Last summer, a Mississippi advocacy group, 42 For Better Schools, succeeded in getting enough signatures to place on the November ballot an initiative that will ask voters “[s]hould the state be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of public schools?” and should state courts be given the power to enforce this mandate? An unusual article in the Mississippi Constitution (Art. XV, Sec. 273) allowed the legislature under these circumstances to then place an alternative initiative (known as “Alternative Measure 42A”) on the same ballot. Responding to a complaint filed by a mother who felt the legislature’s initiative was confusing and misleading to voters, in April, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Winston L. Kidd directed the legislature to change the title of its ballot initiative so that voters would clearly understand how the two initiatives differed.
Last month, the state’s high court ruled that Judge Kidd had unconstitutionally usurped the will of the legislators in rewriting the legislative alternative language lawmakers they had adopted to appear on the ballot alongside Initiative 42. This ruling was issued despite the fact that the language of the statute says that the decision of the circuit court “shall be final.”
The legislative’s proposed ballot initiative asks voters, “Should the Legislature provide for the establishment of free public schools without judicial enforcement?” In addition to denying the courts the authority to enforce the constitutional measure, Alternative Measure 42A omits substantive language in the advocates’ version that would require the state to support “adequate and efficient” – and not just merely free – schools.
Judge Kidd selected an alternative ballot initiative title suggested by the plaintiff, which would have asked voters “Should the Legislature establish and support effective public schools, but not provide a mechanism to enforce that right?”
The Legislature has won the legal battle over getting their initiative with their language on the ballot alongside the advocate’s initiative. This will make approval of the initiative more difficult for its proponents. But observers expect there to be a long and expensive political battle over these Initiatives, and the proponents are expected to wage a formidable campaign to have their version adopted by the voters.