Tuesday, May 16, 2017
JACKSON Attorney General Jim Hood asked Gov. Phil Bryant to address his budget bill in the special session, so far scheduled for June 5 with no specifics set, as well as to ask the Legislature to add more funding to pay for the state's mental-health litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Last August, the DOJ sued Mississippi for its over-reliance on institutionalization as a means to care for those with mental illnesses instead of investing in community-based (and evidence-based) services.
In a May 2 letter, Hood writes that he expects the DOJ Olmstead lawsuit to cost the state $1.72 million in fiscal-year 2018 alone.
"We are now expecting a massive request from plaintiffs for electronic document discovery, and it will be necessary for the State to hire a document-handling firm to process the huge volume of documents that must be processed," the May 2 letter says.
"We estimate that this will cost $350,000 in the next fiscal year. We will also need to hire subject-matter experts and pay outside counsel fees in the estimated amount of $1 million and $420,000 respectively, for a total of $1,720,000 above our previous budget requests, to pay for the costs of the Olmstead litigation in fiscal year 2018."
Only the governor can determine what the Legislature will do in a special session. The governor's office did not return messages left by press time.
The Legislature left Jackson without passing three budgets: two Department of Transportation budgets and the attorney general's budget. The MDOT bills died after the House dared the Senate to work with it on a road-funding mechanism, and all three bills died in a Cinderella-style midnight run of the clock. House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, recently renewed his intentions to work on funding the state's infrastructure, asking the governor to include some or all of the House proposals in the special session.
The attorney general's funding bill died because Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, initially raised a point of order objecting to added language that would require Hood's office to deposit lawsuit settlement receipts into the general fund within 15 days of receiving it in order to receive any state money to run the office.
Hood told reporters in April that his office is not delaying sending checks to the general fund, as implied. He said he had rushed lawmakers some of the original funds from the $34.4 million settlement with Moody's Corporation back in January because he knew what the budget situation looked like.
Hood asked the governor to consider his office's appropriation bill in the special session, noting that even the bill that died did not fund the Crime Victim's Compensation or Law Enforcement Officers Disability Programs run through his office. The attorney general said his office needs $3.35 million to run those programs.
"It is extremely important that we continue to meet the financial obligations of those who become victims of violent crime and the first responders who protect our lives and secure our safety," Hood wrote in his May 2 letter.
Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @arielle_amara.