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Hospitals, Schools, Ballot Initiative Among Issues Lawmakers Plan to Tackle

Drives are getting longer for many sick Mississippians who need emergency care as hospitals close. School teachers in parts of the state continue to struggle to teach students without enough supplies and funding. And voters continue wondering when lawmakers will restore their right to put issues on the ballot.

As state lawmakers close out the first month of the 2024 legislative session, here’s a rundown of some of the issues legislators, state leaders and advocates want to address.

Ballot Initiatives

The ballot initiative allowed Mississippians to put issues they care about on the ballot. The 1992 constitutional amendment that created the system required a person or organization to gather over 106,190 signatures throughout the five congressional districts, with only up to 20% of the requisite signatures coming from any one district.

But after the 2000 census, the state lost one congressional district. For almost two decades after, secretaries of state, including current Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson, interpreted the law as still valid so long as petitioners collected signatures from each of the former five congressional districts as the lines existed before 2000 redistricting.

But the Mississippi Supreme Court did not address the matter until 2021 after the City of Madison, Miss., filed against Initiative 65—a ballot initiative voters overwhelmingly adopted in 2020 to legalize medical marijuana. The Court ruled 6-3 that Initiative 65 was invalid while nullifying the ballot initiative system in the absence of a fifth district.

Rep. Otis Anthony and Ballot Access Mississippi are working to restore the ballot initiative in Mississippi this legislative session. Photo courtesy Mississippi Legislature

“By that little small technicality of the fifth congressional seat, the voters have been stripped of their right to be able to have their voice heard,” Rep. Otis Anthony told the Mississippi Free Press on Jan. 5.

Legislators have brought up restoring the ballot initiative in the past two legislative sessions, but the movement was unsuccessful. Anthony said Ballot Access Mississippi, a nonpartisan organization advocating to restore the ballot initiative, is determined to pass the measure this session.

“I think we’ve got a bipartisan group now that

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