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BILL CRAWFORD: MAEP ballot initiatives invite court rationalizations

BILL CRAWFORD

BILL CRAWFORD

And you thought it absurd when the U.S. Supreme Court rationalized what Congress meant for Obamacare subsidies though the law clearly specified subsidies would go only to exchanges “established by the state.”

 
Ha!  Mississippi courts have two cases where they must rationalize what the Mississippi Legislature meant by the complex word “shall.”
 
Shades of Bill Clinton’s, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
 
A Hinds County Chancery Court judge is exhaustingly considering if state law requires the Legislature to fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP).  The Mississippi Supreme Court is hearing an appeal of a Hinds County Circuit Judge’s ruling about November ballot language describing the Legislature’s “alternative” to the citizen-sponsored MAEP ballot initiative. Both hinge on how the courts rationalize the word “shall.”
 
Section 37-151-6 of the Mississippi Code (1972) says, “Effective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.”
 
Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and others filed suit to force the Legislature to obey this statute, saying shall means “shall.”  Well, not really, reasons the Legislature in filings with the Chancery Court.
 
Section 27-17-13 of the Mississippi Code (1972) says, “The decision of the court shall be final,” referring to authority assigned in the statute for the Hinds County Circuit Court to determine ballot initiative language.
 
Well, shall surely can’t mean “shall” when the Hinds County court is subject to the Supreme Court, reasons the Legislature in filings with the Supreme Court. (Good one, huh?)
 
Court rationalizing spectacles will only get more flagrant if Mississippi voters adopt either MAEP related Initiative 42 or Initiative 42A.  
 
Here are the proposed constitutional provisions for both initiatives:
 
42 – “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.”
 
42A – “The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.”
 
If “shall” is hard to nail down, how many lawsuits do you think it will take to figure out what “adequate and efficient system” means, or in the alternative, “effective system?”
 
Note, there is no language in either initiative that directly addresses MAEP funding.  The courts will first have to rationalize what the general language means before they start ordering more funding for this, less funding for that, and no funding for these… as they surely will be invited to do.
 
Yes, indeed, using the initiative process to give courts new opportunities for word and phrase rationalization will provide years of George-Carlin-like entertainment… but, as such things normally go, little educational benefit for your children and grandchildren.
 
To avoid all this you should vote “no,” whatever that means.
 
  
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)

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