September 19, 2020

Lawmakers clear way for Mississippi’s controversial flag to come down

Spectators at the Mississippi Capitol broke into applause Saturday as lawmakers took a big step toward erasing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, a symbol that has come under intensifying criticism in recent weeks amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.

“The eyes of the state, the nation and indeed the world are on this House,” the second-ranking office in the Mississippi House, Jason White, told his colleagues.

The House and Senate voted by more than the required two-thirds majority to suspend legislative deadlines and file a bill to change the flag. That would allow debate on a bill as soon as Sunday.

Saturday’s vote was the big test, though, because of the margin. Only a simple majority is needed to pass a bill.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday for the first time that he would sign a bill to change the flag if the Republican-controlled Legislature sends him one. He had previously said that he would not veto one — a more passive stance.

“The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag,” Reeves said on social media. “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.”

A bill will say that the current flag will be removed from state law. A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate battle emblem but must include the phrase “In God We Trust.” The new design would be put on the ballot Nov. 3. If a majority voting that day accept the new design, it would become the state flag. If a majority reject it, the commission would design a new flag using the same guidelines.

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