Top Mississippi lawmakers sue governor over partial vetoes

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The two top leaders of the Mississippi House are suing Gov. Tate Reeves over his partial veto of some state budget bills, setting up another conflict among some of the state’s top Republicans.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, who are both in the GOP, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Hinds County Chancery Court.

The lawsuit says the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled in multiple cases that the state constitution prohibits a governor from vetoing a portion of a budget bill.

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Republican Reeves is in his first year as governor after eight years as lieutenant governor. While he was lieutenant governor, he presided over the Senate and exerted considerable influence over the budget.

Reeves lashed out at legislators for filing a lawsuit.

“There’s a small group in the House that only wants to pick fights with me — some liberal Republicans who’ve joined forces with liberal House Dems,” Reeves wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

On July 8, Reeves vetoed parts of two bills to fund state government programs for the year that began July 1.

He vetoed multiple sections of House Bill 1700, the education budget bill, because it did not include nearly $25 million for the school recognition program that provides bonus pay for teachers in public schools that show significant improvement or that maintain high performance.

“I find it exceptionally odd that the leader of the House Education Committee has said that it was a mistake leaving out the school recognition program and that they could have easily fixed that,” Reeves said during a news conference Wednesday. “But then yet they are going to sue, say I don’t have the authority to actually line-item veto.”

The other partial vetoes were in House Bill 1782, which allocated federal coronavirus relief money to various agencies. Reeves vetoed a part of that bill that directed $2 million to North Oaks Regional Medical Center, a hospital that is closed in Tate County. The governor said because it was closed, North Oaks had not provided care to COVID-19 patients.

Reeves also vetoed a part of House Bill 1782 that directed $6 million to the MAGnet Community Health Disparity Program. He wrote that he was uncomfortable spending that money because he was unfamiliar with the program.

The House leaders’ lawsuit says that the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 1898, 1995 and 2004 that a governor cannot veto parts of budget bills.

Referring to the 2004 case, the lawsuit says, “our high court made it clear that it meant what it had said in the course of the previous century — the governor of our state still does not have the legal authority to pick and choose line items of appropriations bills he likes and line items he doesn’t like.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to uphold the previous Supreme Court rulings and declare that Reeves’s partial vetoes are invalid and the budget bills have become law.

Earlier this year, legislators prevailed in a power struggle with Reeves over who has the authority to spend coronavirus relief money from the federal government. Reeves said he did, but legislators asserted control over the money by saying that the state constitution gives the legislative branch the power to make budget decisions.