Greenwood Commonwealth. February 4, 2023.
Editorial: Initiative Bill Needs More Work
A Mississippi Senate committee has passed a bill that would create a ballot initiative to replace the one voided by the state Supreme Court in 2021. What’s interesting, though, is that the existing bill, as presently written, would give the people less power than they used to have to force issues onto the ballot.
According to Mississippi Today, the bill’s language “simply lets voters make suggestions to legislators, who can later choose to alter the wishes of voters.”
Not much people power in that.
As it now stands, the ballot initiative bill would allow the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to amend a citizen-submitted proposal before it went to a referendum.
Questioned about this by two Democrats, Mississippi Today reported that the Republican author of the bill, Sen. Tyler McCaughn, R-Newton, confirmed that lawmakers would indeed be the gatekeeper for initiative proposals. He added that he would be willing to work with other senators as the bill moves forward.
A few things to note here. First, the Supreme Court tossed the initiative process on a technicality because the original law specified that voter signatures had to be gathered from Mississippi’s five congressional districts. The state now has only four. But after the court ruling, top state officials promised they’d revise the initiative law. Voters are still waiting.
Second, while the “legislative gatekeeper” element of the bill approved by the Senate committee is an unusual and frankly odd idea, it really is a non-starter if lawmakers are sincere about writing an honest voter initiative law.
If it is true, for example, that more Mississippians are coming around to the idea of expanding Medicaid, then it would be easy to get two-thirds of the Legislature to “amend” an initiative on this issue — since Republicans currently hold more than two-thirds of the seats in both the House and Senate. Basically, anything the majority doesn’t care for would be dead. Medical marijuana never would have been approved.
Third, any concerns that voters will overwhelm the ballot with citizen initiatives do not match the state’s three decades of experience with the law. Dozens of initiative proposals were introduced over those 30-plus years. But getting signatures from around the entire state is a daunting task. According to Mississippi Today, only seven proposals got the required number of signatures to get on the ballot. That’s an average of just one initiative every four years.
Fourth, it is worth noting that the legislative process sometimes takes unusual turns. The committee’s bill may look totally different by the time the full Senate votes on it. Sometimes committee chairmen put things in a bill to make sure it passes, then remove them later on.
And finally, what’s all the fuss about? Who’s putting up initiative roadblocks? The prime suspect would have to be Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann or one of his Senate lieutenants. In 2022, an initiative bill died because Hosemann and a committee chairman wanted to double the number of voter signatures required. And now, also in the Senate, we get an initiative bill with “legislative gatekeepers.” In all candor, voters deserve better than that.
Tupelo Daily Journal. February 2, 2023.
Editorial: Lawmakers kill 2 critical bills that fought government overreach
Two important bills that would fight against government overreach died early in this legislative session without so much as a vote in committee. One bill would have banned no-knock warrants. The other bill would have ensured that the Legislature’s actions remained open to the people it serves.
Both of these bills enjoy bipartisan support. Laws mirrored by these bills are found in most other states. And neither of the bills are revolutionary. But fear generated by election-year politics killed them both.
House Bill 102 would have banned the use of no-knock search warrants. This issue came to the forefront after a year-long investigation by the Daily Journal and ProPublica highlighted the dangers of the controversial law enforcement tactic and how it has been abused in Mississippi.
No-knock search warrants allow law enforcement agencies to enter a home or business without announcing themselves. They are allowed to break down the door, barge in and catch people by surprise. The main problem with no-knock warrants is that it severely raises the level of danger for both law enforcement and suspects.
Conservatives and liberals alike have agreed that no-knock warrants are far too dangerous and more often than not are not needed. And, as our reporting showed, courts often abandon their oversight role and keep search warrants out of the public eye. This prevents public scrutiny. If the courts won’t uphold their duties, then the Legislature must act.
Senate Bill 2667 specified that the Mississippi Legislature is subject to the state’s open meetings laws. This bill became necessary when the Mississippi Ethics Commission ruled that the House Republican Caucus could meet in secret. The problem is that the House Republican Caucus represents a quorum of the House, which means members can conduct official, binding business behind closed doors.
That a majority of the Senate or House could meet in secret is absolutely preposterous. We believe the Ethics Commission got it wrong, and many others agree. Senate leaders were prepared to correct this mistake and to ensure that the people’s business is conducted in public.
The Senate under Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has been the most open legislative body we have seen in many years, if not ever. Every committee meeting is streamed live online. Hosemann and his committee chairman are accessible and meet regularly with the media. And the Senate Republican Caucus — a supermajority, as in the House — does not try to meet in secret to decide votes ahead of time.
But lawmakers are always fearful of repercussions from what they pass in election years, and so politics trumped public good.
It seems nobody had the stomach to risk alienating any law enforcement by banning no-knock warrants, even though many law enforcement agencies throughout the state rarely use the tactic or have expressed no major opposition to such a ban. And never mind that a ban would protect law enforcement as much as — if not more than — it would anyone else.
And when it comes to codifying that the Legislature is an open body, it can only be assumed that the Senate did not want an intra-party spat during an election year. It doesn’t seem to matter that Speaker Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, is a lame duck official and that the idea of open government is extremely popular with voters.
Thankfully, however, this is an election year. So as you see your lawmakers and state leaders on the campaign trail, ask them why they don’t want to protect you from government overreach — whether that’s by barging into your home (often on flimsy evidence) or deciding policy that governs you behind closed doors.