Special session likely needed to address MDE, MDMR funding

Earlier this month, lawmakers left the capitol following an extended 2020 legislative session in Mississippi, but they will likely be called back at some point this summer. 

While many key bills were signed into law, Governor Tate Reeves chose to veto a portion of the education appropriations bill due to a cut in funding for a teacher incentive program. Explaining his decision to veto the bill, he stated that the cut in funding could’ve resulted in a pay deduction for over 23,000 teachers. 

While the key portions of the Department of Education are currently able to operate under a letter from the governor, it is not a long-term solution in the absence of a signed budget bill. In addition to MDE, the legislature also failed to pass a budget for the Department of Marine Resources.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, Governor Reeves stated that lawmakers will have the ability to “fix” the issues he saw in the education bill and allocate funding for MDMR during an “upcoming special session.” A sizable hurdle that will prevent that special session from taking place is the current COVID-19 outbreak at the capitol, which has now grown to 41 positive cases. This includes Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann, and several other lawmakers and capitol staff members. 

“We are in a position in which we will bring them back at the appropriate time, if and when it is safe to do so,” Governor Reeves said. “I think public health must trump everything else with respect to legislative action. We have been in contact with individual legislators over the last several weeks, and I am confident that working together we can get to a solution that makes sense, but I’m not going to bring them back and put them in harm’s way.”

The governor concluded by stating that there is “a lot more time” before the legislature can reconvene safely. 

In the meantime, State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright says that employees and bills still need to be paid. 

“We’re working with DFA to make sure that we continue as usual and that the money is continuing as usual until we can get an appropriations bill. I understand the governor’s concern about the teacher recognition program, and certainly, our teachers deserve every single bit of money that is coming to them,” Dr. Wright said. 

In addition to a potential special session, lawmakers are slated to return in October to officially end the 2020 session.