- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Gov. Phil Bryant, in a Wednesday filing with the state Supreme Court, said no court should have the power to reword how the Legislature phrased its version of an education funding ballot initiative.

The citizen-led Initiative 42 would require lawmakers to fund “an adequate and efficient system of free public schools.” People could sue in chancery court if funding falls short. The Legislature put an alternative, Initiative 42-A, on the ballot. It originally said lawmakers must fund “an effective system of free public schools.”

Circuit Judge Winston Kidd on April 2 rewrote the title of 42-A to say the Legislature should fund “effective public schools” but specify that citizens cannot appeal into chancery court.

Bryant asked Wednesday to intervene in a state Supreme Court case, saying Kidd never had the power to reword the ballot. Bryant has said he opposes limiting the Legislature’s ability to decide how much money it gives to schools.

Last month, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, Republicans like Bryant, also asked the Supreme Court to reject Kidd’s decision.

The fight over what will appear on the ballot is important because the wording could determine whether voters accept one of the school funding proposals or reject them both. If one of the proposals is approved, it will affect how legislators set budgets for schools and other state services. Proponents hope that it will force lawmakers to allot the whole amount demanded by the state’s school funding formula. Legislators have fully funded the formula only two years since it was put into law in 1997.

In question is whether Kidd had the power to rewrite the title, and if he did, whether the state’s 1993 law permitting initiatives allows that decision to be appealed.

Like lawmakers, Bryant said that Kidd overstepped his power and that the law leaves no way for people to appeal the title that the Legislature gives an alternative initiative.

“There is no evidence that the Legislature authorized a statutory appeal for an alternative ballot title,” lawyer Drew Snyder wrote on Bryant’s behalf.

Snyder argued that even if the high court rules that Kidd acted properly, justices should reject claims that there’s no appeal from Kidd’s decision.

“This court has previously held that challenges to ballot titles … may be appealed to the Supreme Court,” Snyder wrote.

Supporters of the original initiative, as well as Attorney General Jim Hood, argue that lawmakers in 1993 made circuit court action unappealable.

Adrian Shipman of Oxford filed a lawsuit in late March asking Kidd to rewrite the title for the alternative that legislators put on the ballot. Shipman said voters could become confused between the ballot titles of the two proposals because they were similarly worded.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy


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