. Tate Reeves over the governor’s partial veto of a bill spending federal COVID-19 relief funds is “an unfortunate situation,” but important to pursue on precedent.

“It sets a precedent, if we allow this type of veto to stand, when there is case law as I understand it going back maybe 100 years that says this is not a proper veto,” Gunn said Monday. “I went to the governor after the vetoes, and said if I knew of another avenue to take, I would take it … What we have here is an infringement of the executive branch into the duties of the legislative branch. We are just looking for the court to uphold the law.”

Gunn addressed the Stennis Institute of Government and Capitol Press Corps in an online forum on Monday. The Republican speaker covered numerous topics, including the lawsuit he and Speaker Pro Tem Jason White filed in early August over Reeves’ line-item vetoes. Reeves vetoed about $8 million in legislative spending for Mississippi hospitals and other health care providers from federal funds the state received for COVID-19. The governor also vetoed much of the annual budget for K-12 education, but lawmakers have since returned and overridden that veto.

The state constitution provides the governor with partial veto authority, but court rulings over many years have held that authority is very narrow and have typically sided with the Legislature. The Legislature is given authority over state spending in the constitution, and Gunn and others said Reeves’ vetoes of specific spending infringes on that authority.

Gunn said both sides have agreed that the facts of the case are not in dispute, and that they agreed to try the case based only on filed briefs, not oral arguments. The case is before Hinds County Chancery Court, but likely to be appealed by either side to the state Supreme Court.

Reeves, who has clashed early and often with lawmakers in his first term as governor, primarily over spending authority for federal COVID-19 money, has called the lawsuit “yet another power grab by some members of the House.”

In the Stennis forum on Monday, Gunn also:

  • Said lawmakers will return in session sometime before Oct. 5. He said the main order of business will be evaluating federal COVID-19 relief spending and programs. He said much of the spending faces a late-December deadline and lawmakers will evaluate how much has been spent on various programs and whether money left at that point should be shifted or redirected. He said the return to session will be “very focused, and very narrow.”
  • Praised legislative colleagues for the historic vote to remove the state’s embattled Confederate-themed flag. Gunn has been the staunchest, and at times only, state Republican leader to advocate removing the 1894 state flag with its divisive Confederate battle emblem. In June, the Legislature voted to remove the flag, and voters in November will vote whether to ratify a new design. Gunn said he didn’t “twist arms” to get the historic vote in the House, but that his colleagues realized they wanted to be “on the right side of history.”
  • Said the state budget is in surprisingly good shape, given the pandemic. A recent report shows that through the first two months of the new fiscal year, state revenue is up $259 million, or about 35%, above collections for the same period last year. Gunn said the state is still in unchartered territory with the pandemic and may face more fiscal challenges, but he chalks the current stability to past frugality by the Legislature. This week, lawmakers will hold budget hearings, starting the process of setting next fiscal year’s budget.
  • Said lawmakers are not likely to address medical marijuana or expanding early voting opportunities as a pandemic safeguard before the Nov. 3 elections. Voters will choose between dueling constitutional amendments on medical marijuana — or reject both.
  • Said he is aware of no pending legislative push to make changes before the election. Mississippi’s absentee and other voting laws are among the most restrictive in the nation. Most states have expanded early voting to avoid long lines or crowded conditions at polls during the pandemic. Mississippi has not.

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

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Teenager missing near Big Black River

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Sterling Powell (photo courtesy HCSO)

Authorities are searching for a Hinds County teenager near Edwards, Mississippi.

Sterling Powell, 17, was last seen Tuesday around 4:30 p.m. near the 6300 Blk. of Anderson Road in Edwards near the Big Black River.

He was wearing black pants, a white shirt, a black jacket and a blue cap.

A search and rescue team is combing the woods for Powell in Edwards near where he was last seen, WLBT reports.

If you have any information on Powell’s whereabouts, call the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office 601-352-1521

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Update: Mississippi River Bridge project on target for early 2021 completion

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Paving work continues on the eastbound lane of I-20 over the Mississippi River. (photo courtesy LDOTD)

The $27.5 million rehabilitation of the Interstate 20 Mississippi River Bridge is on target for completion in early 2021, weather permitting, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced Wednesday.

The nearly 50-year-old structure provides one of the few interstate crossings over the river, connecting Madison Parish, Louisiana, to Vicksburg and Warren County.

Since the project began in January 2020, the contractor has completed the rehab work on the bridge deck in both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane. Paving continues in the other eastbound lane.

Repairs are also complete to the transverse beam of the structure, which serves to help transmit the loads crossing the bridge. Additionally, two bearings on one of the piers have been replaced.

The new inspection walkway on the downstream side of the bride is nearly complete, as well as the ladders that provide access to the aerial beacons.

The contractor continues to work on improvements to the electrical power distribution system, lighting and instrumentation. Nearly 100 roadway lighting fixtures are being replaced with a modern LED system.

Roadway fiber optics are also being replaced with new cameras and radar that will be integrated into Mississippi’s IT Network.

Soon, work will begin on the access stairs for the new inspection walkway, in addition to repairs to the major expansion joints of the bridge. The steel structural connections at certain locations on the bridge are being modified to improve resilience against a variety of loads and conditions.

DOTD reminds motorists that lane closures remain in place on the bridge as work continues. Drivers are urged to travel with caution through the construction zone.

In Louisiana, call 511 or visit www.511la.org for additional information. Out-of-state travelers may call I-888-ROAD-511 (1-888-762-3511).

 

Paving work continues on the eastbound lane of I-20 over the Mississippi River. (photo source: LDOTD)

 

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Mississippi’s new COVID-19 cases continued to climb Wednesday; death reported in Warren County

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New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued a steady climb Wednesday in Mississippi as they have been doing for more than 10 days.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported five new COVID-19 cases Wednesday in Warren County and one new death, identified from a death certificate report. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,481, and the county’s death toll is 54.

Statewide, MSDH reported 876 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 106,817. The seven-day average of new cases is 654, higher by 241 cases from a month ago.

Most new cases are seen in younger people recently, and they are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. By far, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are young people from 18 to 29 years old.

MSDH reported Wednesday that 25 additional Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,140. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.9%.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day was 67 reported Aug. 25.

Of the 25 deaths MSDH reported Wednesday, nine occurred between Oct. 11 and Oct. 13 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Wednesday
DeSoto 1
Jackson 1
Lamar 1
Lauderdale 1
Lincoln 1
Panola 1
Rankin 2
Washington 1

Sixteen COVID-19 related deaths occurred between July 28 and Oct. 8 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
Amite 1
Clay 1
Coahoma 1
DeSoto 1
Grenada 1
Hinds 1
Leflore 1
Lowndes 1
Marshall 1
Oktibbeha 1
Pearl River 1
Pontotoc 1
Smith 1
Tallahatchie 1
Warren 1
Washington 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations nearly tripled by late July. They leveled off in early August and began noticeably dropping in the middle of the month including critical cases and numbers of people requiring ventilators. Hospitalizations continued to drop in September but levelled off at the middle of the month. They continued to drop through Oct. 3; however, hospitalizations have been showing a definite rise since then.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, is 600, about half of the late July peak of more than 1,200. The number includes 507 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 93 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 145 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 69 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 94,165 through Sunday, Oct. 11. This figure is updated weekly. It represents about 88.2% of the cumulative 106,817 cases reported Wednesday, Oct. 14.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Wednesday, Sept. 23, was 1,384, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,330, or about 89.8% of the 1,481 cumulative cases reported as of Wednesday, Oct. 14. The county has an estimated 97 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Sunday, Oct. 3 (the latest date available from MSDH), is 863,957 or about 29% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. The positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average) was 6.3% Sunday according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 5.1%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities is 127 Wednesday. About 40.4%, or 1,269, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities.

A total of 25 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data here. The latest data available is for the week ending Sept. 27.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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