In the state’s bicentennial year, and a few months after two flag initiatives failed to receive enough signatures to make a statewide ballot, lawmakers have filed 22 bills offering to change, keep or let voters decide on the current state flag.
Twelve bills, all drafted by black Democrats, propose a new state flag.
Seven bills, all drafted by white Republicans, would support the current state flag and impose statutory punishments for governmental entities refusing to fly it.
Two lawmakers – Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, and Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson – filed bills that would leave the issues to Mississippi voters on a statewide ballot (one in November 2017 and the other in November 2018).
And for the second straight year, House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, proposed adopting a second official state flag that does not contain the controversial Confederate battle emblem. Under his bill, governmental entities could decide which flag to fly.
“I would provide a mechanism by which we wouldn’t abolish the old flag at all,” Snowden said Monday. “We would create a new flag of equal status and dignity that could be flown in place of the old one, alongside the current one or not flown at all. The primary benefit would be that it allows us to move forward without overturning the will of the people.”
All flag bills this session will move to Senate and House Rules committees, where they face next week’s Tuesday deadline to be voted to the chamber floors. Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton and Senate Rules chairman, said Tuesday that the bills are “under consideration and we’ll figure it out before next week.” House Rules Chairman Rep. Jason White, R-West, was not available for comment.
In 2001, Mississippi voters decided overwhelmingly to keep flying the current state flag. Since then, no substantial executive or legislative action has been taken. Since 2000, five flag-related initiatives failed to garner enough signatures to make a statewide ballot. Initiative 55, which expired Oct. 15, 2016, would have stripped the Confederate emblem from the state flag. Initiative 58, which expired Nov. 5, 2016, would have cemented the adoption of the current state flag in the Mississippi Constitution.
Mississippi is the lone state that has not removed the Confederate battle flag emblem from its official state flag, and legislative leaders are split on the issue. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said earlier this month that he believes the people of Mississippi should vote on changing the flag.
House Speaker Philip Gunn has vocally opposed the current state flag, citing a portion of the population that feels excluded by the rebel emblem it contains.
“My position on the flag has not changed,” Gunn told Mississippi Today earlier this month. “I still believe the flag needs to be changed. I think we can find something that represents all of Mississippi, so we’re going to continue those discussions to see what we can come up with.”
Last session, 19 flag-related bills died before making it to either the House or Senate floors for a vote. Social pressures have mounted since the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C. States including South Carolina and Alabama have distanced themselves from the Confederate battle symbol.
Some Mississippi lawmakers have suggested the state’s bicentennial year — and two years out from the next election year — might be a good time to consider a potential change.
Gov. Phil Bryant, an ardent supporter of the current state flag, often points to the 2001 vote when discussing the merits of changing the flag. Opponents of the flag say a 16-year-old vote should not dictate today’s policy.
The Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, led the 2001 charge to change the flag. Late last year, the council unveiled a bicentennial banner to honor the state’s upcoming 200th birthday. Many, including council president Blake Wilson, say the banner could spark a new conversation about the state flag.
“You’ve got a brand that disenfranchises 37 percent of your population (who are African Americans), so why would you use that brand?” Wilson said. “It’s not a brand that brings people together.”
“We’re not pushing or suggesting this is an alternative flag,” Wilson said. “But what we’re saying is this might be a way to celebrate one banner. Where it goes after that, what discussion that helps stimulate, what that helps gravitate to, we’ll just have to see what people have to say.”
Here’s a list of all 2017 flag-related bills:
HB 1267 by Rep. Dana Criswell, R-Olive Branch – Require state universities to fly the state flag when in session
HB 1285 by Rep. Timmy Ladner, R-Poplarville – Require governmental entities that receive state funding to fly state flag; violation would result in withheld state funding
HB 1286 by Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman – Require state flag to be flown at all public universities; violation would result in withheld state funding
HB 1287 by Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman – Require state agencies, local governments and public universities to fly state flag; violation would result in withheld state funding
HB 1299 by Rep. Larry Byrd, R-Petal – Require every public school district to fly state flag and lead students in Pledge of Allegiance, require public universities to fly state flag; violation would result in withheld Mississippi Adequate Education Program/state funding
SB 2057 by Sen. Joseph Seymour, R-Ocean Springs – Require governmental entities to fly state flag; violation would result in withheld state funding
SB 2592 by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville – All “public buildings” flying U.S. flag must fly state flag, and agency or department heads in violation would be stripped of salary by state or municipality. The bill allows for any citizen to take leaders of these governmental entities to court if law is violated.
HB 1270 by Rep. David Myers, D-McComb – Change state flag to Bonnie Blue design
HB 1271 by Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez – Change state flag to Magnolia Flag design
HB 1272 by Rep. Earle Banks, D-Jackson – Change state flag to Magnolia Flag design
HB 1276 by Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville – Create study commission to redesign state flag
HB 1278 by Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg – Change state flag to variation of Magnolia Flag design
HB 1279 by Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens – Create study commission to redesign state flag
HB 1280 by Rep. Willie Perkins, D-Greenwood – Change state flag to Mississippi star design
HB 1281 by Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport – Change state flag to Magnolia Flag design
HB 1282 by Rep. Orlando Paden, D-Clarksdale – Create study commission made up of representatives from each public university to redesign state flag
HB 1284 by Rep. Kathy Sykes, D-Jackson – Change state flag to Mississippi star design
SB 2081 by Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville – Change state flag to Magnolia Flag design
SB 2522 by Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson – Create study commission to redesign state flag
HB 1275 by Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian – Add Magnolia Flag as second official state flag, giving Mississippians the choice of official state symbols to fly
HB 1277 by Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville – Place removal of Confederate Battle Flag emblem on statewide ballot on Nov. 6, 2018
SB 2737 by Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson – Place removal of Confederate Battle Flag emblem on statewide ballot on Nov. 7, 2017