The House maintained its position prohibiting abortion-related initiatives.
The Mississippi House amended a Senate resolution on Wednesday that would restore the ballot initiative process in Mississippi. The amended language reduced the number of signatures required to have the initiative placed on a statewide ballot from roughly 240,000 to 107,000 spread evenly across the state’s congressional districts.
Language that would restrict abortion-related initiatives, a position taken by House Republicans, was maintained in the amended legislation passed on Wednesday. Mississippi does not allow abortion in the state except for in the case of a formal charge of rape or for medical emergencies to protect the life of the mother following the Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.
The legislation also prevents any initiatives that pertain to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), local laws, or the appropriating of state monies.
One of the biggest changes between the previous initiative process and what is being proposed is the inability for ballot initiatives to change or amend the state constitution. The proposal only allows for a statutory change. The resolution would also allow an approved ballot initiative to come back to the Legislature immediately for potential changes by a vote of the body.
State Representative Nick Bain (R) presented the bill on the floor. He said the Senate is likely not to concur but instead invite conference to negotiate the final details.
“I do believe this is a better option than what we did have because it is statutory and it gives us the ability to change things,” said Bain, adding that he does not believe the initiative process should be easy.
State Representative Robert Johnson (D), the House Minority Leader, offered an amendment that would have followed the letter of the law within Section 273 of the State Constitution on statutory ballot initiatives without any input or changes from the Legislature. The amendment failed.
“You’re not voting for an initiative process that voters want. You are voting for one that a handful of Senators and Representatives want,” said Johnson. “This bill doesn’t give you a real initiative process.”
House Democrats also voiced their opposition to the abortion-related restrictions added to the measure. That change was made last week in the House Constitution Committee.
Several lawmakers across both sides of the aisle also expressed disagreement in the percentage required to certify an initiative for the ballot in the Senate resolution. Rep. Bain said this was a sticking point in the Senate.
State Representative Joel Bomgar (R) called the requirement of gathering signatures from 12 percent of all qualified electors of the state as of the last presidential election “unachievable.” He went on to offer an amendment to change that provision.
Bomgar’s amendment set the qualifying percentage back to the original language, which is 12 percent of the aggregate votes for Governor in the previous election. The amendment passed with a loud voice vote of support.
The original vote in the House on the initiative came to 78 to 5 with 37 members voting present. The bill was brought back again to reconsider the vote and allow more lawmakers to comment on the language. On the second vote, it passed 75 to 9.
SCR 533 is the only vehicle alive this year that could possibly rectify the initiative process in the state. It is now likely to be left up to House and Senate conferees if it is to see final passage this session.