July 6, 2020

Mississippi House takes first step to change state flag

The House of Representatives on Saturday began the legislative process to remove the Mississippi state flag, which features the Confederate battle emblem, marking the first successful legislative action to change the flag since it was adopted by lawmakers in 1894.

The House Rules committee passed a resolution on Saturday afternoon that would suspend the chamber’s rules so that lawmakers can consider a bill that would change or remove the flag. Immediately afterwards, it went to the floor for a vote and passed 85-35.

The resolution states a commission would be created to redesign the state flag. The commission would recommend a new design by Sept. 14, 2020 and voters would ultimately choose the final design in a special election on Nov. 3, 2020. The design “would not include the Confederate battle flag but shall include the words “In God We Trust.” Should voters reject that design, the commission would present a new option during the 2021 legislative session, according to the resolution.

Prior to the vote, sources close to House leadership said if the rules suspension passes, they will file and pass a bill that would immediately remove the state flag. It would then create a commission to develop multiple replacement designs, and Mississippi voters will decide on the November ballot. The current state flag will not be on the ballot, sources said.

That plan, the sources reiterated, is subject to change in the legislative process.

But before the flag itself can be addressed, lawmakers must first suspend the rules to consider a separate bill that will address the flag. That vote is what occurred in the House Rules committee on Saturday afternoon. It will now move to the House floor for consideration.

The resolution required a two-thirds majority (82 out of 122 members) of the House. It was passed with immediate release, meaning it can now go to the Senate committee and then the Senate chamber, where it also requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate (35 out of 52 members).

If both the House and Senate approve the suspension resolution, lawmakers can take up an actual bill that would remove or replace the state flag. Those considerations would require just a simple majority in both chambers to pass (62 of 122 House members, 27 of 52 Senate members).

As of Saturday morning, there is still no consensus between House and Senate leadership over how, exactly, they will press forward with a bill to remove the flag. Many, including former Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, have expressed support for a flag displaying the state seal, which includes the phrase “In God We Trust.” The influential Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, appeared to back that design with its release of a poll this week.

Legislative leaders have also discussed removing the current flag this session and forming a commission to develop multiple replacement designs to be placed on a ballot for a vote.

By Geoff Pender and Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today