Jackson, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi’s incoming lieutenant governor is setting an ambitious agenda for his first year in office.
Republican Delbert Hosemann will be sworn in Jan. 9, along with most of the other statewide elected officials. That’s two days after the legislative session begins and five days before the current lieutenant governor, Republican Tate Reeves, will be inaugurated as governor.
Hosemann is wrapping up his third term as secretary of state.
He told reporters last week that the morning after the Nov. 5 election, he started working on the transition to becoming lieutenant governor.
“We got instructions from the voters to go to work, and so we did,” Hosemann said.
The governor is the top elected official in the state, but the lieutenant governor has more power. Each of those officials is elected independently of the other; they do not run as a ticket.
The lieutenant governor presides over the 52-member Mississippi Senate, appoints senators to committees and names the committee leaders. The lieutenant governor decides which committees consider which bills, and that alone can determine whether any particular bill will live or die.
While the governor signs budget bills, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker shape the budget-writing process.
The lieutenant governor and the speaker serve on the 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee, alternating years as chairman of the group. The committee does the first round of vetting budget requests from state agencies, and it sets a broad outline of a spending plan for other members of the Legislature to consider. In the final days of budget writing at the end of each session, the lieutenant governor and the speaker also typically wield considerable influence over the final decisions about how money will be spent.
Hosemann said during the campaign this year that he wants the Legislature to give teachers another pay raise and to put more money into prekindergarten programs. In the interview last week, he said he intends to follow through with those things during the 2020 session, though he did not yet have suggested spending levels.
Hosemann also said legislators should consider pay raises for state workers, including people who make close to the $7.25 an hour minimum wage as custodians in mental health hospitals — about $15,000 a year. He also mentioned people who make $26,000 or $27,000 as guards in state prisons.
He said he wants to expand access to health care, although he said he’s not ready to jump into expanding Medicaid. Hosemann said he has been looking at steps taken by some expansion states, including Arkansas, Indiana and Louisiana.
“It’s a billion-dollar issue,” Hosemann said of Medicaid expansion. “A mistake would be catastrophic to Mississippi. We don’t have a chance for a mistake.”
He also said the Legislature will need to look at ways to improve community-based mental health services. After hearing weeks of testimony earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves found in September that Mississippi is violating the both the Americans with Disabilities Act and a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said “unjustified” mental hospital confinement is illegal.
Judge Reeves — no relation to the incoming governor — wrote that testimony showed dozens of examples of people who “were unnecessarily hospitalized or hospitalized too long because they were excluded from community-based services.”
Hosemann said he has met with all of the senators to discuss their specific interests in public policy. He said he intends to name committee members and chairmen on Jan. 10, the first Friday of the four-month session and of the four-year term.
Women comprise 51% of Mississippi’s population and a much smaller percentage of the state Senate. Asked if women will be assigned to committees handling significant responsibilities, Hosemann said, simply: “Yes.”