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Plan to revive citizens’ right to put questions to ballot survives key deadline

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

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency adopted House Resolution 39, which would place a proposal to restore the initiative process on the November ballot after it was declared invalid in May 2021 in a controversial Mississippi Supreme Court decision. The initiative process allows citizens to collect signatures to bypass the Legislative Assembly and place questions on the ballot for voters to decide.

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

Accountability Committee Chairman John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, had declined throughout the session to say whether he would pass legislation to restore the initiative process. But on Tuesday, he said that after studying the bill and speaking with leaders who passed the proposal earlier this session out of the House, he supported its passage out of committee.

“I think they (the House leaders) have a good bill that we can build on together and that’s what we’re doing,” Polk said.

Tuesday was the deadline for passing general bills and constitutional resolutions from the other house in committee.

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 the wording of the Constitution required that the required number of signatures to place a question on the ballot be collected 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 that a proportional share of signatures be collected regardless of how many congressional districts the state has.

The proposal would also allow voters to place questions on the ballot to change or amend the general law. The initiative passed in the early 1990s and struck down by the Supreme Court allowed voters to change the state constitution.

— Article credit to Bobby Harrison of mississippi today