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Mississippi legislators assert control over virus money

MGN Online

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers are asserting control in a power struggle with the governor.

Posted: May 1, 2020 9:22 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Friday and asserted their control in a power struggle with the governor over who has the authority to spend $1.25 billion the state is receiving from the federal government for coronavirus relief.
Republicans who lead the House and Senate say the Mississippi Constitution gives spending authority to the Legislature. But, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves says a state law enacted 40 years ago gives the governor some spending power during emergencies.
“The system of government that we have is not a one-man-makes-the-decisions system,” House Speaker Philip Gunn said at a news conference Friday. Gunn was joined by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
The House and Senate each met briefly and voted by wide bipartisan margins to pass the same bill. It puts most of the federal relief money into a fund that the Legislature controls. The governor would not lose all power: He would still need to agree to spending plans that lawmakers set, as he does with other parts of the state budget.
Reeves would not immediately say whether he will veto the proposal. But during his own news conference, the governor angrily said that legislators were tying the hands of people responding to the pandemic, including the state health officer and the state emergency management director.
“You care more about power than people,” Reeves said of lawmakers.
Hosemann said the dispute over spending power is urgent because the governor’s office was already seeking proposals from private consultants to manage the relief funds, and the group chosen would be paid a portion of the money.
Reeves on Friday said spending the money on consultants would be a good investment. He said if federal relief money is mishandled, Mississippi might have to send some of the money back to the federal government. He said a third-party administrator could talk to the U.S. Treasury Department about legal or accounting questions.
“Some of us are relatively busy right now trying to do other things,” Reeves said.
The legislative session had been on hold since mid-March because of the pandemic. As people entered the Capitol on Friday, their temperatures were taken and they were asked questions about whether they had been exposed to the coronavirus or experienced symptoms such as shortness of breath.
The money at the center of the dispute is separate from the payment of unemployment benefits — an issue that has left thousands of people frustrated.
“You know what the real problem is? People can’t get their unemployment benefits,” Hosemann said.
Mississippi, like other states, has seen a dramatic increase in unemployment claims in recent weeks because of the pandemic. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has expanded its hours and has brought in more people to handle applications for benefits, but people have experienced long delays and other difficulties in being able to apply.
Hosemann and Gunn had announced earlier this week that the Legislature would return to the Capitol on May 18, but plans changed because of the money fight. On Wednesday, they sent a letter to the acting director of the state Department of Finance and Administration telling her to put the $1.25 billion on hold.
Mississippi is not alone in clashes among top elected officials. In neighboring Louisiana, Republican state lawmakers are considering putting limits on Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’s emergency decision-making powers amid frustration over his extension of a stay-at-home order in one of the states hardest hit by the virus.
The Mississippi Health Department said Friday that the state had at least 7,212 confirmed cases and 281 deaths from the coronavirus as of Thursday evening. That was an increase of 397 cases and 20 deaths from the previous day. Mississippi’s population is about 3 million.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The Health Department said Friday at least 71,548 coronavirus tests had been done in Mississippi. The department said at least 825 cases of the virus had been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.
The governor’s “safer at home” order started Monday, replacing a stricter stay-at-home order that was in place for more than three weeks. The new order remains in effect until the morning of May 11.
Reeves eased business restrictions under the current order, allowing some to reopen with limits on how many customers may be present. In addition to letting more businesses reopen, it allows physicians to start offering some services that had been limited in recent weeks. Restaurants are still restricted to carry-out or delivery. Barber shops, salons, tattoo parlors and entertainment venues such as movie theaters remain closed. Gatherings of 10 or more people are still banned.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 248189

Reported Deaths: 5411
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
Lauderdale5724177
Lowndes5238109
Lafayette486192
Lamar475363
Washington4734122
Bolivar3941106
Oktibbeha388179
Panola360475
Pontotoc358752
Monroe3487103
Warren337895
Union337457
Marshall336065
Neshoba3325150
Pearl River319492
Leflore2980104
Lincoln293385
Sunflower277569
Tate266659
Alcorn260651
Itawamba258858
Pike258176
Hancock253557
Prentiss242450
Scott241043
Yazoo237754
Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
Attala191658
Newton186542
Chickasaw181243
Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
Amite96425
Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
Cullman7960104
Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
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