Lawmakers plan to remove Mississippi state flag on Sunday

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A protester waves the current Mississippi state flag as he sits in front of the Capitol on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Editor’s note: This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day Sunday.

The House and Senate will begin working on Sunday to remove the Mississippi state flag, which has flown since 1894 and is the last in the nation containing the Confederate battle emblem.

The House of Representatives voted 91-23 to remove the flag. It now moves to the Senate for consideration. Legislative leaders hope the bill will be passed in both chambers by the end of business on Sunday.

Gov. Tate Reeves, who has been careful not to take a hard position on changing the state flag, said he would sign any bill lawmakers send his way.

The bill, authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, stipulates that the current flag would be immediately removed and a nine-person commission would be created to redesign the state flag. The commission would recommend a new design by Sept. 14, and voters would approve or reject that design on Nov. 3.

The design “would not include the Confederate battle flag but shall include the words ‘In God We Trust’.” Should voters reject that design, the commission would present a new option during the 2021 legislative session, according to the resolution.

Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn would appoint three people each to the commission. The governor’s three appointees must be a representative from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. There are no specific commission appointment requirements for the lieutenant governor or speaker.

The exact details of the bill are subject to change during the legislative process on Sunday. At any point, the bill could be amended to change the process of replacing the flag or even forcing a vote on whether to keep the current flag.

But based on Saturday’s vote on the rules suspension resolution, it appears House and Senate leaders have the votes to ensure the demise of the current flag that has been flying since 1894.

The vote on the controversial issue at this late date in the session is notable. Garnering a two-thirds vote to suspend rules for any reason is difficult, but particularly on the long-contentious state flag issue.

For years, supporters of changing the flag have not been able to garner the simple majority needed to change the controversial banner through the normal legislative process. But the violent death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests that reached Mississippi and shined new light on the state flag that many view as racist.

And in recent weeks, immense pressure mounted from religious, business, civic, university, sports and other leaders to remove the Confederate emblem from the flag. A growing list of businesses, cities, counties and other groups have either stopped flying the flag or asked leaders to change it. Religious leaders have spoken out, saying changing the flag is a “moral issue.”  The NCAA, SEC, and Conference USA this month took action to ban post-season play in the state until the flag is changed.