SALTER: Regular session closes with chambers unable to agree on restoration initiative process | Mississippi Politics and Current Affairs

Studio portrait of Sid Salter. (photo by Beth Wynn / © Mississippi State University)

From: Sid Salter

Since 1992 and at earlier times in the state’s history, voters in Mississippi have been able to bypass the Legislature and engage in what has been called “direct democracy” by proposing constitutional amendments and making them decide at the ballot box rather than at the State Capitol. .

But it appears Mississippi lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on new rules to resurrect Mississippi voters’ initiative rights during the final days of the 2022 regular session.

State Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, chairman of the Senate Committee on Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency, and State Rep. Fred Shanks, R-Brandon, chairman of the Constitution Committee of the House, have thus far been unable, as keynote speakers, to get their respective committees and legislative leadership together on the key points needed to restart the state ballot initiative process. .

What opposes the two legislative chambers? This is primarily the signature threshold needed to place a question on the ballot. The House wanted 12% of those who voted in the last statewide election, or about 100,000 signatures. The Senate had 12% of registered voters on the day of the last presidential election in the state, or about 240,000.

Clearly, the Senate’s signature threshold is significantly higher and harder to achieve for those seeking to change state laws.

In the 2020 election, Mississippi voters approved a campaign initiative authorizing a medical marijuana program outlined in Initiative 65 despite objections from majority legislative leaders. Mississippi voters approved Initiative 65 with 73.7 percent of the vote.

But the results of that referendum were overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The state High Court ruled that the 1992 state ballot initiative process was flawed because the legislature had gone several years without addressing the impact of Mississippi’s loss of a congressional district in 2001 on the constitutional provision governing this process.

The court ruled that the state initiative process had been broken and that because Initiative 65 had been implemented through this flawed process and procedures, the medical marijuana initiative could not hold despite overwhelming voter support.

As noted in previous columns on this topic, there has been something of an iron triangle between voters, the Mississippi Legislature, and the state Supreme Court for more than a century on the issue of ballot initiatives. Voters struggled to retain their ability to circumvent the Legislative Assembly by altering state public policy.

Why? Because the Legislature designed the old initiative process in Mississippi to be difficult for those who want to bypass lawmakers and jump into writing or directly changing laws for themselves.

Since 1993, there have been 66 instances where various citizens or groups in Mississippi have attempted to use the state initiative process. Some 52 of these attempts simply expired for lack of certified signatures or other procedural flaws.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the political outcome of Initiative 65, it became clear that many lawmakers were prepared to move the initiative process from voting constitutional changes authorized by the initiative process. of 1991 toward a process that will allow for law changes only.

But even if lawmakers do what is necessary to allow statutory ballot initiatives, state voters will have far less power than before. There is a fundamental difference between being able to change the state constitution and changing a law.

Some 26 states have the right to ballot initiative or referendum processes, excluding most southern states. If Mississippi can regain the right of initiative in the ballot, even for the statutes, it will represent a victory of sorts over most of our neighboring states.

Florida is the only remaining Southern state to have a voter initiative process very similar to what voters in Mississippi had until the Mississippi Supreme Court struck it down.

With the apparent failure of both legislative houses to reach agreement on reviving Mississippi’s campaign initiative process, our state would join Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee as States which have neither the right of electoral initiative nor the referendum. However, voters in Alabama, Georgia must approve constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature.

Neighboring Arkansas voters have initiative and referendum processes that allow them to propose and vote directly on statutes and constitutional amendments.

Comments are closed.