Othia McMillian fills out her ballot on Oct. 13, 2020, at the Hinds County Courthouse. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Two bills are pending in the Mississippi Legislature that would allow voters to recall their elected officials.

House Bill 370, authored by Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson, would allow the recall of municipal elected officials.

Senate Bill 2299, authored by Jeremy England, a Republican from Vancleave, would allow voters to recall all elected officials, including himself and other legislators.

“I thought it was a fairness issue,” England said, explaining he did not want the law to allow voters to recall municipal and county officials and not state officials.

Through a recall, voters can gather signatures to place a proposal on the ballot to vote an elected official out of office. Normally, the way it works is if a majority votes to recall the official, he or she is removed from office. If a majority opposes the recall, the official remains in office.

England and Yates did not coordinate on their bills.

Yates has taken criticism from some African American members of the House who say her proposal is aimed directly at Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has faced criticism and blame by many for the failures of the Jackson water system that has left residents at times without access to water.

Yates’ bill gives the governor the authority to establish a panel to decide if a recall should occur if 30% of the voters sign a petition in support of a recall. Many of the Black legislators have at times been critical of Lumumba, but they still balked at passing legislation to give Gov. Tate Reeves, who has constantly feuded with the mayor, so much authority over the Jackson mayor.

Rep. Robert Johnson, a Democrat from Natchez, questioned the timing of passing such legislation now that the federal government has provided Jackson more than $600 million to fix its water system that many contend both state and city officials have ignored for years.

Yates told her fellow House members that the bill is not aimed just at Lumumba, but covers all elected municipal officials. Yates, who represents a portion of Jackson, admitted that she filed the legislation after some of her constituents asked about recall possibilities.

In responding to her constituents, Yates said that she discovered existing law already allows for the removal of county officials through the process involving the governor, but the same law did not include municipal officials.

Yates said her bill just ensures that municipal officials have the same accountability as county officials. She added that state elected officials, including legislators and members of the judiciary, already can be removed during the middle of their terms through constitutional provisions.

Members of the executive branch, such as the governor or attorney general, and judges can be removed through a legislative impeachment process. Each chamber of the Legislature can remove one of its members for ethical lapses by a two-thirds vote.

But there is no mechanism in state law that allows Mississippi voters to recall a legislator or other state or judicial officials for ethical lapses or for general incompetence like currently is allowed for county officials.

England said he has filed his bill multiple years. He admits he first filed it because of concerns with municipal officials. But in filing the legislation, he reasoned it should apply to all elected officials and not just local officials.

“I put safeguards in the bill,” he said, explaining that there are time limits on when the recall can occur. For instance, the bill prohibits any recall effort early in an elected official’s term.

In addition, to place an elected official on the ballot for possible recall, 35% of the registered voters must sign a petition. For a legislator it would be 35% of registered voters in a member’s district. It would require 35% of the voters from across Mississippi equally divided among the congressional districts to recall a statewide official.

“I think it (the recall process) is good additional accountability,” said England.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states currently have some type of recall mechanism.

Yates said including her and her legislative colleagues in any recall process would be OK with her.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.

Of course, Yates or any other member of the House could offer an amendment to her bill to include legislators. Or, if the England bill passes the Senate and makes it to the House, Yates could place her support behind that proposal instead of her bill. England’s bill accomplishes her goal of placing accountability on municipal officials.

Of course, it is far from certain that England’s Senate colleagues will pass his bill giving voters the authority to recall them.

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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.