Governor vetoes cut to teacher pay program, criminal justice reform bills

Wednesday represented the deadline for Governor Tate Reeves to either sign or veto numerous bills passed by the legislature, and while many of them made it into law, several did not.

In a Facebook post, Governor Reeves outlined his reasoning behind his decision to veto several bills, including a large portion of the appropriations bill for the Department of Education. This decision wasn’t a surprise after Reeves indicated that a veto was a possibility on Tuesday when he criticized a $26 million funding cut to a teacher incentive program.

The governor explained that if the program, which rewards teachers in A & B-rated districts or districts that improve by a letter grade from the previous year, was cut, over 23,000 teachers would see a cut in pay.

“It was done quietly, without much or any conversation. Pretty much nobody in the legislature or education community knew about it until we discovered it in our bill review process this week and raised the alarm. We have to veto this so that they can come back and fix it—otherwise 23,157 teachers will get a pay cut,”

The bill did pass unanimously in the Senate and just one representative voted against the bill in the House, which could override a veto.

“After I’ve vetoed the bill, the legislature has a chance to come back and override my veto—locking in a teacher pay cut. Or they can sustain it and fix this. I suspect most legislators didn’t realize that they were voting to cut teacher pay, and they will fix it. I believe they can get it done in a special session as soon as the legislature is finished with their quarantine due to the high number of COVID-19 cases that spread there.”

The veto won’t leave the MDE without funding as Governor Reeves explained that the agency will run in the short term “by a letter, backed up by an attorney general opinion, stating that they constitutionally have to perform their duties until the legislature can fix this.”

In addition to the education bill, Governor Reeves also announced the veto of two separate criminal justice reform bills that “go too far” in his opinion.

HB 658 would have allowed for the expungement of up to three felonies from an individual’s criminal record.

“Right now, under Mississippi law, you can erase one felony from your record after a few years. One of these bills says that criminals can get three separate felony incidents erased from their record. To me, that goes too far. We can’t have career criminals walking around with no records. The law enforcement community that I spoke with agreed.”

SB 2123 was intended to increase the number of Mississippi prisoners eligible for parole by granting eligibility to nonviolent offenders who have served either 25% or 10 years of their sentence (whichever is less).

Certain violent offenders would have become eligible for parole after serving 50% or 20 years of their sentence if they were sentenced after June 30, 1995, and before July 1, 2014. Violent offenders sentenced after July 1, 2014, would have to serve 50 % or 30 years.

The bill also allowed for geriatric parole for prisoners 65 years and older that have served “no less than 10 years.”

“Contrary to what some will say, this was not a conservative reform effort. While some of my friends and good people supported it, two-thirds of Republicans in the Senate voted against it. That says something to me.
If they want to try again, I’ll listen. This was not the right approach.
I know that I’ll get attacked and protested for this. In a time when efforts to “defund police” and “dismantle the criminal justice system” are part of the discussion, they’ll probably try to paint any effort at law and order as the radical position. It’s all part of the job—this is the right thing to do.”

The governor also stated that there were several other bills that he chose to veto, one of which was due to an issue with the allocation of $6 million in CARES Act funding to a “cherry-picked” corporation.

Governor Reeves’ full post can be read below.