HED:Senate sustains nursing home veto, keeps campaign reform bill
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Kirk Fordice won a legislative victory Thursday when the Senate overwhelmingly upheld his veto of a bill that would have created 1,500 additional nursing home beds during the next five years.
But the Republican governor also lost one Thursday when his veto of a campaign finance reform bill was overridden by the Senate.
Both bills were overridden by the House on Tuesday, the first day of the 1999 session. Fordice vetoed the bills after the 1998 session ended, giving legislators the opportunity to address the issues early this year.
Nursing home vote
On the nursing home bill vote Thursday, Fordice had allies among senators who often oppose him. Only 16 of the 50 senators present voted against the governor, thus falling far short of the two-thirds majority, or 34 senators, needed to pass the bill over Fordice’s veto.
Although Fordice won on the nursing home bill, his victory could be short-lived. He vetoed the bill because he said the 1,500 additional nursing home beds eligible for Medicaid patients would place too great a strain on the state budget. The state must pay part of the cost of Medicaid-eligible patients housed in nursing homes.
Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Jim Bean, R-Hattiesburg, supported upholding Fordice’s veto and thus killing the bill. But he said there will be a new nursing home bill this year.
“A comprehensive approach is needed that will expand nursing homes but also will greatly expand home and community-based services,” Bean said.
Bean said last session he supported the nursing home bill and helped to steer it to passage on the Senate floor. But he said he discovered during the summer that Mississippi spends more than 99 percent of its total long-term care funds on nursing home care and less than 1 percent on home and community-based services. Other states spend an average of 12 percent on home and community-based services.
Bean said the poor, who depend on Medicaid, need options other than nursing homes as they grow old.
And, he pointed out, providing part-time care at home and at community centers would be much less expensive than nursing home care.
Fordice spokesman Robbie Wilbur expressed optimism that a bill that the governor would support could be passed.
“We have been talking with Sen. Bean throughout the summer and fall,” he said. “I am confident that we can work something out.”
Senators who tried to override the governor’s veto of the nursing home bill said there’s a long waiting list of Medicaid-eligible people needing to get into nursing homes and that the legislation would have helped solve the problem.
Sen. John White, D-Booneville, who made the motion to override the governor, said funds from Attorney General Mike Moore’s settlement of the lawsuit against the tobacco companies could be used to fund the beds.
“I don’t see how we could spend it (tobacco lawsuit settlement money) any better than on the people who have worked all their lives and paid taxes to support Mississippi,” White said.
White and others said the Senate should accept the bill because the House would not agree to an alternative plan. House Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, said he plans to insert the same language that the governor vetoed into any nursing home bill passed by the Senate and sent to the House.
Campaign finance reform
The difference between the House and Senate over long-term care of the elderly could be one of the big fights of the session.
But there will be no fight over campaign finance reform. After the House overrode the governor’s veto Tuesday, the Senate followed suit Thursday with a 35-14 vote (needing 33 for passage).
Many legislators said the governor lobbied them hard to uphold his veto. On Thursday, three of the Senate’s 18 Republicans voted to override the governor while one Democrat voted with the governor.
Secretary of State Eric Clark said passage of the bill would give Mississippi one of the strongest campaign finance laws in the nation.
“I haven’t done the research and analysis of all 50 states, but I think we now have a campaign finance law that significantly improves and enhances existing law,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Bennie Turner, D-West Point. “It makes more information available to the people who want to know it.”
Fordice praised the overall bill, but said he vetoed it because he opposed a provision that prohibits political parties from endorsing or contributing money to judicial candidates.
He called that provision a violation of free speech guarantees of the federal and state constitutions.
Sen. Ron Farris, R-Hattiesburg, countered that the Legislature passed a bill in 1994 making judicial elections nonpartisan and Fordice signed it into law.
But Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said the new bill goes further than existing law.
Nunnelee asked what would prevent a legislative body that infringed on the speech of a political party from trying to go further and curtail the speech of perhaps a church or a newspaper.
“I am afraid it is a serious violation of the Constitution,” he said.
The bill still must be approved by the Justice Department under federal Voting Rights laws before it takes effect. Clark expressed hope that the approval would come in time for it to apply to the 1999 elections.
Votes of Northeast Mississippi senators on the override of Gov. Kirk Fordice’s veto of the campaign finance reform bill.
FOR OVERRIDE: Nickey Browning, D-Ecru; Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Jack Gordon, D-Okolona; Travis Little, D-Corinth; Gray Tollison, D-Oxford; Bennie Turner, D-West Point; John White, D-Booneville.
Against Override: Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs; Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo.
Votes of Northeast Mississippi senators on the failed override of Gov. Kirk Fordice’s veto of nursing home bill.
For override: Gray Tollison, D-Oxford; John White, D-Booneville.
Against override: Nickey Browning, D-Ecru; Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Jack Gordon, D-Okolona; Travis Little, D-Corinth; Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs; Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo; Bennie Turner, D-West Point.