October 26, 2020

Lawmakers delay flag vote as they seek one or two needed votes, vow to work through weekend

Legislative leaders opted on Thursday to delay a vote to change the state flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem, but told lawmakers they would continue working through the weekend, which is longer than initially anticipated.

Early this week, lawmakers indicated they planned to adjourn the regular session on Friday, making the issue of the state flag more urgent. But they now plan to meet longer, most likely through the weekend and into next week.

The delay again leaves no answer to the question on everyone’s mind: “When, if at all, will legislators vote to change the state flag?”

Speaker Philip Gunn in the House and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann in the Senate can bring up a bill to change the state flag at their discretion.

Various sources have confirmed to Mississippi Today that both sides are close to having the necessary votes — within “one or two votes” in both chambers, some said, and others indicated leaders had enough votes in the House — though it’s a fluid situation.

On Thursday afternoon, as Hosemann was walking into Gunn’s office to meet about changing the flag, a reporter asked about an assertion made by Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, that there were at least 20 senators who would definitely not vote to change the flag was correct.

Twenty senators voting against changing the flag would kill the effort.

“Sen. McDaniel has been here longer than I have. He certainly would be a knowledgeable source, but not necessarily accurate,” Hosemann said.

Lawmakers technically have until July 12, according to legislative rules, to take up the issue of the state flag. If they adjourn the session before that, they cannot come back this year for a state flag vote. Additionally, when they adjourn for the year, the only reason they can come back to Jackson — unless called into special session by Gov. Tate Reeves — is to take up COVID-19 issues.

A two-thirds vote of both chambers (82 of 122 House members, 35 of 52 Senate members) is required to suspend the rules to even consider a bill that would change the flag. If the rules are suspended, a simple majority vote of each chamber (62 of 122 House members, 27 of 52 Senate members) is needed to change the flag.

Legislators could come back in the 2021 session and pass a proposal under the normal process to change the state flag with simple majority votes of both of chambers.

While the flag continues to garner much of the attention, legislators continue to work on completing a state budget and on spending about $900 million in federal funds on coronavirus-related expenses, including funds to improve internet access to rural areas.

Other major bills still being considered deal with enacting criminal justice reform, possibly making it easier to vote early in November, removing a provision from the Constitution giving the House the authority to elect statewide officeholders in certain circumstances, and providing a higher level of protection for businesses and health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Article written by Bobby Harrison and Kayleigh Skinner with Mississippi Today.