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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.

Confirmed Cases: 95310

Reported Deaths: 2874
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7063159
DeSoto552159
Harrison382973
Jackson345670
Madison326586
Rankin325677
Lee268368
Jones246879
Forrest245571
Washington221972
Lafayette215439
Lauderdale2044125
Bolivar182366
Oktibbeha177350
Lamar167534
Neshoba1559104
Lowndes152658
Panola146328
Sunflower144546
Warren140250
Leflore139581
Pontotoc125916
Pike123050
Monroe122168
Scott117327
Copiah117133
Coahoma115028
Holmes109558
Marshall109217
Lincoln108353
Grenada107736
Yazoo105530
Simpson102544
Union99324
Tate97637
Leake95338
Adams93037
Wayne89421
Pearl River87353
Marion85735
Prentiss84417
Covington81922
Itawamba79421
Alcorn79111
Newton76723
George76513
Tallahatchie76321
Winston73719
Tishomingo67238
Chickasaw67024
Tippah66517
Attala65425
Walthall59825
Clay58918
Clarke58145
Hancock57721
Jasper56815
Noxubee54816
Smith53114
Calhoun51312
Tunica48313
Claiborne46216
Montgomery45920
Lawrence43112
Yalobusha42814
Perry41918
Humphreys37615
Quitman3725
Stone37012
Greene36617
Jefferson Davis33911
Webster33613
Amite32510
Carroll31512
Wilkinson30318
Kemper28815
Sharkey26513
Jefferson2449
Benton2252
Franklin1923
Choctaw1816
Issaquena1043
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 133433

Reported Deaths: 2349
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19441349
Mobile13271291
Montgomery8778179
Madison775480
Tuscaloosa7496119
Shelby584951
Lee582961
Baldwin516550
Marshall390944
Calhoun346641
Etowah342047
Morgan325428
Houston278123
Elmore263247
DeKalb239120
Walker228483
St. Clair227837
Talladega212728
Limestone206120
Cullman188519
Dallas177426
Franklin175529
Russell17442
Autauga173825
Lauderdale168233
Colbert163626
Blount159415
Escambia158425
Jackson154611
Chilton153531
Dale135444
Covington134427
Coffee13078
Pike11879
Chambers115142
Tallapoosa114685
Clarke107717
Marion95729
Butler91339
Barbour8577
Winston73712
Marengo70820
Lowndes65327
Pickens65114
Bibb64210
Randolph63713
Hale62828
Lawrence60922
Geneva5995
Bullock59814
Cherokee59115
Monroe5818
Clay5707
Washington55613
Perry5407
Conecuh53111
Crenshaw53132
Wilcox53111
Henry4865
Macon48020
Fayette4438
Sumter43419
Lamar3632
Choctaw34612
Cleburne3396
Greene30315
Coosa1673
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