Sunday, May 23, 2021

Bill Crawford: Legislators Should Take Smarter Approach to Ballot Initiatives

 Not much excuse for the debacle invalidating the people’s vote on medical marijuana. The governor and legislative leaders have known about the problem with the constitutional amendment initiative for years, but they did nothing. Now, the Mississippi Supreme Court has called their hands and invalidated the initiative process and, as a consequence, the Initiative 65 results.

To recap. Medical Marijuana proponents gathered enough signatures to put Initiative 65 on the ballot. It passed easily. However, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins had challenged the process at the last minute. She argued initiative language based on five congressional districts could not work with the current four congressional districts. The Supreme Court justices agreed, six to three.

“The reduction in Mississippi’s congressional representation renders article 15,

section 273(3), unworkable and inoperable on its face,” wrote Justice Josiah Dennis Coleman in his majority opinion.

Lamentations still reverberate around the state from medical marijuana advocates. They feel, uh, torque wrenched. After all, initiatives establishing voter ID laws (#27) and limiting eminent domain (#31) were approved with only four congressional districts. The Supreme Court did not address those earlier results.

Calls for a special session to address both the initiative process and the medical marijuana program erupted. Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann called for one. However, Gov. Tate Reeves, Reeves, who has sovereign power to call special sessions, appears reluctant.

“We are a long way from being able to make that decision,” Reeves told WAPT News last week.

Well, if and when legislators gather to redo the voter initiative process, hopefully they will not be as shortsighted as the last time. It is foolish to set in constitutional concrete numbers and processes that can change, e.g. the number of congressional districts. Calls to replace “five” with “four” and otherwise stick with current language would make the process useless once again should Mississippi lose another congressional district. That was close to happening this year based on Census numbers.

Smart language could avoid that. For example, instead of saying one-fifth or one-fourth of elector signatures must come from each congressional district, the language could say something like this: the total number of required elector signatures shall be divided by the number of congressional districts existing at the time the petition is initiated to establish the fraction of signatures required from each congressional district.

One other thing. Not all ballot measures should be constitutional initiatives. The medical marijuana initiative is one of those, since it proposed to put administrative processes into the constitution. Quite likely within the next decade, those processes will need to be changed or updated. Many states, including Arkansas, provide for statutory initiatives for such matters.

As they (hopefully) take a smarter approach to constitutional initiatives, our legislators should also consider a smarter approach to initiatives period. Providing for statutory initiatives would best accomplish Speaker Gunn’s belief in “the right of the people to use the initiative process to express their views on public policy.” And it would keep our constitution from becoming as cluttered as the Mississippi Code.

“The Lord preserves those who are true to Him, but the proud He pays back in full.” – Psalm 31.

Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Jackson.


Anonymous said...

Calls to replace “five” with “four” and otherwise stick with current language would make the process useless once again should Mississippi lose another congressional district. That was close to happening this year based on Census numbers.

Nope. Not close. Unforced error Bill.

someone said...

Criminal that this was allowed to happen. So much for democracy in Mississippi. I read the supreme court decision and I may be wrong but I didn't see in 273 where it tied the 1/5 of voters to 5 districts. If I am correct then the supreme court made the wrong decision to invalidate the vote of the people.

Anonymous said...

2:16 you are amazingly correct to be so wrong.

273 does not tie anything to five districts - which was the exact point of the suit filed and agreed to by the Justices.

But what it does say that of the required number of signatures NO MORE THAN 1/5 can be from a congressional districts. That math worked fine when there were five districts, and fir that matter would still be workable if we had six, or more.

But having only four - and there can be no more than 1/ of the required number from each of the four means the total available is 4/5 of the required total.

Thus, it is mathematically impossible to obtain the required number of signatures. (4/5 is less than 5/5 - and without five districts you can't get 5/5)

Understand now why the Justices were right.

Now to the more important parts of Crawfords column - hopefully the legislature will not just 'fix' this screw up but also create a better system for referendum. We don't need administrative operating instructions for a program written into the constitution as Joel tried to do with I65. Maybe a system where an initiative could establish statute rather than amendment would be workable, but having a process where monies interests can purchase personal laws is terrible. People who bitch about lobbyist influence on legislators should be double-downed against this form of creative governing.

Anonymous said...

I read this page for laughs and to remind myself why I moved away. Elected state officials have kept this state at the bottom for 150 years. Nothing has changed.

JT said...

Well the one thing that most people can agree on is the fact this opened one hell of a can of worms. And judging by the attitudes of the legislature and the governor the real turd show has yet to start. Many including myself believe this is mostly self inflicted wounds created by the legislature. Some twenty years ago people who pushed this pitfall had to know it would pop up at the absolute worst time, and here we are.

Sometimes leaders don’t seem to learn not to cut off your nose to spite your face. Mississippi leaders have taken longer than most and even now some believe they can still tell the voters what will and will not happen. Twenty times some sort of cannabis legislation was introduced in the house and none even made it to the floor. Had at least one made it to the finish line people would probably still be obvious to the flaw in the initiative process.

But here we are with battle lines being drawn. I really don’t think the legislature knows just how much they have to lose if they screw this up again. But they’ll find out pretty soon if their cutting off yet another body part to win a battle they’ve already lost.

Anonymous said...

What other laws, regulations etc. are tied to the 5 congressional districts?

Anonymous said...

How about a hell yeah for our consistency 6;43. Credit where credit is due. Look on the bright side.

Anonymous said...

Solution: Vote out ALL incumbents next election.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of very smart people who post here. (I called you "smart", not "Know it all"). My question for you is this.

We had 5 congressional districts back then, with set district lines. If the petition for the amendment change contained the required percentages from the old districts, would it have been legal? I know it depends on what the rules said and how the court would interpret them. I see no problem with taking the question to the Supreme Court to let them decide. Perhaps the initiative folks were legal, just filed their petition wrong, thinking they were operating under the four district rule and not an old five district set of dividing lines.

What do you guys think. Surely there is a lawyer who would file the case. It seems like an easy decision for the court to make.

Actually, if the court sided in favor of compliance with an old five district lines petition, The amendment attempt may actually have passed.

Anonymous said...

ANONYMOUS 3:37pm - You are absolutely correct. The administrative details should NEVER have been placed in the Constitution to begin with. That's the equivalent of putting your SOP Manual into your Business Articles of Incorporation... NOT SMART ... procedures will change and you don't want to be amending the constitution every time a procedure changes.

Anonymous said...

I've not read anywhere, the reasoning behind the three dissenting votes. Unless they simply ignored the statute, how could they dissent?

"...hopefully the legislature will not just 'fix' this screw up but also create a better system for referendum." Ah, what would make you believe this to be an objective of either Hoseman or Gunn? Hoseman is hosing us when he says he favors the I&R process which actually trims his power.

Simple Math said...

"I read the supreme court decision and I may be wrong but I didn't see in 273 where it tied the 1/5 of voters to 5 districts."

2:16 - If you can't understand how one out of five relates to five, I'm not sure what I can say.

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