Full House Approves Flag Vote

The Mississippi House has decided to let voters approve or reject a new state flag design in an April 17 referendum. The bill breezed Tuesday through the House on a 119-1 vote, setting up an anticipated Senate vote later in the week.

In an election, Mississippians will decide if the Confederate battle emblem remains on the state flag. A gubernatorial commission recommended replacing the battle emblem with a circle of stars. Both options will be on the ballot.

Only Rep. Omeria Scot, D-Laurel, voted against the bill. She said she was opposed to a section that would allow the current flag to be flown at historic events. ``That means that flag will be flown at every parade, every holiday celebration ... I could not vote for that,'' Scott said. ``I couldn't support it. That one part trivializes Jimmy's fight to me.'' She was referring to the late Rep. Jimmy Thornton, D-Greenville, who died in November after a fight with cancer.

Thornton was at the forefront of efforts in the 2000 Legislature to challenge the state flag, requesting that bills be read aloud in the House in the closing days of the session. The reading was to protest the failure of lawmakers to take up a proposal to change the flag. Legislative leaders had predicted easy passage for the bill, which cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. ``We have enough stress and strain on the people of Mississippi as it is,'' said Rep. David Green, D-Gloster, one of 34 blacks in the House. ``This issue with the wrong group of folks for whatever reason could divide Mississippi ... and I think we need to avoid that. Our efforts should be toward coming together.'' ``We gave the people what they wanted. We passed it on to them,'' said Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville. ``I'm going to support them in whatever they do.''

The statewide election would be held April 17 after the bill passes the Senate and review by the Justice Department. Lawmakers said Attorney General Mike Moore would seek speedy approval. Voters would choose between two flag designs _ one, the present banner with the Confederate battle flag in the upper left corner and designated ''1894 state flag design;'' the other, a new design with a circle of 20 stars on a blue field in the upper left hand corner and designated ``proposed new flag design.'' The secretary of state's office would provide each county with a ballot that has a color picture or drawing of each of the flag designs. The state would pay for the ballots.

Many black lawmakers want the current flag changed because they see it as a symbol of slavery and racial oppression. They also would prefer to have the Legislature, not voters, make the change.