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Gunn, SOS support potential special session to amend Mississippi initiative process

Mississippi Capitol Building

Friday’s ruling from the Supreme Court not only nullifies the medical marijuana program adopted by Mississippi voters, it also seemingly leaves Mississippians without a mechanism to place a measure on the ballot by way of a citizen-led initiative. 

The Legislature can act to fix the technicality exposed by the lawsuit initially filed by Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler mandating that a certain number signatures must come from each of the five congressional districts as they existed in the year 2000. The question now becomes, when will lawmakers reconvene to discuss that possibility?

With talk of a special session swirling around the capital city, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn issued a statement in support of a sense of urgency. 

“We 100% believe in the right of the people to use the initiative process to express their views on public policy. If the legislature does not act on an issue that the people of Mississippi want, then the people need a mechanism to change the law. I support the Governor calling us into a special session to protect this important right of the people,” Gunn said in a statement.

Only Governor Tate Reeves holds the authority to call lawmakers back to the capitol ahead of the 2022 session set for January. If he does so, a change to the initiative process would require a 2/3 vote in each chamber to place the measure on the ballot for Mississippi voters to approve. 

So far, Reeves’ only public reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling came by way of his press secretary, Bailey Martin. 

“Like most Mississippians, Governor Reeves is interested and intrigued by the Supreme Court’s decision on the recent ballot initiative. He and his team are currently digesting the Court’s 58 page opinion and will make further comment once that analysis is complete,” Martin said. 

Left in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision are five active ballot initiatives including Medicaid expansion, recreational marijuana, term limits, early voting and a measure aimed at allowing Mississippians to vote between the former and current state flags.

Secretary of State Michale Watson, whose office is tasked with certifying ballot initiatives, similarly called for the governor to bring lawmakers back to the capital and offered the following advice on how to amend the code section in question—Sect. 273(3)

“By changing the words “one-fifth (1/5)” to, “its pro-rata share,” Mississippi’s will regain the ability to change our constitution no matter the number of congressional districts we have,” Watson explained.

During his stint as a state senator, Watson offered this amendment back in 2015. 

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