Mississippi House passes resolution that would restore a new form of a ballot initiative process

The Mississippi Legislature is considering a proposal that would restore a ballot initiative...
The Mississippi Legislature is considering a proposal that would restore a ballot initiative process.(Source: WDAM)
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 7:21 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -When the legislature doesn’t take action on an issue, the people want to see changes — the initiative process gives them a voice. But there hasn’t been a process since the state Supreme Court struck it down last year.

Now, there’s a proposed constitutional amendment that could wind up on November’s ballot. However, it would change the type of power the voters have.

House Concurrent Resolution 39 seeks to return a voice to the voters but not exactly like it was before the Supreme Court struck down the initiative process.

“You cannot change the constitution through this process,” described Rep. Nick Bain. “You can only amend the statutes.”

There are mixed reactions to that change. Spence Flatgard is the attorney who drafted Initiative 65 and helped that process, thinks it’s a good idea.

“People want to have a direct voice in the government,” noted Flatgard, a partner at Watkins & Eager. “And the Constitution says they have that right. And the legislature wants to make sure they have that right. And so, I think adding a statutory process is great. There are some things that the law needs to be amended over the years. And you can’t do that with a constitution amendment process is very difficult. But if you can amend the statute or general law, all the better.”

Meanwhile, Mississippi Votes thinks the proposal is a step backward.

“Had the simple fix, you know, just to change the language from five congressional districts to four congressional districts, we add more complications with HC 39,” said Velvet Johnson, Mississippi Votes Programs Director. “Because it takes the power away from the people in place in the hands of state legislature.”

There is a backstop in the proposal — an attempted protection of sorts.

“Statutes that are enacted by initiatives cannot be changed by the legislature short of an emergency affecting the public peace, the health, safety or financial solvency to the state as declared by two-thirds of the vote of the legislature,” said Rep. Bain. “If that occurs, the legislature could change it within two years. Otherwise, the legislature has to wait two years before it can change.”

But some members thought there should be changes made.

“If we take it away from them, they have the opportunity to appeal the decision of 2/3 of the legislature to the supreme court, and they have the opportunity to have a public comment,” said Rep. Robert Johnson in the discussion of the fourth amendment he offered.

That amendment failed and the resolution passed by a vote of 91-26.

This will now go to the Senate for consideration. Both the Lt. Governor and Governor have previously said they’re in favor of restoring an initiative process in this way — one that allows laws to be introduced or amended but not the State Constitution.

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