House leaders won the first round in their lawsuit over $8 million in earmarks vetoed by Gov. Tate Reeves after a Hinds County Chancery Court judge ruled in their favor Monday.
Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Tiffany Grove issued a ruling in the lawsuit filed by House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White that rejected the governor’s arguments and nullified the governor’s line item vetoes of $2 million for a closed hospital in Senatobia and $6 million for the MAGnet Community Health Disparity Program in House Bill 1782.
The governor has appealed the decision and it’s very likely that the issue will go before the state Supreme Court, which has made three decisions — 1898, 1995 and 2004 — over the line-item veto in favor of the Legislature.
In Groves’ decision, she said that the two earmarks were not separate, distinct appropriations since the legislation tasked the Mississippi Department of Health with spending the federal CARES Act money on the two projects, along with several others.
She said the governor’s partial veto constituted “creative legislative power outside the purview of his executive authority.”
In the Mississippi Constitution of 1890, it says that the governor may veto parts of appropriation bill and approve parts of the same, and the portions shall be law.
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The Legislature decided to take no action on Reeves’ line item vetoes in when lawmakers returned to the Capitol in mid-August to overturn Reeves’ partial veto on HB 1700, the K-12 education funding bill.
The North Oak Regional Medical Center in Senatobia has been closed for the last two years under a court-ordered receivership. The other line-item veto concerned $6 million for MAGnet to “address the disproportionate impact on the minority community of coronavirus infections and deaths from COVID-19.”
Reeves said in his veto message for the two earmarks that he wasn’t comfortable with funding a project, MAGnet, that was unfamiliar to him and cited the fact the North Oak Regional Medical Center hasn’t treated COVID-19 patients.
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Gunn and White filed an amended complaint on August 14 after the Legislature overrode Reeves’ partial veto on HB 1700. The original complaint made reference to the governor’s partial veto of HB 1700 as part of the argument against the line item vetoes.