Gov. Tate Reeves used his line-item veto pen late Wednesday to cut out a $2 million earmark for a hospital that’s been closed since 2018 and also vetoed most of the state's education budget over a dispute regarding teacher pay.
House Bill 1782 appropriates more than $222 million in CARES Act funds for the state Department of Health, which would receive more than $91 million to cover the agency’s costs dealing with the COIVD 19 pandemic. Of the remainder, $80 million would go to reimburse hospitals for their COVID-19 related expenses. The money would be disbursed using a formula that took into account the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients at each hospital and the number of licensed beds.
In an amendment to the original bill, the now-closed North Oak Regional Medical Center (or its successor entity) in Senatobia was slated to receive $2 million. If the hospital isn’t reopened or a memorandum of understanding for a new purchaser isn’t in place by October 1, the money was to be transferred to the fund used to reimburse hospitals for their COVID-19 related expenses.
Reeves asked on Facebook when explaining his line-item veto “They earmarked $2 million from the CARES Act for a business deal with a Tate County hospital that has been closed since 2018 — how does that have anything to do with COVID-19? They’ve been closed for two years!”
State Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told the Northside Sun Tuesday that the hospital is working with a skeleton crew under a court-ordered receivership and not seeing patients.
Lamar said the money would be given to the Tate County Board of Supervisors to assist with the transition to a new owner, of which there are several potential buyers. He said the goal was to get the healthcare in the county up and running again after poor management of the hospital by absentee owners with no ties to the community.
Reeves also vetoed a good chunk of the education appropriation bill after the Legislature sliced $26 million from a program designed to reward teachers with raises at highly-rated schools. Lawmakers will either have to override his veto or rewrite the bill.
"I want to be clear: The legislature did not cut this teacher pay program by $26 million to save money," Reeves said on Facebook. "They moved it into a different fund that gives administrators control over it. That fund increased by $40 million. The philosophy is: It should be redistributed throughout so that everybody gets a small piece, rather than rewarding success.
"I suspect most legislators didn’t realize that they were voting to cut teacher pay, and they will fix it."
Two bills dealing with criminal justice were also vetoed. Senate Bill 2123 would’ve allowed criminals who were sentenced to life imprisonment and who could’ve received the death penalty to receive parole. This bill also would’ve eliminated provisions that keep drug traffickers, habitual offenders and violent criminals behind bars even when they turn age 60. Other convicts can receive early release once they reach that age.
HB 658 would’ve allowed criminals to get three separate felonies erased from their records. Under present law, one felony can be excised after a few years.