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Stories about Mississippi

Doty resigns from Mississippi State Senate, special election set for replacement

Mississippi Sen. Sally Doty (R) resigned from the state legislature after Gov. Tate Reeves (R) appointed her to the executive director position of the Mississippi Public Utilities Staff on July 15. The agency advises the three-member Mississippi Public Service Commission, which regulates telecommunications, electric, gas, water and sewer utilities in the state. Doty had represented District 39 since 2012.
Doty announced her resignation in a Facebook post following the appointment, writing, “Today Governor Reeves appointed me as Executive director of the Public Utilities Staff that oversees the interests of utility rate payers and public utilities. I will resign from my seat in the Senate, and the Governor will set a special election. I’ve been honored to represent the people of SW Mississippi for the past 9 years.”
Vacancies in the Mississippi state legislature are filled by special election. Gov. Reeves set the special election for Senate District 39 to take place on September 22. There is one other vacancy in the chamber, which occurred when former Sen. Gary Jackson resigned from the District 15 seat on June 30. The governor has not yet set a date for the special election to fill that seat.
Two state legislative special elections have been scheduled in Mississippi so far this year. One, for House District 88, took place on June 23. The other, which will fill the seat representing House District 87, is scheduled for November 3.
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Mississippi Supreme Court reaffirms end of state-level Chevron deference; Georgia legislation to end deference to state tax agency fails to pass

The Mississippi Supreme Court on May 28 unanimously held in a tax and gambling case that a state tax statute requiring judicial deference to a state agency’s interpretation of an unclear law—a doctrine known as Chevron deference at the federal level—was unconstitutional because it prohibited the court from exercising its constitutional duty to interpret the law.

The court reaffirmed its 2018 ruling in King v. Mississippi Military Department, which ended the state-level Chevron deference doctrine on the grounds that the practice violated the separation of powers prescribed by the state constitution. The King decision instituted a new standard of de novo review.

The court further clarified in the tax case that the King decision applied to any state statute requiring the Chevron deference doctrine.

In Georgia, legislation that would have ended judicial deference to the state Department of Revenue’s interpretations of constitutional provisions, state statutes, and agency regulations failed to pass the state Senate in the final days of the legislative session. The state House of Representatives approved the bill by a 158-8 vote on February 18.

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Read more about the Georgia legislation in the March 2020 edition of Checks and Balances


Mississippi Rep. Dortch resigns, takes job with ACLU

Former state legislator Jarvis Dortch (D) resigned from the Mississippi House of Representatives on July 2. That same day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi posted a press release announcing that Dortch would start as executive director of the chapter on July 13.
Dortch posted his resignation letter on Twitter, in which he told House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) that he regretted leaving “the women and men of House District 66 unrepresented for the next few months,” but that he was “excited for the next chapter in [his] career.”
Dortch was first elected to the Mississippi House in 2015. He ran for and won re-election unopposed in 2019. His resignation leaves the third vacancy in the chamber.  Vacancies in the Mississippi state legislature are filled by special election.


Mississippi to vote on changing gubernatorial and state office election procedures

The Mississippi Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2020 ballot that would change election requirements for candidates for governor and statewide elected office.

Currently, in Mississippi, a candidate for Governor or elected statewide offices (Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Commissioner of Agriculture, and Commissioner of Insurance) must win the popular vote and the highest number of votes in a majority of the state’s 122 House districts (the electoral vote).

If no candidate secures majorities of both the popular and the electoral vote, under Article V, Section 141, the Mississippi House of Representatives considers the two highest vote-getters and chooses the winner. The election system was adopted in the state constitution of 1890.

The constitutional amendment would remove the electoral vote requirement and the House of Representatives’ role in choosing a winner. The amendment would provide that if a candidate for Governor of Mississippi or statewide elected office does not receive a majority vote of the people, the candidates will proceed to a runoff election.

The details of the runoff election would be provided through state law. A runoff election is a second election conducted to determine which of the top vote-getters in the first election will be elected to office. Runoffs occur in states that require candidates to receive a majority (as opposed to a plurality) of the vote to win an election.

A majority voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received more than half (50%+1) of the votes cast. A plurality voting system is an electoral system in which the winner of an election is the candidate that received the highest number of votes. The candidate does not need to win a majority of votes to be elected.

The amendment was introduced as House Concurrent Resolution 47 by Rep. Jim Beckett (R) on February 17, 2020. The House adopted the measure in a vote of 109-6 on June 28, and the Senate adopted the measure in a vote of 49-2 on June 29, 2020.

The Mississippi House of Representatives has decided a gubernatorial election one time. In 1999, Ronnie Musgrove (D) received a plurality of the vote, 8,300 more votes than the next highest vote-getter, Mike Parker (R) in a contest with four candidates. Musgrove received 49.6% of the vote and Parker received 48.5% of the vote. Musgrove and Parker each won 61 of the state’s 122 House districts. Since neither candidate won a majority (over 50%) of the vote and a majority of the state’s House districts, the Democratic-controlled Mississippi House of Representatives decided the election. The House chose Musgrove on January 4, 2000, in a vote of 86-36 along party lines.

The National Redistricting Foundation, the 501(c)(3) arm of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, supports the constitutional amendment. The foundation said the amendment would “remove a racially discriminatory law designed to restrict the voting rights of African Americans. Due to pressure from a National Redistricting Foundation lawsuit filed last year, the state is finally casting out a post-Reconstruction era electoral scheme designed to maintain white control of the state government and prevent African-American voters in Mississippi from having a real voice in their representation.”

Four African-American citizens filed a federal lawsuit (McLemore v. Hosemann) backed by the National Redistricting Foundation on May 30, 2019, alleging that the electoral vote requirement was racially discriminatory and violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the electoral vote requirement for the 2019 gubernatorial election.

On November 1, 2019, the court acknowledged that the electoral vote requirement was likely unconstitutional, but noted that “courts have allowed elections to proceed under unconstitutional rules where it is simply too late to make a change” and denied to grant a preliminary injunction. On December 13, 2019, the court stayed litigation surrounding the election requirements to give the state legislature a chance to remove the constitutional provisions during the 2020 legislative session and said that “if the amendment process falls short, then there would be ample time to resume this litigation and resolve the matter before the 2023 election cycle.”



Four state legislators resign at the end of June

Four state legislators in three states stepped down from their positions on June 30, bringing the number of state legislative vacancies that have occurred this year to 75.

The former legislators had a cumulative total of more than sixty years of legislative experience among them. Gary Jackson (R) had served in the Mississippi State Senate since 2004. Gary Chism (R), another Mississippi legislator, first began serving in the state’s House of Representatives in 2000. Jerry W. Tillman (R), who left the North Carolina State Senate, was first elected to the chamber in 2002. Chris Richey (D) first joined the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2013.

The process by which state legislative vacancies are filled varies by state. In both chambers of the Mississippi state legislature and in the Arkansas House of Representatives, the governor must call a special election to fill the vacant seat. In the North Carolina Senate, the governor is responsible for appointing a replacement senator.

As of July 2020, 48 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for this year in 25 states. The elections will decide 17 previously Democratic and 31 previously Republican seats. The partisan composition of state legislatures nationwide as of July 1 is 46.8% Democratic and 52.2% Republican, which has remained consistent since April of this year.

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Californians to decide ballot measure on allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries and special elections

On June 26, the California State Legislature placed on the ballot a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election to vote in primary elections and special elections. The constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot for November 3, 2020, or March 8, 2022, depending on the outcome of Senate Bill 300.

The California State Senate voted 31 to 7 to pass the amendment—Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4—on June 25, 2020. Senate Democrats, along with two Senate Republicans, voted for the amendment. Seven Senate Republicans opposed the amendment. The California State Assembly voted 56 to 13 to pass ACA 4 on June 26, 2020. Fifty-five Assembly Democrats, along with one Assembly Republican, supported the amendment. Twelve Assembly Republicans, along with one Assembly Democrat, voted against the amendment. As a constitutional amendment, the governor’s signature is not required for the issue to appear on the ballot.

California would be the 19th state to expand voting in primaries to 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the next general election. Ohio was the first state to enact 17-year-old voting for primaries. Colorado was the most recent state, adopting the policy in 2019.

Since the constitutional amendment was passed on June 26, it missed the deadline of June 25, 2020, for the legislature to place measures on the November ballot. However, the legislature is considering Senate Bill 300 (SB 300), which would extend the deadline to July 1 for the constitutional amendment and several others. SB 300 will need to pass both legislative chambers and be signed by the governor.

Due to negotiations to withdraw a ballot initiative and SB 300, the constitutional amendment could be one of 12 or 13 measures on California’s November ballot this year.

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Mississippi Legislature passed bill providing for vote on new state flag design on November 3

Mississippi voters are expected to vote on a new state flag design at the general election on November 3, 2020.

On June 27, 2020, the state legislature passed House Concurrent Resolution 79, which suspended the legislative deadlines for introducing bills so that a bill could be introduced to establish a commission to design a new state flag. House Bill 1796 was then introduced and passed by the state legislature on June 28, 2020, in a vote of 92-23 in the House and 37-14 in the Senate.

In the House, all 46 Democratic representatives voted in favor of the bill. The vote among House Republicans was split with 45 voting in favor, 23 voting against, and five absent or not voting. Independent Representative Angela Cockerham voted in favor. There were two vacancies in the House at the time of the vote.

In the Senate, all 16 Democratic senators voted in favor of the bill. The vote among Senate Republicans was split with 22 voting in favor, 16 voting against, and one absent or not voting.

The bill requires the governor’s signature. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) is expected to sign it. Reeves said, “The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”

The bill establishes the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag, which must design a new state flag and report the recommended design to the Governor and to the state legislature by September 14, 2020. The new flag design may not include the Confederate Battle Flag and must include the words “In God We Trust.” The bill provides that “the new design for the Mississippi State Flag shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.”

The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag was designed to consist of nine members. The Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor would each appoint three members. The other three members would be representatives from the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, to be appointed by Gov. Tate Reeves. All appointments to the commission would need to be made by July 15, 2020.

Voters would be shown a colored picture of the new proposed state flag and would vote either yes to adopt the new flag or no to oppose adopting the new state flag. If the new proposed flag is rejected by voters, the commission would reconvene, design another flag, and allow voters to approve or reject it at a special election in November 2021.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White (R) said that the Confederate flag had come to be viewed as a hate symbol “whether we like it or not” and that “by changing our flag, we don’t abandon our founding principles. We embrace them more fully by doing what is right. We’re not moving further away from our Founding Fathers’ visions. We’re moving closer to them. We’re not destroying our heritage; we’re fulfilling it.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) argued in the state legislature to keep the current state flag. McDaniel said, “I can see where any symbol can be subject to misinterpretation …I’m going to come down on the side of history and tradition.”

Voters in Mississippi decided a state flag referendum in April 2001. The referendum was referred to the ballot by the legislature. The measure presented voters with two potential state flags. Voters approved Proposition A, which reaffirmed the use of the flag adopted in 1894 containing the Confederate Battle Flag.

The 2001 flag referendum came about after a lawsuit brought by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) alleging that the use of the Confederate flag in the state flag violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the state flag’s inclusion of the Confederate Battle Flag did not violate any constitutionally protected rights. The court had also found that the state flag requirements were not codified in state law and thus that Mississippi did not have an official state flag. The 2001 flag referendum was held to formally adopt a state flag and officially codify it in law.

Five citizen initiatives related to the Mississippi state flag—one which sought to change the flag and four which sought to keep or more formally recognize it—were proposed in 2018 and 2019. None of those measures made it to the ballot.

Mississippi became the only state with a flag containing the Confederate flag after Georgia removed it from their state flag in 2001. The Georgia state flag had contained the Confederate flag since 1956.



Four Mississippi Supreme Court seats up for election in November

Four Mississippi Supreme Court justices are facing non-partisan elections on November 3, 2020. Incumbent Justice T. Kenneth Griffis is opposed by Mississippi Court of Appeals Justice Latrice Westbrooks. Incumbent Justice Josiah Coleman is opposed by Third Chancery District Justice Percy L. Lynchard. Leslie King and Mike Randolph are both running unopposed.

Currently, five judges on the court were appointed by a Republican governor and four judges were initially selected in a nonpartisan election.

The nine justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court are each elected to eight-year terms in nonpartisan general elections. There are no primary elections for judicial candidates in Mississippi. Justices must face re-election if they wish to serve again.

The governor names a temporary judge whenever a midterm vacancy occurs on the court. If four or fewer years of the term remain, the appointed justice serves out the remainder of the term. If more than four years are remaining, the appointee will run in the next general election, taking place nine months or more after the vacancy occurs, and then serve the remainder of the term.

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Mississippi to allow restaurants, bars, and outdoor recreational facilities to reopen May 7

On May 4, 2020, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) announced that restaurants, bars, and outdoor recreational facilities in the state would be permitted to reopen effective May 7.
Restaurants and bars must close no later than 10:00 p.m. and must adhere to social distancing and other guidelines.
Outdoor recreational facilities can operate from 9:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m., also subject to social distancing guidelines.
Reeves commenced the state’s reopening plan on April 24, when he eased some restrictions imposed on businesses as a result of the state’s original stay-at-home order. That order, which was implemented on April 3, expired on April 27.
Mississippi is one of 27 states progressing through a reopening plan. Of those 27 states, 17 have Republican governors. The remaining eight have Democratic governors.


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