djr-2020-10-28-news-magnolia-flag-arp6

The Magnolia flag waves in the breeze outside the BancorpSouth Headquarters building in downtown Tupelo. Mississippi lawmakers voted Tuesday and Wednesday to cement the voter-approved flag into state code. The bill now awaits Gov. Tate Reeves’ signature or veto.

JACKSON • Mississippi’s new magnolia-themed flag design is a step away from state law.

The state Senate easily passed House Bill 1 on Wednesday following an overwhelming state House vote a day earlier to cement the voter-approved flag into state code. The bill now heads to Gov. Tate Reeves for his signature or veto.

Among seven Republican senators voting against the bill Wednesday were Northeast Mississippi’s Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, and Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp. On Tuesday just one House member voted against the bill: Steve Horne, R-Meridian.

“This is a momentous occasion,” said Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, as he presented the legislation to his colleagues Wednesday. “All voters of Mississippi, from north to south, east to west – 80 of 82 counties – adopted this as the state flag.”

Wiggins recalled the “tough” legislative vote in June that set the stage for the November statewide referendum, noting lawmakers removing the old Confederate-themed flag, adopted by racist lawmakers in 1894, was “the right thing to do.”

Lawmakers only voted to remove the old flag – and set the process for choosing a new one – after escalating pressure from a series of business, athletic and religious groups.

“The mood is a little bit lighter today, the air’s not hanging quite as thick and heavy as it was back in June when I was before you with this same legislation,” Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, R-West, told his fellow members on Tuesday.

More than 71% of voters approved the new flag design in November. It prominently features the magnolia blossom, representing state hospitality, hope and rebirth. Twenty stars represent when Mississippi joined the Union. And a gold five-point star is a nod to the state’s indigenous tribes.

The flag has already popped up in front yards and at businesses around the state – and as masks worn by lawmakers at the Capitol. The final flag votes were the first items on lawmakers’ agenda as they convened Tuesday for the 2021 session.

The House passed a second bill 117-3 Tuesday that appropriates an extra $10,000 to the Department of Finance and Administration to purchase the new flags for state buildings. That bill still awaits consideration in the Senate, which next plans to gavel in Thursday morning.

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