Attorney General Jim Hood said Monday he is “confident” the Legislature would pass budgets to fund his office and the state’s transportation system before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
The 2017 session of the Mississippi Legislature ended last week without budget bills to fund Hood’s office, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the state Aid Road Program, which provides state funds to help with the upkeep of major county thoroughfares and bridges.
The Legislature and Gov. Phil Bryant have conceded a special session is needed to deal with the budget bills.
The transportation budgets were killed because House members said they wanted to try to force the Senate to consider some of their proposals to provide additional funds to help with what most agree is an underfunded infrastructure system in the state.
The budget for the office of Attorney General died on a key deadline day when House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, agreed with a point of order raised by Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, the House Democratic leader, that there was language improperly inserted into the appropriations bill for Hood’s office. The state Constitution prevents placing general bill language, forcing an agency to perform a task, in an appropriations bill.
The language would have mandated the office of Attorney General to inform the legislative leadership within 15 days of receiving a lawsuit settlement check.
Hood said Monday the language is not needed.
“I rushed up the last one (settlement check) to try to get them some money” as legislators were working to put together the budget last week, Hood said. He said he always informs legislators of lawsuit settlements, although there might be a delay in getting a check deposited in the general fund.
There has been criticism by some members of the Republican legislative leadership of Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat, for contracting with outside attorneys to pursue lawsuits primarily against large corporations.
But Hood has maintained his staff is not large enough to handle much of the complex legislation, such as recouping funds from drug companies accused of overcharging the state Medicaid program. The private attorneys are not paid unless the state prevails in the lawsuits
There were unsuccessful efforts during the 2017 session to try to limit Hood’s ability to file such lawsuits, although in recent years the Legislature has depended on settlement funds from the office of the Attorney General to plug budget holes.
Hood deposited $134 million in lawsuit settlement funds in the state general fund during the past calendar year.
“They don’t pay that amount of money unless they are doing something wrong,” Hood said during a ceremony to honor crime victims and their advocates.
He added, “I am going to keep doing my job, and they (legislators) can keep on doing the games they do over there.”
Hood also confirmed that his office is looking into published reports that Carolyn Bryant has revealed the testimony she gave about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, an an African American teenager from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi, was not accurate.
She reportedly said her account in court of how Till approached her in a Money grocery store, grabbed her and asked for a date was not correct. The brutal murder of the teenager is credited with being a key spark in the Civil Rights movement.
The two men accused of the murder, Carolyn Bryant’s then husband, Ray Bryant, and J.W Milan, who both have since died, were found not guilty of the crime.
African American congressmen, including Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, have asked the U.S. attorney general to re-open the case.
Hood said his office has looked into the issue but could not comment.