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Mississippi Legislature passes bill to change the state flag

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Larry Eubanks of Star waves the current Mississippi state flag as he sits before the front of the state Capitol on Saturday in Jackson, Miss. While a supporter of the current flag, Eubanks says he would hope lawmakers would allow a proposed flag change to be decided by the registered voters. The current state flag has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Larry Eubanks of Star waves the current Mississippi state flag as he sits before the front of the state Capitol on Saturday in Jackson, Miss. While a supporter of the current flag, Eubanks says he would hope lawmakers would allow a proposed flag change to be decided by the registered voters. The current state flag has in the canton portion of the banner the design of the Civil War-era Confederate battle flag, that has been the center of a long-simmering debate about its removal or replacement.

BILOXI, Miss. >> The Mississippi Senate joined the state’s House today in a historic vote to take down the 1894 state flag with its Confederate battle emblem and ask Mississippi voters to approve a new flag in November.

House Bill 1796 passed by a vote of 37-14, followed by extended applause and cheers.

The House originated the bill and voted 91-23 earlier this afternoon to take down the flag.

The lead-up to passage included tears, last-minute counting of votes to ensure support in both chambers, and scores of emails and social media posts from Mississippians.

Mississippi is the last state in the nation to fly a flag with a Confederate battle emblem.

The vote did not come in the Senate without impassioned speeches and a last-minute attempt to amend the bill, led by Republican state Sen. Angela Burks Hill of Picayune. Her amendment would have put the current flag and three alternate designs on a statewide ballot. It failed 39-19.

In the end, the day was won by mounting opposition to the Confederate symbol as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum across the country.

“I feel very confident I know what the flag represents for a lot of people in the state and around the world,” said Republican state Sen. Briggs Hopson III of Vicksburg. “They’ve told me personally. They’ve told me about the pain this flag represents.”

If addition, he said, the flag is costing Mississippi jobs.

“If you care about economic development and if you want to give Mississippi the best chance to succeed and create opportunities … there’s no doubt in my mind that we need to get rid of the flag with the Confederate symbol.”

After more speeches, Hopson closed discussion: “Say what you want, but the decision you make today will make our state better. It’s time … Stand up, and let’s move Mississippi in a different direction.”

Here are the bill’s key features:

>> The state flag with Confederate battle emblem will be retired within 15 days of bill approval.

>> The Confederate emblem is banished from new state flag design.

>> The new design must include the words, “In God We Trust.”

>> Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn will each appoint three members to nine-member flag commission.

>> The commission will, with public input, recommend one new flag design by Sept. 14.

>> A special election will be held Nov. 3, when voters can vote “yes” or “no” on the new design with no write-ins allowed.

>> The Legislature will adopt the new flag after it convenes in January 2021.

>> If voters reject the new design, the commission will get back to work and another election will be held.

Reeves, who had favored a statewide vote on whether the old flag should be replaced, has said he will sign the bill for a new flag design this weekend, if it reaches his desk.

The Mississippi Senate joined the House in historic votes Saturday that led to Sunday’s vote.

The Saturday votes were crucial and signaled Sunday’s action. A two-thirds majority vote was needed Saturday from each chamber to suspend the rules because the time had passed to consider a flag bill or any other general legislation.

Only a majority was needed in the House and Senate to remove the flag.

The Senate voted 36 -14, followed by loud cheers, for the rules suspension, only one more vote than needed for the two-thirds majority. Legislators said the close margin willing to suspend Senate rules delayed voting on rules suspension.

In the House, rules suspension passed with a vote of 85-34, with 82 votes needed.

The current state flag was adopted by the Legislature in 1894 but was no longer the official flag of the state after 1906 because of a legal oversight. Mississippians voted in a 2001 referendum by a 2-to-1 margin to keep the flag with Confederate battle emblem.

The weekend votes came as pressure mounted from all quarters — business leaders, religious organizations, university coaches and many citizens — to replace the flag.

An early proponent of change, House Speaker Philip Gunn, conceded that white supremacists had co-opted the flag as a symbol of hate. Some Mississippians cling to the flag and are angry that it is being replaced because, they say, it represents their heritage.

Former Democratic Gov. William Winter, long a proponent of a flag change, headed a flag commission in 2000 that proposed a new design voters rejected in 2001.

Today’s votes came in his 97th year.

In a statement he released after the vote, Winter said:

“Removal of the Confederate battle flag from our state flag is long overdue. I congratulate the Mississippi Legislature on their decisive action today removing this divisive symbol. Along with many committed Mississippians, I have fought for decades to change the flag, most notably during the flag referendum 20 years ago. …

“Of equal importance, I hope this may spark further action to meet the compelling social and economic needs of our state. The battle for a better Mississippi does not end with the removal of the flag and we should work in concert to make other positive changes in the interest of all of our people.”

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