The Mississippi Legislature voted to remove the state’s flag Sunday, due to it featuring the Confederate battle emblem in the left corner, and Tuesday, Governor Tate Reeves made the bill official with his signature.
House Bill 1796 was passed in both the Mississippi Senate and the House of Representatives Sunday. In addition to the immediate removal of the flag, the bill requires a nine-person commission to be appointed to develop a single new design by September, and voters will approve or reject that design during November’s General Election. Until a new design is approved, Mississippi will not have a state flag.
Sunday, the House passed the bill by a vote of 92-23. The bill passed in the Senate with a vote of 37-14.
Reeves signed the historic bill Tuesday at the Governor’s Mansion and remarked on its importance.
"This is not a political moment to me but a solemn occasion to lead our Mississippi family to come together, to be reconciled and to move on," Reeves said. "We are a resilient people defined by our hospitality. We are a people of great faith. Now, more than ever, we must lean on that faith, put our divisions behind us, and unite for a greater good."
Representative Karl Oliver (R-Winona) voted for the removal of the flag. He indicated his decision in a statement released Saturday.
“Recent events surrounding our state’s banner (flag) are causing it to grow more divisive by the day and affecting many in our state, first and foremost our children and young people,” Oliver stated. “They are watching all of us, especially those of us like myself, that have been placed in positions of leadership. They are expecting leaders to lead and that gives me cause to reflect on the tremendous responsibility and trust given to me.”
Oliver stated that he was “fully aware of the consequences” of his decision.
“One day, I will no longer be a legislator; however, I will forever be a father and grandfather. In years to come, when my grandchildren and their children are studying this time in history there will be questions. When they ask me or their parents what my position was, I want them to know that it was because of my love for them, and Christ’s love for me, and for my fellow Mississippians, I based my decision on what I believed to be best for everyone. I am choosing to attempt to unite our state and ask each of you to join me in supporting a flag that creates unity – now is the time.”
The Senate engaged in a two-hour debate, with a group of 15 senators urging an amendment to the bill allowing for the voters to decide the fate of the flag.
Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Winona) said she and several of her colleagues felt the bill’s passage included a “hurry-up process” that only gave voters the choice of one design for the flag. She was one of 14 who voted against House Bill 1796 in the Senate.
Chassaniol and 14 others sponsored an amendment that would establish a 17-member commission to create three new designs to be decided upon by voters during the April 2021 municipal election.
“We thought it was a better bill,” Chassaniol said. “It made the process more structured and gave more options to the voters.”
The amendment did not carry the support of the Senate, and House Bill 1796 passed in its original form.
“[House Bill 1796] is not one I can support,” Chassaniol said. “Not that I disagree with what was in it, but I believe the voters should have a say. That is what I’ve been hearing overwhelmingly from District 14.”
Chassaniol said that if the voters do not approve the new design in November, the process just continues on until one is approved.
“There is just a gaping hole in the process,” Chassaniol said.