Dome of the State Capitol in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Legislation to restore Mississippi’s initiative process survived a key committee deadline Tuesday and will be taken up by the full Senate in the coming days.

On Tuesday, the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee passed House Resolution 39, which would place a proposal to restore the initiative process on the November ballot after it was ruled invalid in May 2021 in a controversial ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The initiative process allows citizens to gather signatures to bypass the Legislature and place issues on the ballot for voters to decide.

The proposal passed out of committee Tuesday includes language that will force the resolution restoring the initiative to go to conference at the end of the legislative session to hammer out a compromise between House and Senate leaders.

Accountability Committee Chair John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, had refused throughout the session to say whether he would take up legislation to restore the initiative process. But on Tuesday he said after studying the bill and talking with leaders who had passed the proposal earlier this session out of the House, he supported passing it out of committee.

“I think they (House leaders) have a good bill that we will be able to build on together and that is what we are doing,” Polk said.

Tuesday was the deadline to pass out of committee general bills and constitutional resolutions that originated in the other chamber.

The issue is before the Legislature this session because the state Supreme Court struck down the initiative process when it ruled that the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November 2020 was invalid. The Court ruled the process invalid because language in the Constitution mandated the required number of signatures to place an issue on the ballot 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 and is pending before the Senate would require a pro rata share of signatures be gathered from whatever number of congressional districts the state has.

The proposal also 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 allowed voters to amend the state Constitution.

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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.