by Hunter Dawkins

Following passage from both state legislative chambers Sunday morning on H.B. 1796; an act to change the current state flag, the bill was immediately released to Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves for signing this measure into law.  The Confederate emblem in the current state flag will be removed after the governor’s signature, which he assured numerous officials that he would.

The bill establishes a commission to redesign the current state flag by removing the Confederate battle emblem and including the words, “In God We Trust.”  A recommendation for the new design by the commission will be delivered to the public by September 14.

After the recommendation is placed on the ballot in the general election on November 3, a majority of the Mississippians will decide if this option will be used as the state flag.  If this selection is not chosen, the flag commission will reconvene to suggest another design presented to the legislature in the 2021 regular session.

A requirement in this legislation is that the election be administered by means of ballots containing a color picture of the new design for the Mississippi State Flag and that the Secretary of State provide those ballots to the election commissioners of each county.

The Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag shall consist of nine appointed members with three by Speaker Philip Gunn, three by Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and three by Governor Reeves.  In the selection by Reeves, there must be a representative of the Mississippi Economic Council, one from the Mississippi Arts Commission and the final from the Board of Trustees at the Mississippi Department if Archives and History.

According to the adopted legislation, all appointments to the commission shall be made not later than July 15, 2020. 

The chair of the commission shall be chosen by majority vote of the members of the commission.  The commission shall meet as soon as practicable after the appointments have been made upon the joint call of the Speaker and the Lieutenant Governor, and shall organize for business. 

A majority vote of the members of the commission shall be required for the adoption of any reports and recommendations.  The Mississippi Department of Archives and History shall provide meeting space and clerical support for the operation of the commission.

With much turmoil from the outside by business, education and civic leaders about the state flag, the Mississippi House of Representatives decided to place a suspension of rules for adoption on Friday afternoon before recess to be placed on the calendar for Saturday morning.  Additionally, the Senate placed this historic legislation on the calendar for Saturday afternoon.

Saturday morning, the House approved House Concurrent Resolution 97, which suspended the deadlines for the purpose of drafting the bill past deadlines.  The resolution passed 84-35-2 with an overwhelmingly two-thirds majority, but numerous Harrison County Representatives voting against the suspension of rules to adopt legislation for changing the state flag.

Once the bill transferred to the Senate, another two-thirds majority passed the legislation 37-15.  Only one member of the Coastal delegation from the Senate voted against this measure.

Finally, after a lengthy debate and several amendments defeated, the House and Senate passed H.B. 1796 to revise the Mississippi State Flag and remove the Confederate battle emblem.  Was approved in the House 92-23-5 and 37-14 in the Senate.

“The business leaders began to reach out to get this historical change,” said District 119 (Gulfport) Representative Sonya Williams-Barnes.  “This is a major victory for our city and state.”  Williams-Barnes is an alum of Pass Christian High School.

Several members from both houses voted against the changing of the state flag with the Confederate battle emblem, as Senator Chris McDaniel, who remarked, “When you have an action like this, as emotional as it is, the process matters and what better place to have this debate than among the people?”

McDaniel and others fought to have this legislation to be enacted as a referendum, similar to the last ballot in 2001 that was soundly defeated.  Harrison County Representatives Carolyn Crawford from Pass Christian and Jay McKnight from Gulfport voted against both pieces of legislation.

H.B. 1796 is transferring from the State Senate to the desk of Governor Reeves for passage into law.