Judge rules Gov. Reeves’ partial veto of COVID relief funds unconstitutional

A Hinds County Chancery Court judge has ruled that Gov. Tate Reeves’ partial veto of a COVID-19 relief bill was unconstitutional, siding with House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tem Jason White, who sued over the veto in August.

Reeves said he vetoed “questionable spending” earmarks by the Legislature in the bill and said it was an attempt to “funnel money to friends with zero accountability,” and a power grab by the Legislature. Gunn said Reeves was overstepping his constitutional authority and that the Legislature has authority over spending, not the governor.

The Hinds County Chancery Court decision is likely to be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Hinds County Chancellor Tiffany Grove in her decision filed Monday said, “… according to the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 and almost years of case law interpreting our state Constitution, Gov. Reeves’ partial veto was unconstitutional.”

Reeves vetoed $2 million lawmakers directed to the shuttered North Oak Regional Medical Center in Senatobia and $6 million earmarked to the MAGnet Community Health Center to study and try to address health disparities, such as combating the high impact COVID-19 has inflicted on the African American community. The spending was part of a $130 million bill directing Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to Mississippi health care and hospitals.

Grove said based on other Supreme Court decisions, the partial veto authority granted to the governor by the state Constitution only could be used to veto a a total sum of money within an appropriations bill and not the conditions on how the money was being spent.

fThe Legislature appropriated $91.9 million to the Mississippi Department of Health to provide funds to hospitals and other health care providers for their COVID-19 relief efforts. Reeves, the chancellor concluded, did not have the authority to veto the appropriation to some of those health care providers while concurring in providing funds to the other health care providers. She said the governor was trying to veto the conditions of how the money was being spent and multiple past rulings made it clear the governor could not veto conditions of appropriations bills.

Grove’s ruling said the bill was passed in its entirety, though it is not clear whether the health care providers that were the subjects of the partial vetoes will have time to spend the money appropriated by the Legislature. Federal law mandates states spend the money they received from the CARES Act by the end of December.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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