"I support the governor calling us into a special session to protect this important right of the people," Speaker Philip Gunn said of the ballot initiative process.

House Speaker Philip Gunn says he supports Gov. Tate Reeves calling a special session to allow legislators to reinstate the state’s initiative process after the Mississippi Supreme Court struck it down in a landmark 6-3 decision last week.

“We 100% believe in the right of the people to use the initiative process to express their views on public policy,” Gunn said in a statement. “If the legislature does not act on an issue that the people of Mississippi want, then the people need a mechanism to change the law. I support the governor calling us into a special session to protect this important right of the people.”

Gunn did not comment on whether he believes medical marijuana also should be taken up in a special session if Reeves calls one. The Supreme Court struck down an initiative where voters approved medical marijuana in the same opinion where it voided the whole initiative process.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, has been unavailable to comment on questions from Mississippi Today about whether he wanted the governor to call a special session.

But Secretary of State Michael Watson, who oversees state elections and the initiative process, said via social media he also supports the governor calling a special session.

“I strongly encourage Gov. Reeves to call a special session to address this issue,” Watson said, adding that the issue of medical marijuana also should be taken up during a special session. Watson also said the Legislature should take steps to ensure initiatives approved earlier by voters are not rendered void by the Supreme Court decision released Friday afternoon.

Earlier Monday, Mississippi Today reported discussions between the governor’s office and legislative leaders about a special in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision that voided both the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November and the initiative process itself.

While Hosemann has been unavailable for comment, Senate President Pro Tem Dean Kirby said, “I would not be opposed to a special session” to take up the issue of medical marijuana. He pointed out the Senate passed a bill earlier this year in the 2021 session that would have put in place a medical marijuana program if the Supreme Court struck down the medical marijuana initiative. The House did not take up the Senate proposal, opting to wait for the Supreme Court ruling.

Kirby said he had not studied the issue of whether there should be an effort in special session to take up fixing the entire initiative process.

Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, the House minority leader, who was critical of last week’s Supreme Court ruling, also said he would favor a special session to take up both medical marijuana and a fix for the overall initiative process.

The Supreme Court ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the city of Madison and its mayor, Mary Hawkins Butler. The lawsuit alleged the initiative process should be voided because the Constitution requires the signatures to be gathered equally from five congressional districts as they were configured in 1990. In 2000, the state lost a U.S. House seat based on U.S. Census data, rendering it impossible to gather the signatures as mandated in the Constitution, the lawsuit argued.

The state’s highest court agreed.

Reeves’ office has not responded to questions from Mississippi Today. But Bailey Martin, a spokesperson for Reeves, told the Daily Journal in Tupelo, “Like most Mississippians, Gov. Reeves is interested and intrigued by the Supreme Court’s decision on the recent ballot initiative. He and his team are currently digesting the Court’s 58 page opinion and will make further comment once that analysis is complete.”

Without a special session, the earliest that the Legislature could approve a medical marijuana program would be in January when the 2022 session begins. And it would take even longer to reinstate the initiative process since it would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature and then approval by voters presumably during the November 2022 general election.

During a special session, legislators could have an opportunity to create a medical marijuana program and perhaps to fix the language in the state’s initiative process that resulted in last week’s Supreme Court ruling.


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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.

Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.