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Initiative process restoration efforts...

Initiative process restoration efforts die in Mississippi Senate

By: Sarah Ulmer - March 19, 2024

FILE - Mississippi state Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, speaks during a debate at the state Capitol on Feb. 7, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. On Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann named Parker as the new chairman of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, which will give Parker influence over creating a new initiative process for Mississippi. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • The Legislature has made several attempts over the last few years to move legislation that would address the ballot initiative process. However, they have all died.

On Monday, the remaining general bill that addressed restoring the initiative process in Mississippi died on the calendar in the state Senate.

SB 2770 was the Senate’s legislation to reinstate a ballot initiative process.

Mississippi has been without an initiative process since the state Supreme Court decision surrounding Initiative 65 invalidated the process on the basis that the signature threshold in the state’s constitution could not be met. The initiative process required signatures to come from five congressional districts when Mississippi now only has four.

While anything can happen prior to sine-die, State Senator David Parker (R), who authored the bill and Chairs the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency committee, said the ballot initiative is dead for this year.

The Legislature has made several attempts over the last few years to move legislation that would address the ballot initiative process. However, they have all died. The inability to restore the process has been a result of the disagreement in how the process should be structured. This has often centered around the number of signatures necessary to have an initiative placed on the ballot and the threshold of votes needed to consider it approved by voters.

The House and Senate bills this year, like those in prior sessions, made changes to the signature requirements as well as addressed issues initiatives could seek to enact.

Senator Parker said disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on how the process should operate led to an inability to move forward with the bills.  

“I was surprised we had so much push back from Democrats on the floor,” said Senator Parker. “It seems that they feel the provisions as presented in the bill are too strong while Republicans feel that they are not strong enough. This created an impasse.”

Passage of a ballot initiative process requires both a general bill, passed by a majority, and a resolution that requires a two-thirds vote of the chamber to have the measure placed on a ballot to amend the state constitution.

SB 2770 narrowly passed by a vote of 26 to 21 in the Senate last week.

Democrats largely supported the bill, even with disagreement on its parameters. Republican Senators were the no votes.

An amendment was offered on the floor by State Senator Bradford Blackmon (D) to decrease the percentage of the vote required to pass a ballot initiative down to a simple majority. The Senate bill placed that requirement at 60%. Blackmon’s amendment failed.

Senator Parker then offered an amendment to move that threshold up to 67%, which passed the chamber. Parker said the change was an attempt at setting the bar high prior to negotiations on the bill.

State Sen. Bradford Blackmon

“I think it’s disappointing and a little sad that the people of Mississippi still won’t be able to have a citizen led initiative process,” said Senator Blackmon. “I just can’t understand what we are afraid of, letting the citizens decide on things they want on the ballot.”

Blackmon said he believes the original process was already difficult for citizens to get issues on the ballot. He said it takes a lot of organization and money to move those issues to where they are placed before voters.

“I think the people should be able to have whatever they want on the ballot,” said Blackmon.

Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons (D) said it is disheartening that the legislation died.

“We’ve been seeing a death of the ballot initiative since 2021 when the Mississippi Supreme Court declared our process unconstitutional,” said Senator Simmons. “We tried in the regular session of 2022, 2023 and now. It was very disheartening to see it die on the Senate calendar.

State Sen. Derrick Simmons

Senator Simmons said Democrats want to see the ballot initiative rectified back to what was already in the state constitution, with the adjustments made to address the congressional districts. He said his party hopes to see only those adjustments made when restoring the process.

“The ballot initiatives we have seen have restrictions, new language, and new signature requirements. It is the same process but a little more burdensome on Mississippians,” said Simmons.

Senator Parker said the vote on the general bill made it apparent to him that the required two-thirds vote needed for the accompanying resolution was unlikely to be reached in order to pass in the Senate. In his opinion, the resolution would be more difficult to pass as it outlined the actual change to the state constitution and included the number of votes required to certify a ballot initiative.

Senator Parker said the only bill that remains now is the House concurrent resolution. He does not plan to bring that legislation out of committee in the Senate, meaning it will not move forward.

Regarding public concern over restoration of the ballot initiative process, Senator Parker said he has not received many requests from constituents concerned about the issue.

“I’ve received roughly 1,000 emails and texts among other things over the weekend and I did not get a single text or call concerning a ballot initiative, other than those questions asked by reporters,” said Parker.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: