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Report To The People

Report To The People
By Representative Tommy Reynolds

I believe that Mississippians should have the ultimate right to make decisions as to what their laws should be through a free and fair process. The citizens of the State of Mississippi should have the right to initiate laws or legislation, if they feel it is necessary. Thus, access to a citizens’ initiative process should be readily available, implementable, and non-controversial. This has not been the case in our state.

In 1992 I voted for and strongly supported an amendment to Mississippi’s Constitution of 1890 to reserve the right to the people to make changes to that constitution. Some 31 years ago, Mississippians overwhelmingly ratified that proposed change to our state Constitution.
The process applied only to constitutional changes and not statutes because it was extremely hard to get the two-thirds vote necessary in the House for passage of the constitutional amendment creating the initiative process. The Legislature is in the statute business already.

So, we believed giving the people the right to initiate was the most expedient way to accomplish changes to the Constitution.

Since then, two amendments to the Constitution were proposed by this initiative process and approved by the voters. One of these two successful initiatives included a provision protecting property owners from unnecessary condemnation of their property by the State.

Now, we are without an initiative process. Again.

The first time a voter-approved initiative process in Mississippi was struck down by the Supreme Court was in the 1920s. Some 100 years later, we find ourselves in the same situation after a 2021 decision by a divided court rendered our process “unconstitutional.” It had been challenged on the idea that the required number of signatures should be apportioned according to the current Congressional districts, rather than the Congressional districts in place when the measure became law.

With all due respect to the Court, I agree with the dissenters. Our own Northern District Supreme Court Justice Bobby Chamberlain, stated in his dissent:

“The majority’s interpretation is like a well-manicured lawn whose caretaker focuses on one isolated blade of grass—here, the term “congressional district”—while ignoring the weed that is context. Interpretation should involve a joint effort between reading the actual words and the context in which they are found. The majority’s reading thrusts a constitutional provision into chronic limbo, creating a transient or temporary constitutional right. To be blunt, it effectively slams the lid on the initiative process. This surely cannot be the intent of the Legislature and the people. As a court, we should nip this interpretation in the bud.” (Footnote 8)

The House will likely be voting on SCR 533 next week, which could at least give Mississippians the right to propose general legislation and to enact it by their votes if it is not approved by the Legislature following a valid petition signed by 12 percent of Mississippi’s qualified voters. This is a high bar, and greatly surpasses most states that have the initiative process such as Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, and many others.

That is why I support potential amendments to the proposal to restore the same percentage as was required by the former constitutional amendment which granted signature gatherers 12 percent of the qualified voters who actually voted in the previous general election.

At the end of the day, I believe that a government which is after all supposed to be “…a government of the people, by the people and for the people…” is best insured and protected where the right to initiate legislation rests with the people.

If I can be of help to you, please call on me. My home mailing address is 1720 North Main Street, Water Valley, MS. 38965 and my office mailing address is P.O. Drawer 280, Charleston, MS 38921. My email address is tureynolds2

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