Sunday, October 30, 2011

My thoughts on Mississippi's Nov. Initiatives

As usual, while most Mississippi voters are focused on individuals seeking the various statewide, legislative and county offices, many may not be aware that there are three initiatives on the ballot as well that will impact their lives greatly. Below is my take on those initiatives and where I stand on them.
I will start with Initiative #31:
Should government be prohibited from taking private property by eminent domain and then transferring it to other persons?
Initiative #31 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to prohibit state and local government from taking private property by eminent domain and then conveying it to other persons or private businesses for a period of 10 years after acquisition. Exceptions from the prohibition include drainage and levee facilities, roads, bridges, ports, airports, common carriers, and utilities. The prohibition would not apply in certain situations, including public nuisance, structures unfit for human habitation, or abandoned property.
During my time in the Mississippi House of Representatives, this issue showed its importance as we were trying to figure out how to get Nissan to locate their new plant in Canton. We committed millions of dollars in infrastructure development which included the use of eminent domain to make that happen. Eminent domain, which is the attainment of private property for public use, in that regard was a positive because it was used for public projects but it was clear it was beneficial for a private economic development interest.
This initiative will clarify in the Mississippi Constitution that eminent domain is only supposed to be used for public projects. It will prohibit eminent domain to be used, for example, to acquire land for the building of a strip mall, factory or an office building. The Farm Bureau has taken the lead in pushing this initiative because any expansion of eminent domain for private economic development would immediately threaten the largest group of landowners in the state, our farmers.
I will vote YES on this initiative.
Initiative #27:
Should the Mississippi Constitution be amended to require a person to submit government issued photo identification in order to vote?
Initiative #27 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require voters to submit a government issued photo identification before being allowed to vote; provides that any voter lacking government issued photo identification may obtain photo identification without charge from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety; and exempts certain residents of state-licensed care facilities and religious objectors from being required to show photo identification in order to vote.
One of the most emotional days during my tenure in the Legislature was when we had to take a vote on making Voter ID mandatory, so much so that I wrote a column about it in the Jackson Free Press. Every member spoke on the floor and expressed their feelings, either in support or opposition, and afterwards many of us became closer, despite competing political philosophies.
Needless to say this is an emotional issue to members of the African-American community that remember poll taxes and questions like how many bubbles are there in a bar of soap. Voter ID seems like a practical, innocuous argument to preserve the integrity of the voting process. However, it has been used to suppress voter turnout for certain groups in other states. In Tennessee, a 96-year-old Black woman was denied the right to vote recently because she did not have a driver's license. In Florida, college students cannot use their college IDs, even if they attend state universities.
The author of the initiative, Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Lamar County), organized the initiative drive after killing the Voter ID bill passed by the House in the Senate. His argument was that there needed to be a "clean" Voter ID bill, without provisions that would have allowed early voting, same-day registration and restoring the suffrage of first-time felons once they have served out their sentence. It is questionable whether the US Department of Justice will approve a Constitutional Amendment that requires Voter ID for all voters, but it is very possible.
It is the only initiative that has a cost attached to it. It is estimated that the initiative, if passed, could cost as much as $1.5 million from the Department of Public Safety budget. Obviously the proponents of the measure do not feel strongly enough to convince the state's 82 Circuit Clerks to provide photos on the voter registration cards they provide in their respective counties.
I will vote NO on this initiative.
Initiative #26:
Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?
Initiative #26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to define the word “person” or “persons”, as those terms are used in Article III of the state constitution, to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.
I am considered a pro-life politician. I was endorsed by Pro-Life Mississippi when I served in the House. I am opposed to abortion, an emergency medical procedure, being used as a form of birth/population control. I am a strong proponent of adoption and a former abstinence-only counselor. I voted for the House Bill that banned abortions in this state, but I was also the author of the amendment in that same bill that allowed exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother.
As a Christian, I believe life begins at conception and that God has predestined our lives before our existence on this earth begins. However, I have also made the argument that the US Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution are not the 67th and 68th books of the Holy Bible.
To redefine "person/persons" in Article III of the Mississippi Constitution would effectively ban abortions in this state, but how broad of a swath will this provision cut? Medical professionals are divided on whether the initiative would prevent in vitro fertilization and outlaw forms of conventional birth control. Would family planning activities be possibly outlawed? Would the exceptions of rape, incest and the health of the mother be considered?
Here is another scenario that has not be broached: Say an immigrant couple from El Salvador comes to Mississippi without proper documentation. The wife becomes pregnant in Mississippi and then they are caught. At that point, the deportation process begins. If the personhood initiative is passed, does that fetus, which would be considered a person in the Mississippi Constitution have the right to stay, thus preventing the mother from being deported? If the Federal Government is successful in deporting the mother, can the child come back and petition for US Citizenship based on the notion it was conceived in Mississippi and was considered a person by that state's Constitution?
This initiative has failed twice in Colorado, but will be introduced in four other states. The Mississippi initiative supporters' strategy is for this initiative to be challenged and struck down in the Federal Courts, moved up in the Federal docket to the Supreme Court of the United States, thus forcing them to re-visit the Roe v. Wade decision. I consider this an extreme action based on a constitutionally extreme political philosophy.
I will vote NO on this initiative.
Those are my positions. Research these initiatives for yourself and then cast your vote on November 8th.