Mississipp­i passes bill to change the state flag

Miami Herald - - Front Page - BY ANITA LEE The Sun Her­ald

BILOXI, MISS.

The Mississipp­i Se­nate joined the state’s House on Sun­day 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 Sun­day 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.”

In 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 nine­mem­ber 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.

Sun­day’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.”

PA­TRICK T. FAL­LON | AFP | TNS | File

The Mississipp­i state flag in­cludes the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle em­blem.

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