COLUMBUS – Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann visited the Lowndes County Circuit Clerk’s Office Oct. 12 to talk about the upcoming Initiative 42 ballot initiative.
Initiative 42 gives voters the chance to amend the Mississippi Constitution to require the legislature to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which provides funding for K-12 education. If 42 passes, the chancery courts will be involved in the funding process. The ballot will also offer the so-called Initiative 42A, which is an alternative crafted by the Mississippi Legislature, and which will keep funding authority with that body.
MAEP has been fully funded twice since its inception in 1997.
The language for Initiative 42 reads:
BALLOT TITLE: Should the State be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?
BALLOT SUMMARY: Initiative Measure #42 would protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity through the 12th grade by amending Section 201 of the Mississippi Constitution to require that the State must provide and the legislature must fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. This initiative would also authorize the chancery courts of this State to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.
Section 201. Educational opportunity for public school children “To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.”
The language for 42A reads:
BALLOT TITLE: Should the Legislature provide for the establishment and support of effective free public schools without judicial enforcement?
BALLOT SUMMARY: This constitutional amendment is proposed as a legislative alternative measure to Initiative Measure No. 42 and would require the Legislature to provide, by general law, for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.
Section 201. “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.
Hosemann said that the language was only confusing if voters didn’t pay attention.
“The ballot itself will actually show the two constitutional amendments in a summary that was put off by the legislative budget and also the ballot initiative that’s drafted by the attorney general,” Hosemann said. “It’s only confusing if you don’t read it. So I’m recommending people read this. If you will remember, the last time we did one of these there were three different constitutional amendments on the ballot, and it varied like 30 to 40 percent of people voting for or against the different ones. I trust the people of Mississippi to actually read. I think they’ll read these two, and a lot of the publicity and the things you’ll see on the air will be balanced by the time we get to the polls. I think it’s pretty clear which one is which.”
The language between the two ballot initiatives comes down to a few words, he explained.
“There is only about three or four words in a sentence difference between the two,” Hosemann said. “The legislature’s proposal is establish the ‘maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.’ The other one is establish the ‘maintenance and support of an active and efficient system of free public schools.’ 42 adds one additional sentence that refers back to the chancery court system of the state being able to enforce it. The language is pretty close on the initiatives themselves, it’s the maintenance of an effective system, the other is adequate and efficient and then the court issue.”
A lot of the conflict originates with the inclusion of the chancery court oversight provided by Initiative 42.
“The biggest difference without question is the sentence about the chancery courts of the state,” Hosemann said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be in Hinds County, but it’s most likely because the seat of government is there. That’s the biggest difference in the two, and people will be able to see that. There’s a lot of discussion about review by the judiciary, and where should it be or not, are we turning over some of our legislative function to the court or not. Those kind of discussion is what you see at our public hearings and on the television.
“Mississippi has worked, as our country has, on a three-legged stool,” Hosemann said. “You have the judicial, the executive and the legislative branch. When you get the legislative branch having some of their authority being taken by the judicial branch, you see pushback. That’s what we’re seeing in this particular instance. People all over the state talk about the importance of education funding. I have not seen one candidate say they didn’t want adequate funding. They all want to fund education. With that given, assuming that’s the case, you have to see who’s going to make the final decision. In one case it’s the judicial and in one it’s the legislature.”
Hosemann was asked about the justification for putting the secondary ballot measure since it doesn’t effectively change anything that’s going on now.
“If you look at the public hearings, the legislature did not want to subvert their ability to allocate education funds,” Hosemann said. “They want the legislature to maintain that specific ability. They adopted 42A to offset that so they could continue to allocate taxpayer income. I think if you talk to the people who support 42A and who put that out there, they did it in the hopes that 42 would not pass and the legislature would continue to allocate education funding in the state. They didn’t like the part about the court being there.”
The initiative has to pass by a certain amount, Hosemann said.
“The first thing is that you have to vote to amend the constitution,” Hosemann said. “The first thing you have to do is vote whether you want to amend it at all. Then you’ll get down to the two, to 42 and 42A. We encourage you go to and vote for one or the other. Even if you are against amending the constitution you may still want a voice in what the constitution says. In the end either 42 or 42A will have to get a total of at least 40 percent of the votes cast for governor and everything else. So there is that additional test in there before you amend the constitution.”
If 50 percent of voters say “no” to amending the constitution, the issue is dead, Hosemann said.
“Amending the constitution is a pretty serious thing,” he said. “Of the last three they tried, two didn’t pass. Before that term limits didn’t pass once. Mississippians take a pretty strong eye as to whether we’re going to mess with our constitution or not. They’re a little bit testy about amending the constitution, and in the past they’ve only amended it half the time. If people check ‘no’ they don’t want to amend the constitution, and it’s more than 50 percent of them, there will be no amendment regardless of what happens with 42 and 42A. We may have 50 percent that says they don’t want to do anything. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Hosemann said that eight public hearings had been held around the state on Initiative 42.
“We were only required to hold five, but we held eight,” he said. “I thought it was important that people be able to stand up next to their neighbor and say how they felt about it. I think around the state there were more for 42. But we don’t take a position. We count the votes and we stay out of it. I’m anxious to see how it comes out. In the end I’m for an informed decision.”
Hosemann said other constitutional initiatives have seen similar amounts of passion.
“Personhood,” he said. “We held public hearings around the state, and I will tell you that the proponents for the personhood amendment were very, very intense and very strong-willed about that. But it didn’t pass. [In Nov. 2011 there was a ballot initiative that would have defined as fertilized egg as a person. – Ed.] Then there was eminent domain, which saw very little discussion but passed.
Pamphlets explaining Initiative 42 are available at the circuit clerk’s office, located upstairs in the Lowndes County Courthouse. More information, including transcripts of the remarks from the public hearings, are available at www.sos.ms.gov/Elections-