Lawmakers at the Capitol have had an extremely busy last two weeks. After many hours of working in conference committees to finalize the state budget and other bills, legislators completed most regular session work on Thursday, July 1. The Legislature could come back in October or before if needed as laid out in House Concurrent Resolution 69, which extended session and allowed for more flexible deadlines for COVID-19 related legislation.
Over the course of the two weeks, representatives introduced conference reports, which had to be adopted by both houses before being sent to the governor. Because these bills had been discussed and amended throughout the entire session, most conference reports passed with little debate.
Several COVID-19 bills were taken up and passed. The bills addressed a variety of topics related to the pandemic: distance learning in K-12 public schools (Senate Bill 3044), the Mississippi Back-to-Business Liability Assurance Act (Senate Bill 3049), additional money from the Broadband Availability Grant Program Fund to the Mississippi Department of Education (House Bill 1797), and appropriations to the Department of Employment Security (House Bill 1795) are a few examples of these bills.
Upon resuming business in June and while working to finish the session, lawmakers began discussing how to remove the current Mississippi state flag. The flag was chosen in 1894 by the Legislature and bore a Confederate battle emblem. Because it was so late in the session, a resolution calling for a suspension of the rules voted on by a two-thirds majority was required to introduce a bill that would remove the flag.
After weeks of discussion and mounting pressure from both citizens and organizations, House Concurrent Resolution 79 was introduced on Saturday, June 27. After passionate floor debate and a bipartisan effort, HCR 79 passed the House by a vote of 84-25, and subsequently was passed by the Senate. On Sunday, June 28, House Bill 1796 was introduced removing the current flag and establishing a commission to create a new flag. The commission will be comprised of nine members chosen by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House. The flag chosen by the commission will then be placed on the ballot in November for citizens to approve. HB 1796 passed the House by a vote of 92-23, passed the Senate by a vote of 37-14 and was signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves on Tuesday, June 30.
On Wednesday, July 1, a ceremony was held to retire the 1894 state flag. Legislators, staff, members of the media and visitors watched as the flags at the Capitol were raised and then lowered for the last time. Members of the Mississippi National Guard and the Mississippi Highway Patrol Honor Guard presented the flags to Speaker Philip Gunn, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and Mississippi Department of Archives and History Director Katie Blount. Speaker Gunn, Lt. Governor Hosemann and Director Blount then escorted the flags to the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.