Skip to content
Legislature should stop scheming to...

Legislature should stop scheming to thwart partial vetoes

By: Bill Crawford - April 29, 2023

The appropriate way for the Legislature to deal with vetoes is already in the state constitution. Section 72 provides that the Legislature can override any veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses.

Section 73 of Mississippi’s constitution gives the Governor power to veto parts of appropriations bills – “The Governor may veto parts of any appropriation bill, and approve parts of the same, and the portions approved shall be law.”

The Legislature over the years has worked to thwart the Governor’s partial veto power. When carefully crafted language in appropriation bills could not be parsed into distinct sections, the state Supreme Court would overrule partial vetoes.

That changed somewhat in 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gov. Tate Reeves’ partial vetoes of specific line items in H.B. 1782. In that bill, the Legislature appropriated COVID related funds to four state agencies. However, within the appropriations to each agency, the Legislature detailed line item amounts for specific purposes, e.g., $4,000 for each licensed assisted living facility up to a total of $452,000.

The court ruled “The monies were appropriated to multiple, distinct, and separate entities, thus they were multiple separate appropriations” and subject to partial vetoes.

So, the Legislature came up with a new scheme in 2022. Rather than begin H.B. 1353 as “An Act Making an Appropriation,” its authors wrote “An Act to Direct the State Treasurer to Transfer Funds” and treated it as a general bill. But much like H.B. 1782 in 2020, H.B. 1353 in 2022 provided line item amounts for specific purposes.

Gov. Tate Reeves issued partial vetoes for 10 line items totaling almost $14 million. Interestingly, the Legislature neither challenged these vetoes in court nor moved to override them.

In 2023, the Legislature used the same approach in two “transfer” bills passed through the Appropriations Committees. Gov. Reeves has issued 15 partial vetoes totaling $23.1 million in both bills, H.B. 1089 and H.B. 603.  

In 2020, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White challenged the Governor’s vetoes in court. In 2023, will Gunn and White, now the outgoing Speaker and likely incoming Speaker, go to court again?

If so, there could be an interesting twist to one of the bills. Gov. Reeves in his veto message warned legislators that a court fight over H.B. 603 would place in jeopardy the remaining $699 million allocated to numerous projects across the state. Arguing that the court would clearly deem the bill an omnibus appropriations bill, he cited a provision in the constitution that appropriations bills may not be passed in the last five days of a legislative session. H.B. 603 was passed four days prior to adjournment.

Whether you agree with what Gov. Reeves vetoes or not, he has the constitutional power to issue partial vetoes.

At some point either the Supreme Court or the Legislature should put a halt to legislative scheming to thwart partial vetoes. The appropriate way for the Legislature to deal with vetoes is already in the state constitution. Section 72 provides that the Legislature can override any veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses.

“Professing to be wise, they became fools” – Romans 1:22.

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Bill Crawford

Canton native Bill Crawford enjoyed a unique and diverse career before his retirement in 2021 - editor and publisher of three weekly newspapers, EVP and CFO of Great Southern National Bank, VP for Community and Workforce Development at Meridian Community College, and founder and president of The Montgomery Institute. His government service included serving as one of the early Republican State Representatives, on the IHL Board (Fordice), as Deputy Director of MDA (Barbour), on the PERS Study Commission (Barbour), and on the Task Force on Contracting and Procurement for MDOC (Bryant). A graduate of Millsaps College with an MS from Mississippi State University, he has written a syndicated column since 2009. He and his wife Lynn live in Jackson.