Mississippi governor says he will sign bill, if it passes, to change 'divisive' state flag

Minyvonne Burke and David C. Ingram

The governor of Mississippi announced that if the state legislature votes to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, he will sign the bill.

Gov. Tate Reeves' statement comes as Mississippi lawmakers consider a measure on the flag as early as Saturday.

"The legislature has been deadlocked for days as it considers a new state flag. The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it. If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it," Reeves said in a tweet Saturday morning.

The legislative process to replace the Mississippi state flag cleared its two largest hurdles Saturday when a super-majority in the State House and Senate approved a suspension of the rules, allowing for debate and a vote on a bill to remove the nation’s last state flag that contains the confederate emblem.

In a first step toward possible passage of that bill, the state's House of Representatives voted 85-34 on Saturday to suspend rules and allow debate on the measure.

The vote in the Senate was 36-14, one more vote than what was needed.

The House will be back in session Sunday when debate on the flag bill is expected to begin.

Reeves has previously said any change to the flag should come through a popular vote rather than the legislature. He acknowledged in a Facebook post on Thursday, however, that vetoing such legislation would be “pointless.”

But he said in his tweet Saturday that the state will still need to bring people together around a flag change, even if the move comes from legislation rather than a popular vote.

"We should not be under any illusion that a vote in the Capitol is the end of what must be done — the job before us to bring the state together and I intend to work night and day to do it," Reeves said in his tweet. "We must find a way to come together. To heal our wounds, to forgive, to resolve that a page has been turned, to trust each other. With God's help, we can."

State Rep. Robert Johnson III, the Democratic leader of the state House of Representatives, told NBC News Friday that all the votes needed to change the flag “appear to be there."

“Supporters of a flag change worked through the night to secure the remaining votes necessary for a successful vote to change the state flag," Johnson said. "The votes to make that change are there in the House and appear to be there in the Senate. There very well may be a first step taken today in the House by passing a rules suspension to take up a bill to remove the current state flag."

The current flag was first adopted in 1894 and features red, white and blue stripes with the Confederate battle emblem in the corner. Proposals to change the flag have repeatedly come up in the statehouse, but have always died. In 2001, Mississippi voters were given a chance to change the flag through a public referendum, and 64 percent chose not to.