As the upcoming legislative session quickly approaches, lawmakers will once again look to restore the ballot initiative process in Mississippi.
The process, which previously gave residents the ability to propose laws and constitutional amendments with enough signatures, was stripped by the Mississippi Supreme Court in May 2021 when it ruled that medical marijuana was improperly placed on the ballot during the prior election cycle.
Then, in the most recent session, House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and Representative Fred Shanks, R-Brandon, introduced a bill that would have allowed citizens to propose laws but not alter the State Constitution. While both chambers agreed on the central principle of the legislation, they could not come together on the number of signatures that would be needed to place a measure on the ballot, ultimately allowing the bill to die in conference.
The House, virtually aligning with stipulations that were in place prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, required a petition of at least 12 percent of voters from the most recent gubernatorial election – about 106,000 based on 2019. The Senate, on the other hand, vouched to raise that number to 12 percent of registered voters from the most recent presidential election – about 240,000 based 2020.
When SuperTalk Mississippi News spoke to Shanks after the bill’s death, he argued that the Senate’s proposal would not have provided grassroots campaigns in Mississippi a fair shot at proposing new laws.
“We were both pretty firm on our respective sides,” Shanks said. “It would have been unattainable to have such a big threshold of signatures. If you increased it that much, the only initiative, at that point, would be a large corporation with money to spend.”
However, after a summer’s worth of meetings, Shanks said the Senate is slowly but surely inching closer to the House’s original number.
“I’ve run into the lieutenant governor several times and he’s actually brought it up to me, so I think he’s ready to do something,” Shanks said on a recent episode of MidDays with Gerard Gibert. “I think we’ll be able to get that knocked out.”
Even if lawmakers do pass a bill restoring the state’s ballot initiative process, it will have to be approved by the voters during the 2023 elections, meaning that no initiative measures will be on Mississippi ballots until at least 2024.
The 2023 legislative session begins on January 3.