House Constitution Chairman Fred Shanks said, based on conversations he has had with Senate leaders, that he anticipates the Senate passing a bill to revive Mississippi’s initiative process that allows voters to bypass the Legislature and place issues on the ballot.
Because he believes the Senate leaders will advance the initiative legislation, Shanks, R-Brandon, said he does not plan to take up a House proposal before Tuesday’s deadline. Last year, a bill died when House and Senate leaders couldn’t agree on details. Tuesday is the deadline to pass general bills and constitutional resolutions out of committee in the chamber where they originated.
It will take a constitutional resolution to amend the state Constitution to revive the initiative process. Constitutional resolutions require a two-thirds vote of both chambers to pass the Legislature. Then the resolution must be approved by voters.
After discussions with Senate leaders, Shanks said he believes the Senate will pass a resolution out of committee before Tuesday. When that resolution passes the Senate, it will come to the House to be taken up.
“We’re optimistic we can get something done this year,” Shanks said.
While Shanks might be confident that a resolution to revive the initiative process will come out of Senate committee by Tuesday’s deadline, Senate Committee Chair John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, has not publicly made that commitment. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has referred the resolutions to revive the initiative process to the Accountability, Efficiency Transparency Committee chaired by Polk instead of the Constitution Committee chaired by Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg.
Polk has repeatedly said several proposals have been filed by senators to revive the initiative process and that he will make a decision on what to do with those resolutions before Tuesday’s deadline. He did say recently he anticipates his committee meeting twice on Tuesday.
The initiative process was struck down in 2021 at the same time the medical marijuana initiative that was approved by voters in November 2020 was ruled invalid by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled the process unconstitutional because the signatures were required to be collected equally from five congressional districts that existed in 1990 even though the state lost a congressional seat after the 2000 census,
The Mississippi Supreme Court action marked the first time in the modern era that the judiciary in any state had struck down an entire initiative process, according to Caroline Avakian, director of strategic communications for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a national, pro-initiative nonprofit.
While the only time in the modern era, the state Supreme Court landmark decision is not the only time a ballot initiative process has been ruled invalid by the judiciary. In the 1920s the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a previous initiative process approved by state voters. After that 1920s ruling, it was not restored until the early 1990s.
In the 2022 session, the House and Senate could not agree on the number of signatures of registered voters that should be required to place an issue on the ballot. The House wanted the number of signatures to be the same as it was in the proposal that was struck down by the Supreme Court – 12% of the total from the last gubernatorial election or about 100,000 signatures. Polk and Hosemann wanted to more than double the signatures required.