Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee Chairman John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, glances up at a completed committee report that he is proof reading in the Supreme Court Chamber at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Monday, March 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis - Copyright 2021. The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
State Senator Polk did not indicate whether the resolution would be brought up prior to Thursday’s deadline. At issue remains the required number of signatures.
Just one day prior to a concur or invite conference deadline, the Mississippi Senate passed over SCR 533, leaving it idle on the calendar. This resolution is the only vehicle alive that could restore a ballot initiative process to voters in the Magnolia State.
The resolution originated in the Senate where it would only allow the initiative process to make statutory changes, increase the required percentage of signatures per congressional district (raising it to roughly 240,000), and prevent any changes to local or special laws. The bill removed the previously allowed constitutional provision, which was the focal point of the court case that eventually overturned the process related to Initiative 65 in 2019.
Senator John Polk (R), who voted no on the bill, has handled the legislation in the Senate. On Wednesday, he passed over the resolution sent back from the House. If it is left on the calendar past Thursday, it will die.
Polk told reporters after adjournment that lawmakers are still working on the measure. When asked if he planned to concur or invite conference, Polk said, “I don’t know.”
Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann (R) indicated that he and Senator Polk would be meeting later on Wednesday to discuss the details of the resolution and how to handle it.
“We’ve made good progress on the resolution issue,” said Hosemann.
When pressed on what that meant, Hosemann did not elaborate and said the bill is still alive until tomorrow’s deadline.
Senator Polk did not have any insight on what the Lt. Governor’s comment meant.
“I’m talking to the Lt. Governor about the bill itself, what they [House] sent back over, and how far apart we think we are,” said Polk.
Polk said if the ballot initiative process is restored it must be done meticulously to ensure that other issues, like what was seen with the medical marijuana initiative, are not created.
Initiative 65, the medical marijuana initiative, was placed on the ballot in 2020. After its approval, the way in which it was certified was challenged in the Mississippi Supreme Court by Madison County Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler. At issue were the number of congressional districts and the signature requirement needed from those districts. The initiative would have ultimately placed the medical marijuana program language within the Mississippi Constitution, an action many lawmakers had issue with at the time.
The new process proposed by the Senate would no longer allow for changes to be made in the state constitution. Initiatives would be limited to statutory law.
This change was echoed with the House version and the subsequent amendments to the Senate resolution. However, the Senate’s requested signature threshold was found to be too high for the House’s liking. State Representative Joel Bomgar (R) called the number “unachievable.” He offered an amendment to the resolution on the House floor to put the provision back to the original requirement of 12 percent of the aggregate votes for Governor in the previous election.
Senator Polk said he did not want to go lower than the Senate’s proposed percentage and had a problem with the new House amendment. On the other hand, Polk was not opposed to the House amendment that would prohibit anything related to abortion to be offered as a ballot initiative.
A similar scenario played out in the 2022 legislative session which ultimately saw the ballot initiative process legislation die then as well.