/Work to revive voter initiative ongoing as session nears close

Work to revive voter initiative ongoing as session nears close

As legislators try to close the session this weekend or next week, the main focus has been on the development of a state budget as well as spending the $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 aid funds. However, negotiators stated that they are still working to fix and restore the initiative process that was invalidated by the Mississippi Supreme Court in May. The Senate’s lead negotiator, Senator John Polk (R-Hattiesburg), said that a deal is still possible. However, it seems that the sides are far away from reaching an agreement. The main disagreement between Polk and Rep. Fred Shanks (R-Brandon), the House lead negotiator, is the number of signatures required to place an issue onto the ballot. The House believes that signatures should equal 12% of those who voted in the last gubernatorial elections. The Senate would like the required number of signatures to place an issue on a ballot equal to 12% of registered voters (not voting on the day of last presidential election). Under the House proposal, the required number of signatures from registered voters would be approximately 100,000. However, the Senate proposal would require about 240,000. Shanks stated that he didn’t think a grassroots organization could get such a large number of signatures. Polk stated that he supports the large number of signatures, as it “makes sure Mississippians (at ballot box) care more about the issue being discussed.” A previous initiative process in the state required signatures equal to 12 percent of voters who voted in the previous gubernatorial elections. The proposal was rejected by the Supreme Court because it required that the required number of signatures be collected equally from all five congressional districts, as they existed in 1990. In 2000, the state lost one congressional seat. The Legislature is currently considering new language that would require signatures from all congressional districts. Both sides agree that voters should be able to vote on issues to amend or change general law. In the 1990s, a ballot initiative was adopted that allowed voters to amend the state Constitution. However, it was rejected by the Supreme Court last summer. Because it is harder to amend the state Constitution, legislators said they prefer that the process be used for general law amendments. The Constitution must be approved by voters before it can be changed. Any agreement would likely also prohibit legislators from changing any initiative that has been approved by voters for at least two years, unless they receive a two-thirds vote from both chambers. A compromise might also include language that requires initiative sponsors to explain how they will pay for any state-funded proposal. At the same time, the Supreme Court ruled null the medical marijuana initiative approved by voters in November 2020. Philip Gunn, the House Speaker, asked Gov. Tate Reeves asked for a special session to restore the initiative process. Reeves did not. Reeves did not. Voters must approve any proposal that is passed by the Legislature in order to restore the initiative.