PINE BELT (WDAM) - A Mississippi House representative wanted public universities required to fly the state flag to receive state funds.
Rep. William Shirley (R-Quitman) proposed an amendment Tuesday requiring universities to "prominently display and fly the state flag each day of the year" to receive $1 million in state bond money for repairs and renovations.
"I think a public institution that is getting state dollars should fly whatever our flag is," Shirley said. "This amendment or the bills I've offered before have nothing to do with the design. The design argument is a different argument."
The House rejected the amendment, with 63 members voting against it and 56 voting for it, but most Pine Belt representatives agreed with Shirley's change.
Fourteen representatives voted for it:
- Shane Barnett: District 86, Greene, Perry, Wayne counties
- Larry Byrd: District 104, Forrest County
- John Glen Corley, District 106, Lamar, Pearl River counties
- Mark Formby, District 108, Pearl River
- Chris Johnson: District 87, Forrest, Lamar counties
- Timmy Ladner: District 93, Hancock, Pearl River, Stone counties
- Vince Mangold, District 53, Franklin, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Lincoln, Pike counties
- Ken Morgan: District 100, Lamar, Marion counties
- Bill Pigott: District 99, Lamar, Marion, Walthall counties
- Donnie Scoggin: District 89, Jones County
- William Shirley: District 84, Clarke, Jasper, Newton counties
- Gary Staples: District 88, Jasper, Jones counties
- Brad Touchstone: District 101, Lamar County
- Mark K. Tullos: District 79, Jasper, Smith counties
Six voted against it:
- Toby Barker: District 102, Forrest, Lamar counties
- Bob Evans: District 91, Copiah, Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Simpson counties
- Roun S. McNeal: District 105, George, Greene, Perry counties
- Noah L. Sanford: District 90, Covington, Jefferson Davis, Simpson counties
- Omeria Scott: District 80, Clarke, Jasper, Jones counties
- Percy W. Watson: District 103, Forrest County
Each of the state's eight public universities stopped flying the Mississippi flag in recent years amid controversy about it including the Confederate battle emblem. Shirley said the flag's appearance is irrelevant to his amendment, and the bottom line is state-funded universities should support the state and Mississippians by flying the flag.
"The argument with the amendment is if you're state dollars, you should display whatever our flag is- red, green, yellow, blue or the current design," Shirley said.
The University of Southern Mississippi replaced the state flag with an American flag in October 2015, with President Rodney Bennett saying in a statement then, "We have all chosen to work, study and live in a country in which debates like those around the state flag of Mississippi can take place, and ideas can be civilly expressed and advanced. While I love the state of Mississippi, there is passionate disagreement about the current state flag on our campuses and in our communities. I am looking forward to a time when this debate is resolved and USM raises a state flag that unites us."
USM Chief Communications Officer Jim Coll said the university has asked for millions of dollars in legislative support through state bond funding to pay for several campus renovation projects.
"USM has indicated facility needs related to the development of a $2.5 million academic enhancement center in Cook Library, as well as a $12 million restoration of Southern Hall, among other items," Coll said. "These projects are completed as state bond funding allows, or as the university identifies other revenue sources. Historically, state bond funds have supported these types of projects. For example, the $6.3 million renovation of College Hall was largely funded through state bonds."
Had Shirley's amendment passed, USM would stand to lose $1 million of state funding that could be used for those projects, unless it put the flag back up on campus.