SID SALTER: State's initiative process guarantees legal, political struggles

Since 1993, Mississippians have had the option of taking the power away from the Legislature and changing the state constitution as they deem appropriate when the Legislature refuses to act. The process is called initiative and referendum and it isn’t easy.
The process requires 18 specific legal steps in Mississippi law, but here are the major ones, according to the Secretary of State’s office:
– At least 91,673 certified signatures of registered voters must be gathered with at least 18,355 certified signatures from each of the five congressional districts that existed when the initiative-and-referendum law was enacted in 1993. The number of signatures required represents 12 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial general election. All signatures on the petition must be certified by county circuit clerks.
– Once the petitions are received and reviewed and pass muster, the Legislature must have a chance to review the initiative’s wording. If legislators don’t agree with the amendment’s wording, the law allows them to offer an amendment that the Legislature approved.
– Initiatives can be placed on the ballot only in state general election years, with the next one slated in 2011. On the day of the 2011 election, 40 percent of the total voters participating in that election must vote on the initiative (at the bottom of the ballot) to make passage of any initiative on that ballot legal.
So far, at least four potential initiatives are proposed for the 2011 ballot:
– Initiative 24 would amend the state constitution to require legal recognition that human life begins and is protected at the moment of fertilization and to forbid taking the life of a person by aiding a suicide attempt or by depriving an unborn person of life.
– Initiative 26 would amend the state constitution to define the word “person” or “persons,” as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.
– Initiative 27 would amend the state constitution to require voters to submit a government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote; provides that any voter lacking government issued photo identification may obtain photo identification without charge from the Department of Public Safety; and exempts certain residents of state-licensed care facilities and religious objectors from being required to show photo identification in order to vote.
– Initiative 28 would amend the state constitution to require a new tax to be levied on cigarettes equal to 40 percent of the national cigarette state tax average rate, which shall be in addition to all other applicable taxes on cigarettes and that 98 percent of the proceeds of the new cigarette tax shall be distributed to the state Division of Medicaid and the remaining 2 percent used for administrative purposes.
The problem is that after the 2000 Census, Mississippi now has four congressional districts, not five. The Legislature never changed the state’s initiative law. Expect any current initiative effort to draw a federal legal challenge.
With Democrats opposing voter ID without concessions like early voting and extended registration, those pending legal-political struggles are a virtual certainty.
Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com. Visit his blog at clarionledger.com. His talk radio show, “On Deadline with Sid Salter,” is broadcast on the SuperTalk Mississippi network.

 

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