By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Mississippi Ethics Commission may issue an opinion in the coming weeks that could affect the outcome of votes to fund and to re-authorize the Division of Medicaid.
Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Hood confirmed Monday that the commission “may be issuing an opinion in the near future about a legislator voting on Medicaid.”
The commission’s next regularly scheduled meeting is June 14.
The issue is important because legislation to fund and reauthorize the state-federal health care agency for the next fiscal year, starting July 1, was killed in the Mississippi House during the 2013 session.
It is anticipated that Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special session – probably in mid -to- late June – to take up the issue. An Ethics Commission ruling on whether a legislator can vote because of a possible financial conflict could affect the outcome of the special session. Ethics Commission opinions are advisory, but provide legal protection for public officials who follow them.
During the regular session, Democrats blocked Medicaid legislation, saying they wanted to be able to offer an amendment to expand the program to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act. Republican Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, refused to allow the minority Democratic Party to offer that amendment.
Democrats were able to block the legislation because a number of Republicans did not vote due to conflicts of interests.
If a more precise ruling from the Ethics Commission allowed more members to vote, it could impact the legislation in a special session.
The commission has made numerous rulings through the years on Medicaid-related questions.
For instance, in December it reaffirmed that a legislator employed by a Medicaid provider “must recuse himself or herself from any measure which will result in a pecuniary benefit for his or her employer.”
Hood said the opinions “vary depending on a legislator’s situation and the effect of the bill that is being voted on.” For instance, there have been opinions saying a person employed by a government-run hospital can vote on Medicaid issues because shareholders or individuals would not benefit from the hospital treating Medicaid recipients.
The Ethics Commission opinions do not provide the name of the public official who requests the decision.