State ballot issues discussed

Published 12:02 am Friday, August 26, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Susanne and Sam Tomlinson listen as the issue of eminent domain is discussed during the public hearing, hosted by the secretary of state Thursday afternoon at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s multipurpose room.

NATCHEZ — More than 20 people spoke out at Thursday’s public hearing about three issues on the Nov. 8 ballot that have potential to change Mississippi’s constitution for the first time since 1890.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann welcomed approximately 50 people to the hearing at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, which his office hosted to discuses eminent domain, voter identification and the definition of personhood.

Eminent domain

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Eight members of the public from a number of surrounding counties spoke in favor of Initiative 31, which would prohibit government from taking private property and then transferring it to other private companies or individuals.

Natchez attorney Johnny Junkin, who spoke against the initiative, said nine out of 10 times he has a conservative stance on issues and is a supporter of individual rights.

If the initiative passes, however, Junkin said, it could negatively affect Adams County, specifically.

“(The eminent domain reform) is going to hurt small rural areas who don’t have industrial areas and are behind on economic development — that is a snapshot of (Adams County),” Junkin said.

Junkin said the initiative could cause unforeseen issues if a developer wants to buy land. In Adams County private individuals own both surface and mineral rights to property, he said. Many people came through Adams County in the past, bought mineral rights and passed them on to their children whom have since left town.

Those mineral rights owners can be difficult to track down, Junkin said.

“If an industrial prospect wants to build, (the industry) has to get a clear title for surface and mineral rights — without this they’ll just go elsewhere,” Junkin said.

Alan Stringer said everyone should have a right to keep his or her land.

“To take my property is also taking away (Stinger’s) livelihood,” Stringer said.

“To reason that because another individual can pay more taxes and provide more for community than I do is wrong,” he said.

Mike McCormick said although he is a farmer from Union Church and supported the initiative, Natchez residents in poor downtown neighborhoods are at danger of being forced from their property using eminent domain.

“(Developers using eminent domain) will prey on people who can’t afford attorneys to fight them off,” McCormick said.

Voter ID

Natchez Ward 2 Alderman James “Rickey” Gray spoke against an initiative requiring a government photo ID at the voting poll.

Gray said lawmakers do not have enough information about implementation of the system to pass an initiative requiring ID to vote.

No plans have been made, Gray said, to distribute free photo IDs to those who don’t have them — usually the poor and elderly people he represents, he said. Voters should have information about implementation before the initiative has a chance to pass, especially since the City of Natchez has an election coming up next year, Gray said.

“The timing is bad,” he said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis also spoke against the initiative.

“This disproportionately discriminates against elderly and minorities,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

Suzanne Tomlinson of Natchez said she has lived in other places where she has found poll hours, locations and early voting options more flexible than Mississippi’s voting laws.

She said the state should encourage people to vote and requiring voter ID would discourage them.

“I would be disappointed if the state I’ve grown to love so much would try to keep people from voting,” Tomlinson said.

Definition of personhood

Brad Prewitt of Jackson, the executive director of the Yes on 26 Campaign Coalition, spoke in favor of the initiative.

The initiative defines “person” to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the equivalent thereof.

Voting in favor of the initiative would outlaw abortion, cloning and other atrocities in science that destroy human life, Prewitt said.

Prewitt said since humans are made in God’s image, men and women must protect the innocent lives of unborn children.

“We should be equal people outside the womb and inside the womb,” Prewitt said.

Prewitt said some agencies against the initiative, such as Planned Parenthood, are committing genocide comparable to Adolph Hitler.

Nicole Northup of Hattiesburg, who spoke against the initiative, said voting for the initiative would put her and a future child’s health at risk.

Northup said she suffers from epilepsy, and her anti-seizure medication could cause severe birth defects and endanger her if she were to get pregnant while on her medication.

“I don’t think lawmakers should be able to decide if I can take birth control,” Northup said.

Dr. Beverly McMillan of Jackson, who said she is a retired OBGYN, spoke in favor of the initiative.

McMillian said family planning strategies can prevent unwanted pregnancies better than hormonal contraception.

“If in a rare case (a mother and unborn child) is indeed in danger, sound medical practice (will see that) every thing be done to save both lives,” McMillian said.

“Birth defects are not a foregone conclusion.”

McMillan quoted Mother Teresa of Calcutta to end her speech.

“It is a great poverty that a child must die in order that we can live the way we want to,” she said.

Sam Tomlinson of Natchez, who said he was a retired Episcopalian priest, spoke against the initiative.

Tomlinson said in his experience of counseling women going through a struggle to decide to give birth, the women never take the decision lightly or selfishly.

“I don’t think government has any business in telling a woman what she should do in establishing some definition (of personhood) that she may or may not agree with,” he said.

“(The initiative’s definition) may support doctrines of a church that she doesn’t go to.”

According to state law, for an initiative measure to be placed on this year’s ballot a minimum of 89,285 certified signatures with at least 17,857 from each congressional districts was gathered.

Hosemann said Thursday’s hearing was the eighth in nine planned hearings.

“We’ve probably had over 1,000 Mississippians speak (at the hearings), and I think this is healthy for our constitution and our state to debate issues as important as these in a civil form,” Hosemann said.