Mississippi lawmakers returning to work on state budget

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators are returning to the Capitol to wrap up unfinished parts of the state budget as leaders are clashing with Republican Gov. Tate Reeves.

The legislative website shows that the House and Senate will convene at 1 p.m. Monday.

A week after the state budget year started July 1, Reeves vetoed big parts of the education spending plan because legislators did not fund a bonus pay program for teachers in schools that either maintain high academic performance or show significant improvement.

Reeves also vetoed parts of a bill that allocated federal relief money for the coronavirus pandemic.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, who are both Republican, sued Reeves last week, arguing that his action was improper because the governor cannot veto portions of budget bills that deal with conditions for how money is spent.

Overriding a governor's veto takes a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate.

Legislators are expected to try to set a budget for the state Department of Marine Resources. Final talks about the department's budget stalled just before legislators left the Capitol on July 1 because the House and Senate clashed over how to spend $40 million a year that the state receives from oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.

House and Senate leaders originally expected to bring members back in early July to finish the Marine Resources budget, but plans changed because of coronavirus cases among legislators and other people who work in the Capitol. It was the largest outbreak of the virus at any statehouse in the U.S., according to a count by The Associated Press.

Mississippi legislators were in session through most of June. Some people in the Capitol wore masks and kept distance from others as precautions against spreading the virus, but many did not. It was common to see people leaning in to talk to each other with their faces uncovered. People also crowded into elevators and committee meeting rooms, and legislators also sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the House and Senate.

The Mississippi state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said July 14 that at least 30 legislators and 11 other people who work in the Capitol had been confirmed with the virus. Dobbs recently said that number had increased. At least two legislators — Democratic Rep. Earle Banks of Jackson and Republican Rep. Manly Barton of Moss Point — were hospitalized with the virus and have returned home.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.