Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman, waves a Mississippi state flag and white flag during House debate on Wednesday. Credit: Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Rep. William Shirley spent most of Wednesday standing and pacing near his desk.

Shirley, a Quitman Republican, had asked Speaker Philip Gunn for a point of personal privilege, which lawmakers use to speak about issues that are important to them.

In recent weeks, Shirley has made several attempts to require colleges and universities to fly the state flag. All of the state’s public four-year schools have stopped flying the flag because it bears a Confederate emblem that many Mississippians find offensive.

When Shirley finally took to the well, the podium where legislators address the entire House of Representatives, he said nothing.

Instead, he pulled two small flags from his jacket pocket — a Mississippi state flag and a white flag, the traditional symbol for surrender. He waved the flags and walked away from the podium.

Before the session began, lawmakers offered 22 bills about the flag, including to abandon it. None survived the legislative process. In the past 10 days, as lawmakers have considered funding proposals for colleges and universities, Shirley has repeatedly attempted to amend legislation to require any state-funded institution of higher learning receiving taxpayer money to display the state flag.

These proposals have gone through several rounds of procedural back and forth. Most recently, Shirley also unsuccessfully attempted to include a flag mandate on the appropriations bill for the Institutions of Higher Learning.

Only one remains, a bill allowing the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State University to build tax exempt dorms. That legislation was held on a procedural motion, but supporters of the bill have indicated that it’s unlikely to survive if the flag provision remains.

Meanwhile, the Senate delayed action for about 30 minutes Wednesday morning as leaders watched House action on the college-funding bill. The House voted to remove the procedural hold and send that legislation to the Senate.

Because legislators in both houses are trying to take Friday off, delayed or no House action on that bill on Wednesday would have forced the Senate to act on the bill. Had that Senate action been taken Thursday, senators would likely have had to return to the Capitol on Friday.

When Shirley indicated he would yield his efforts on the bill on Wednesday, the Senate adjourned after the recess.

It’s unclear whether Shirley’s action Wednesday means he plans to jettison all future attempts to attach flag requirements to college-funding bills. When approached by reporters, he declined to comment.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.