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Mississippi lawmakers wrap up ‘unprecedented’ session

October 3, 2020 GMT
Mississippi Lieutenant Gov. Delbert Hosemann announces the end of the Legislative session at the Mississippi state Capitol building on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Jackson, Miss., as House Speaker Philip Gunn stands beside him. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)
Mississippi Lieutenant Gov. Delbert Hosemann announces the end of the Legislative session at the Mississippi state Capitol building on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Jackson, Miss., as House Speaker Philip Gunn stands beside him. (AP Photo/Leah Willingham)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — After what Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann said felt like the “longest session” in memory, the state Legislature on Friday finally wrapped up its business for the year.

Hosemann, a Republican, said lawmakers — who had until the end of day Friday to complete business before the session expired — were at the Capitol past midnight finalizing bills that would give millions of dollars of federal coronavirus relief to hospitals, farmers and veterans centers.

In the past nine months, legislators have had the task of handling dozens of coronavirus-related proposals in addition to regular proposals that come before the body every year. Mississippi received $1.25 billion from Congress to respond to the pandemic, much of which the legislature was in charge of dispersing throughout the state.

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In the course of the session, Hosemann, Republican Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and dozens of other lawmakers tested positive for the coronavirus. Several were hospitalized in serious condition.

On Friday, Hosemann recalled the debilitating fatigue he felt while ill, when he could barely walk 100 steps at a time without needing to rest.

“The pandemic is here and it’s going to be here. It’s not going away,” Hosemann said. “We need to prepare in the event that we have a second, third or fourth wave.”

He said he prayed for the speedy recovery of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, who have both tested positive for the virus.

“I am hopeful and prayerful that the president’s COVID is not as severe as mine or worse,” Hosemann said. “It would be very difficult.”

Among the appropriations made during the legislative session were $10 million to the Wireless Communication Commission to improve communication equipment for first responders and $20 million for landlords who have not evicted tenants who could not pay rent during the pandemic. Money was also allocated to increase broadband access in rural areas and to provide technology such as iPads and hotspots for students who are remote learning.

Mississippi lawmakers initially put $300 million into a program to aid small businesses, but not all of it was used. Some of the unused money from the business program was reallocated to other coronavirus relief programs approved by the legislature.

Lawmakers also passed a number of non-fiscal coronavirus laws, such as one that protects hospitals that follow public safety guidelines from being sued by individuals who claim to have been exposed to COVID-19 and are seeking damages.

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Speaking at a press briefing with Hosemann, Gunn said although not everything went perfectly during the session, he felt lawmakers did well given the circumstances. He likened being a leader in the legislature during the pandemic to “calling an audible at the line of scrimmage.”

“You come in with a plan and a play, and you intend to try and do something and then the defense changes and you’ve got to adjust,” he said.

Gunn said what lawmakers faced in the session was “unprecedented.”

“(It’s) something that the legislature has never faced before: a pandemic. At least, not in our lifetimes,” he said.

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Leah Willingham is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.