TUPELO • With Mississippians now bereft of any way to directly amend their state constitution, momentum is building for a special session of the Legislature to begin the revival of the voter initiative process.
Following a consequential ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court on Friday, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, on Monday called for Gov. Tate Reeves to convene a special legislative session — something only the governor can do.
“We 100% believe in the right of the people to use the initiative and referendum process to express their views on public policy,” Gunn said. “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.”
In a ruling last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court voided the passage of Initiative 65, which legalized medical marijuana, and found that, under current law, there is no valid way to place a voter initiative on the ballot.
Gunn heads the state House of Representatives and would thus play an influential role over the outcome of any special session, but the governor must first call the special session and set the agenda to be considered.
Though he called for a special session intended to address the initiative process, Gunn’s office did not respond on Monday to questions from the Daily Journal about whether he would support also addressing medical marijuana in a special session.
The presiding officer in the state Senate — Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann — has not publicly stated whether or not he supports any kind of a special session in response to last week’s ruling by the state’s high court.
Hosemann’s office did not respond on Monday to questions from the Daily Journal.
The governor’s office also did not respond on Monday to questions from the Daily Journal about whether Reeves may call a special session.
Gunn, Hosemann and Reeves are all Republicans.
However, even as some key figures are staying silent, other elected officials are lending their own support to the growing momentum for legislative action.
Secretary of State Michael Watson — who administers the voter initiative process as chief elections officer — said on Monday that he supports a special session to address a number of issues raised by Friday’s ruling on Initiative 65
Watson, a Republican, said he supports action to restore the voter initiative process and to create a medical marijuana program, something a majority of Mississippians backed in 2020. The first-term secretary of state also said lawmakers should take action to dispel any doubts about the validity of prior citizen-initiated referendums.
Comments on Monday by Gunn and Watson followed that of Northeast Mississippi’s public service commissioner, Brandon Presley.
“With the change of one word in one hour the Legislature could restore the people’s power. Reeves should get that ball rolling today by calling a special session,” Presley said in a statement.
A Democratic utility regulator from Nettleton, Presley cast his support of the initiative process in populist terms.
“You can bet that the lobbyists and fans of partisan gridlock are cheering, tinkling their glasses and grinning like a mule eating briars after the Mississippi Supreme Court gutted the initiative and referendum process on Friday,” Presley said in a statement, a version of which first appeared on Facebook.
Mississippi’s constitution requires that signatures collected in favor of a voter referendum must be spread among five congressional districts. The Magnolia State lost a congressional district after these rules were crafted, and so only has four districts now.
To change these rules, the Legislature would have to place a proposed constitutional amendment of its own on the ballot, allowing voters to approve the constitutional changes needed to pass muster with the state Supreme Court.