Mississippi House Passes Constitutional Amendment For New State Initiative Process

Proposed amendment would allow residents to initiate state laws but prohibit initiatives related to abortion.

<p>Mississippi House passes constitutional amendment for new state initiative and referendum process that would prohibit initiatives related to abortion. PHOTO BY GYATARI MALHOTRA/UNSPLASH</p>

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a new state initiative and referendum process. On Jan. 24, the constitutional amendment, House Concurrent Resolution 11, was passed 80-39. Among House Republicans, 78 voted ‘Yes’ and one voted ‘No’. Among House Democrats, 38 voted ‘No’ and one voted ‘Yes’. The one independent representative voted ‘Yes’. If approved by the Senate, the proposal would be placed on the Nov. 2024 ballot for voters to consider.

Mississippi House passes constitutional amendment for new state initiative and referendum process that would prohibit initiatives related to abortion. PHOTO BY GYATARI MALHOTRA/UNSPLASH

Mississippi’s initiative process, which was first created in 1992, was invalidated by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2021. The 1992 constitutional amendment granting the power of citizen initiative in Mississippi required signatures to be collected evenly from five congressional districts. It mandated no more than one-fifth of the required signatures could be collected from any single congressional district. During 2001 redistricting after the 2000 census, however, the number of congressional districts in the state was reduced to four.

On May 14, 2021, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned Initiative 65, a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative. The ruling stated that the initiative petition did not comply with the signature distribution requirements in the Mississippi Constitution and that it is impossible for any petition to meet the requirements and has been impossible since congressional reapportionment in 2001.

Under the legislature’s proposal, residents could repeal legislation via veto referendums and initiate state laws (but could not initiate constitutional amendments) by circulating petitions for up to 12 months and gathering signatures equal to 8% of the total number of qualified electors in the state as of the last gubernatorial election, estimated to be around 152,000 signatures based on having an estimated 1.92 million active voters. Under the previous process, only initiatives amending the state constitution were allowed, and initiatives required signatures equal to 12% of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election and a signature requirement of 106,190 between 2022 and 2024.

Under the new proposed process, initiatives could not address abortion, the Mississippi Public Employees’ Retirement System, local laws, or laws appropriating funds from the State Treasury.

If enough signatures are submitted and the initiative is certified by the Mississippi secretary of state, the proposed law would then be submitted to the Mississippi State Legislature, which could, by a simple majority vote, adopt the proposal or adopt an amended version of the proposal. If the initiative was adopted, amended, or rejected by the state legislature, or if the legislature took no action on the proposal within four months, the initiative (and any alternative proposed by the legislature) would be placed on the next statewide general election ballot. A maximum of three initiatives could be placed on a single ballot. The first three initiatives submitted to the secretary of state with sufficient signatures would qualify for ballot placement. To be approved, an initiative or legislative alternative would need to receive a majority of votes cast on the question and no less than 40% of the total votes cast at the election.

Initiatives and any legislative alternatives would be presented to voters such that the first question is on whether or not either measure should be adopted. If a majority of those voting on the first question are against both proposals, then both measures would fail. If a majority of those voting on the first question is for either proposal, then the measure (the proposed initiative or the legislative alternative) with more than 50% of votes in favor (but no less than 40% of all votes cast at the election) would be approved. A person voting in favor of either measure would also need to vote for one of the measures for the vote to count. A person who votes for neither proposal could vote for one of the two measures, but would not be required to for the vote to count.

While the state had an initiative process, seven initiated constitutional amendments were on the ballot. Voters approved three of the measures, with one being invalidated by the state supreme court. Voters rejected four of the measures.

The following initiatives have appeared on the Mississippi ballot:

*Initiatives to create term limits on the ballot in 1995, and 1999 were rejected by voters;

*A 2011 initiative to define personhood as beginning from the moment of fertilization was rejected by voters;

*Initiatives in 2011 to require voter ID and restrict government acquisition of property through eminent domain were approved;

*An initiative and a competing legislative alternative on the ballot in 2015 were both rejected by voters that would have required the state government to establish, maintain, and support “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools,” enforced by the state’s judicial system;” and

*An initiative and a competing legislative alternative to legalize medical marijuana, which was approved by voters and then invalidated by the state supreme court.

The Senate passed a constitutional amendment to re-establish an initiative process during the 2023 legislative session, which was amended by the House and returned to the Senate where concurrence was not reached and therefore was not referred to voters.

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