For the second year, Mississippi lawmakers will not restore a ballot initiative process

Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 7:56 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - You’ll have to keep waiting if you have an issue you want put on the ballot.

That right was stripped away when the state Supreme Court ruled the process was outdated nearly two years ago.

Lawmakers can reinstate it, but Thursday, they’re letting that measure die.

”When the Supreme Court threw this out a couple of years ago, they weren’t saying no more ballot initiative,” noted citizen activist and Initiative 65 organizer Jonathan Brown. “They were saying to the legislature, you must repair the ballot initiative process, because there is a constitutional requirement for it to exist.”

But for the second year in a row, it won’t.

“The support for the ballot initiative, as it was sent back, was not there,” said Sen. John Polk, chairman of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency committee.

“It’s kind of my feeling that we were just so far apart on the number of signatures,” said author of SCR 533 Sen. Tyler McCaughn.

Senator John Polk says that was a sticking point.

“I am firmly convinced that we need a large number of signatures for the people’s will to be known what it is,” noted Polk.

An amendment on the House floor had put the threshold back to where it originally was.

Another issue for Polk? The House removed a restriction that would keep referendums from changing Mississippi’s position as a “right to work” state.

“That was disturbing to me,” added Polk.

But House leaders were surprised because they thought they’d indicated they were willing to negotiate specifics.

“Now we’re not even going to conference and just dying on the calendar is disappointing,” said Rep. Jason White, House Speaker Pro Tempore. “We were hoping to see that move. People have demanded it and asked for and I think on the campaign trail this summer and fall, you’re gonna hear people, constituents voters talking about it.”

“The ballot initiative is an important process that keeps the legislature in check,” explained Jonathan Brown. “They’re proving the point and proving the need for a ballot initiative process right before our very eyes.”

“I don’t know of any other any other mechanism or way for it to be revived this session,” said Speaker Philip Gunn.

Thursday was the deadline for the bill to be kept alive.

Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann released the following statement.

“I have consistently said I am in favor of an initiative process in Mississippi. I trust the voters of the state, both in who they elect to office and on policy matters. A number of Republicans in the Senate have a different opinion on the initiative issue. This is the legislative process and we will continue that process.”

Joint statement from House Minority Leader Robert Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons

“SCR 533 dying in the Senate was about much more than just restoring the ballot initiative. It showed, yet again, just how out of step Republicans are with each other and with the vast majority of Mississippians — including their own voters.

Seventy-nine percent of Mississippians support fully funding education, but this morning the House refused to concur with the Senate’s attempt to fully fund MAEP. While Republican state leaders crow about our nearly $4 billion surplus, we can’t still can’t get them to commit to prioritizing our public schools and our state’s kids. And we know that 73% of their own voters agree with us.

All this after Republican leadership wouldn’t allow so much as a conversation about Medicaid expansion this session, an issue that nearly 80% of Mississippians support.

While we hope this weekend’s conference committee meetings result in the common sense solutions all of our constituents want, let’s just say that we aren’t feeling particularly optimistic. Luckily for all of us, it’s an election year, and we’re happy to take our record on the campaign trail. We’re not so sure our colleagues can say the same.”

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