House leaders passed legislation Tuesday that would restore a ballot initiative process, which allows citizens to bypass the Legislature and place issues on the ballot.
The constitutional resolution passed 92-26 (needing 78 to pass), and now goes to the Senate. Once the resolution passes both chambers in the same form, it will go to voters to ratify in the November 2022 general election.
The effort is needed because the Mississippi Supreme Court in May 2021 struck down the initiative process that had been in effect since the early 1990s.
The proposal passed Tuesday is different than the one that existed before May 2021. This proposal would allow voters to place issues on the ballot to change or amend general law. The initiative adopted in the early 1990s and that was struck down by the Supreme Court last year allowed voters to amend the state Constitution.
Under the new proposal, the Legislature would not be able change general law for two years after voters approved it unless for an emergency, and even then it would take a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber to do so.
House Constitution Chair Fred Shanks and various other legislative leaders said they would prefer the process be used to amend general law because it is more difficult to change the Constitution. Changing the Constitution requires the approval of voters.
House members voting against the resolution Tuesday were primarily Democrats who support the initiative process, but opposed for various reasons the form of initiative offered by the House leadership.
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, offered an amendment that would give voters the right to appeal to the Supreme Court to try to block any change to the initiative in the first two years. The amendment failed, but Shanks said he might work with Johnson to add later in the process some form of an appeal of changes in the first two years.
The reason the legislation is being taken up because in a controversial May 2021 ruling, the state Supreme Court ruled the process invalid because language in the Constitution mandated the required number of signatures be gathered equally from five congressional districts. The state has only four congressional districts, losing one as a result of the 2000 Census.
The proposal that passed the House this week would require a pro rata share of signatures be gathered from whatever number of congressional districts the state has.