Law erases potentially costly demand for county supervisors
The Associated Press
May 07, 2019 01:29 PM
A new Mississippi law erases personal debt that some county supervisors were facing for insurance coverage.
House Bill 1249 became law when Gov. Phil Bryant signed it April 18. It allows counties to pay for life insurance and health insurance expenses for dependents of county employees, including retroactive payments.
A previous law said any county employee wanting dependent coverage must submit a written request, and the entire cost of that coverage must be paid by the employee.
Since about 2000, Lincoln County supervisors have used county money for dependents’ coverage, partly as a way to help low-paid government employees, the Daily Leader reported.
State Auditor Shad White in recent months sent a $1.6 million demand to Lincoln County supervisors for repayment. The new law erases the need for that payment.
Lincoln County attorney Bob Allen said the county had been audited 17 times since 2000 — six by the state auditor — and no one had challenged the practice or called it to the county’s attention. White was appointed auditor in 2018.
Republican Rep. Becky Currie of Brookhaven said White found a statute that showed the board to be acting illegally.
“He is good at what he does. He found it and we have fixed it,” Currie told the newspaper. “There was a state law saying they can’t, so we just changed it to say that they may. If they want to continue to do it, they can. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to.”
She was one of the sponsors of the bill that Bryant signed into law
Lincoln County supervisors argued the auditor’s finding against them was improper because none of the supervisors personally benefited, no public money was embezzled and the dependent coverage paid for is similar to a raise or other benefit. Cities are allowed to pay for dependent coverage under existing state law.
“Nothing was ever put in their pocket,” Currie said. “If they had maliciously done anything I would have never been a part of this law.”