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Legislation to restore the ballot initiative process clears one hurdle in the Senate

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

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)

  • Doubts remain if the Mississippi Senate can reach the two-thirds vote necessary to approve a constitutional amendment, not to mention whether Senators can find agreement with the House.

Efforts to restore the ballot initiative process won a small battle on Thursday but it is a long way from winning the war.

The Mississippi Senate voted 26-21 to pass SB 2770, the statutory implementation of the ballot initiative process.

State Senator David Parker (R), Chairman of the Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee, reiterated his support for ballot initiatives only being allowed for statutory changes, not constitutional changes.

According to the Senate version of the initiative process restoration, Parker said the bill includes the following requirements, among others:

  • An initiative must contain a single subject.
  • The initiative sponsor must be an elector of the state.
  • An identification of the source of revenue for the initiative issue and where the funding would come from, and could not come from the Capital Expense or Rainy Day Fund.
  • A fiscal analysis must be performed on the initiative’s impact by the Legislative Budget Office.
  • Initiatives would have to be filed 90 days before the start of a legislative session.
  • A 50-word fiscal impact note would be included on the ballot.
  • Lawmakers would have the option to pass an initiative petition before it goes onto the next gubernatorial or presidential general election.
  • Only two initiatives would be allowed on a single ballot.

The Senate bill does not allow for a legislative alternative to be placed on the ballot with the proposed initiative as has been done previously.

To be adopted by the public, the Senate bill would have initially required a 60% vote threshold for any ballot initiative to pass. But an amendment by Senator Parker, which was approved by the chamber 28-14, moved that threshold up to 67% during floor debate, making it a two-thirds requirement.

“I think the higher the threshold, the more important the issue is,” Senator Parker said in response to suggestions of lowering the required approval threshold.

Parker said increasing the threshold to 67% sends a signal to the House that the Senate sees this as an important issue.

Senator Parker noted that 24 states do not have a ballot initiative process. Mississippi was among the 26 states that did prior to the state Supreme Court striking down the process over the language referring to collecting signatures from five congressional districts when the Magnolia State now only has four.

However, SB 2770 is not the only bill that must pass for the ballot initiative process to be restored. Senators must also approve of SCR 527, the resolution that would seek to amend the state constitution and place the matter before voters to decide. That legislation will require a two-thirds vote of the chamber, something Senator Parker admits appears unlikely given the narrow vote on Thursday’s legislation.

“The vote on this bill [SB 2770] this morning is a simple majority vote. The vote on the SCR should we bring that up is a two-thirds vote. It will be much harder to achieve that then this today, which is another reason why I wanted to bring this version up,” Senator Parker told the chamber.

SCR 527 would contain the number of signatures required for an initiative to be considered for the ballot. However, that discussion has not been finalized, according to Senator Parker. The Senate has taken the stance in previous sessions that a higher number of signatures should be required than has been proposed by the House.

Also included in the SCR would be any restrictions on issues to be considered on a ballot initiative, such as abortion or impacting the state retirement system.

The Mississippi House passed their own version of bill to restore the ballot initiative process in late January, just as they have done in prior sessions. However, lawmakers in the two chambers have failed to find agreement, mainly centered around the required number of signatures needed for an initiative to be placed on a ballot.

READ MORE: Mississippi House passes resolution to restore ballot initiative

“We have passed a ballot initiative proposal the last two years, both of which have failed on the Senate end. I’m not blaming them or pointing fingers; I’m just saying the House has shown a willingness to try and reinstate the process in some form,” said Speaker Jason White upon the passage of the House bill.

Both chambers will now consider the other’s measures as the bills move across the Capitol.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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