The Mississippi legislature is suspending operations for a couple weeks or possibly longer in reaction to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

Mississippi is just the latest state to pause legislative work. Accord to a Pew tweet this morning, 11 other states had put the brakes on their session. Those numbers have only increased in the past eight or 10 hours. 

House Concurrent Resolution 65 would extend the session to June 9 and adjust the deadlines for legislation. Previously, the session was supposed to end, known as sine die (which means with no appointed date for resumption), on May 3. Under the resolution, the legislature could reconvene on or before April 1. The resolution passed 82-38 vote on a mostly party line vote and will be taken up in the Senate tomorrow morning, 

If the legislature hasn’t returned, completed its business, and adjourned sine die by June 9, the final day of the session could be pushed back to July 9, which would be after the start of the fiscal year.

House Democrats tried to add an amendment that would’ve provided paid leave to those with a case of COVID-19 or their employer suspended or discontinued their business, but it was defeated on a party-line vote. State Rep. John Hines (D-Greenville) said on the floor that failure to pass the amendment would be a “Custer moment” for the legislature. 

The House also passed House Bill 1647 that would authorize local and county governments, along with school districts, to grant administrative leave with pay for their employees. State employees are already able to receive pay while on administrative leave.

The only legal requirement that must be fulfilled by the legislature every session is putting together a balanced budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1. The legislature saves the task of putting together the budget (composed of separate appropriation bills for each agency) for the final weeks of the session. None of those bills are in the system since the appropriation and finance deadlines are so much later than those for general bills. 

Having the session end early could lead some to wonder why it meets every year. Several state legislatures, most notably Texas, convene every other year.

If state Rep. Hank Zuber (R-Ocean Springs) has his way, the legislature would convene every year to put together a budget and would handle general bills and constitutional amendments to even years. House Resolution 7 would do that. Zuber’s plan wouldn’t require a two-year budget as Texas and Indiana’s legislatures must pass before sine die.