Special Session Set For Wednesday

Lawmakers will be in special session Wednesday to address the issue of extending the existence of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday the special session should be brief, since DHS was the only issue he was giving the Legislature.

Only the governor sets the agenda for a special session. During Monday's news conference,

Barbour announced he was extending until Sept. 15 a plan to cut 65,000 people from the state Medicare program. He said the delay would allow time for an aggressive campaign to inform the recipients and to make sure they are enrolled in the federal Medicare program.

"It is limited to extending or reauthorizing the Department of Human Services,'' Barbour said of the special session.

The governor said he expects the Legislature to approve a one-year extension of the agency that oversees food stamps, child support collection and welfare benefits and investigates suspected child abuse and neglect.

During the regular session that ended in early May and a special session that ended earlier this month, the House and Senate couldn't agree on plans to keep DHS alive.

Attorney General Jim Hood had said in a nonbinding opinion that the governor would not be able to run DHS on his own by executive order.

Barbour said DHS serves "650,000 beneficiaries who rely on it for services that are essential to them.''

"The 3,400 employees of DHS must be allowed to serve the neediest and most vulnerable members of our society,'' he said.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said Barbour "has the right to his call and his opinion. I think the Legislature will judiciously consider what he asked for.''

"The Legislature will work its will and lets just leave it at that,'' he said.

Senate Public Health Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo said lawmakers needed to "pass the DHA reauthorization in a clean bill. The agency is too important to allow it to go away.''

In the last special session, the House voted to restore the 65,000 Mississippians to the state Medicaid program by attaching the provision to the DHS authorization bill.

"The governor has outlined a plan to take care of Medicaid, so there is no need to combine the two issues,'' Nunnelee said.

Nunnelee said he hoped the House would not inject Medicaid into the special session.

"That's a decision the House will have to make,'' he said. "I would hope that they would not want to jeopardize foster care, child support and food stamps to 650,000 Mississippians.''

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)