Legislation passed Wednesday that would try to force the state’s public universities to fly the state flag died Thursday.
It died when House Ways and Means Chair Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, did not try to table a motion to reconsider the bill. The deadline to table the motion is Friday, and the House will not reconvene until Monday.
While that legislation died, Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman, promised to offer amendments to other legislation to try to force the public universities to fly the flag. As a matter of fact, Shirley offered the amendment Thursday to a bill providing bonds for university construction projects.
But a point of order was raised that his amendment was not proper. House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, had not ruled on the point of order by the time the House adjourned Thursday.
Currently none of the eight public universities fly the state flag, which incorporates the controversial Confederate battle emblem as part of its design.
Shirley and many others contend the universities that receive public funding should be required to fly the state flag.
On Wednesday by a 57-56 margin in the House, Shirley was successful in amending a bill designed to allow Mississippi State and the University of Southern Mississippi to provide tax breaks to private companies that lease land from them to build student housing. Shirley’s amendment said the universities could not provide the tax breaks unless they fly the flag.
At the time, Smith said the amendment would be stripped from the bill in conference committee where House and Senate leaders work to hammer out the final version of the bill. But on Thursday, Smith said it would be easier to allow the bill containing the Shirley amendment to die since other bills are alive in the Senate that provide the tax breaks for the universities.
But the issue of the flag flying over the universities could be an ongoing issue during the final weeks of the session if Shirley follows through with his intent to amend bills related to the universities, such as funding bills, to try to force the schools fly the flag.
Gunn, the most high profile Republican state official to advocate for changing the flag, said Thursday he understands why people are upset that a public university is not flying the flag, but said, “It appears our universities (as well as many municipalities) don’t agree with the message they perceive it sends.
“That’s a difficult dilemma for the government to rise up and say you must do something you find personally offensive.”
He said the case could be made that it is a free speech issue for the universities.
But he said the close House vote on the Shirley amendment “highlights the divisiveness of the issue” and why he has not been able to garner a consensus in the House to change the flag despite his position of power.
“I advocate a banner that would unite the state, everybody can be proud of and everybody can unite behind. I don’t think we currently have that,” he said.