Lawmakers disappointed; expect challenge to order

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 1, 2004

Lincoln County lawmakers expressed disappointment following aWednesday special session in which the House and Senate failed toagree on legislation to reauthorize the Department of HumanServices.

“It’s not a good situation,” said Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. JimBarnett.

A court order issued late Wednesday allowed Gov. Haley Barbourto issue an executive order for DHS to remain open. Dist. 39 Sen.Cindy Hyde-Smith expected “business as usual.”

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“The governor’s in charge, and he’s going to run it by executiveover,” Hyde-Smith said.

However, the senator acknowledged the possibility of a legalchallenge to the governor’s authority. She indicated running theDHS by executive order was preferable to allowing the agency toshut down and impact approximately 650,000 people who receive itsservices.

“Instead of letting them close the doors, I’m definitely willingto take that risk,” Hyde-Smith said.

Dist. 53 Rep. Bobby Moak said an appeal of a ruling giving thegovernor authority to dissolve an earlier special session is stillpending. He added the Attorney General’s office could have furthercourt filings related to the latest impasse.

“You now move into a legal realm, to some degree, on theseissues,” Moak said.

Moak mentioned issues such as the governor’s authority to run anagency that has not been reauthorized by the legislature and hisauthority to delay until Sept. 15 the removal of 65,000 Medicaidrecipients from the rolls. Those recipients had been scheduled tobe shifted to Medicare coverage Thursday.

Moak said there could be some resolution on the issues in abouta week.

“That doesn’t take away from the fact we have 65,000 people whohave to deal with the problems they face,” Moak said.

In postponing the transition, Barbour said that would allow timeto provide more information to affected recipients about theservices they can expect under Medicare. Hyde-Smith said shereceived assurances from the governor Wednesday that a specialsession would be called for Medicaid if those actions are not doneby Sept. 15.

“We’ll see,” Hyde-Smith said.

Reinstatement of the Medicaid recipients was at the heart ofWednesday’s special session dispute. The Senate passed a bill onlyto reauthorize DHS while the House’s bill also included Medicaidrecipients.

“The House lived up to what it said it’d do,” Moak said.

Members of both chambers left without agreeing on a bill to sendto the governor. Barnett said he was proud of his vote to putrecipients back on the Medicaid rolls.

“We had to put Medicaid in there,” Barnett said. “I’mdisappointed with the Senate for leaving the way they did.”

Hyde-Smith said she had lobbied to have Medicaid included in thespecial session agenda. She said she was disappointed that Barbourdid not.

The senator also acknowledged Barbour’s threat to vetolegislation that included Medicaid. She said the legislature wouldhave had to remain in session 10 days, costing about $40,000 a day,for an opportunity to override that action had it happened.

Referring to House action, Hyde-Smith said it is a “two-edgedsword” when holding DHS “hostage” for Medicaid.

“Basically, that’s what was happening,” Hyde-Smith said.

Hyde-Smith said there would have been serious implications ofDHS closing its doors. Of the 650,000 DHS service recipients, shesaid there are 40 children in DHS custody, many mothers depend onfood stamps issued by DHS, and the agency must also investigateclaims of child abuse.

“I’m very aware of the serious duties that agency is responsiblefor,” said Hyde-Smith, chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee thatdeals with DHS legislation. “That last thing we need is to have twostate agencies with citizens losing benefits.”

While the governor could run the agency by executive order untilthen, Hyde-Smith said the legislature could vote to reauthorize DHSduring its regular session in January. She was also hopeful for achance to address the lingering Medicaid issues.

“No one is more upset about the elderly and disabled losingMedicaid benefits than I am,” Hyde-Smith said.