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Higher bar for Missouri ballot measures OK’d by state House

February 11, 2022 GMT

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A measure passed Thursday by the GOP-led Missouri House would raise the bar to put constitutional amendments to a public vote and be passed.

The legislation, approved 98-53 by House lawmakers, would require a two-thirds vote of the people to amend the state Constitution. Currently, it takes a simple majority vote.

The measure also would make it harder to put a proposed constitutional amendment to a public vote in the first place.

Currently, petition gatherers need signatures from 8% of voters who cast ballots for governor in the previous general election in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to get a measure on the ballot. The House proposal would require signatures from 10% of voters who cast ballots for governor in the previous general election.

If the Republican-led Senate also signs off on the proposal, it will go before voters on the ballot this year.

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Republican backers on Thursday argued well-funded special-interest groups have too much influence on Missouri policy through initiative petitions and that it’s now too easy to change the state Constitution.

Sponsor Rep. Mike Henderson said the Constitution should be a “living document but not an ever-growing document.”

“I’ve always thought that our Constitution’s a pretty sacred document,” Henderson said. “When we’re changing it left and right — we change it one year, (and) two years later we change back what we just changed — I’m not sure that’s good for the people of Missouri.”

Democrats called out the proposal as retribution for voters sidestepping lawmakers by enacting policies through initiative petition.

Voters in 2018 overturned a new law banning mandatory union fees in Missouri, thwarting a longstanding effort by GOP lawmakers to pass the measure. And following years of inaction by lawmakers, voters used the state’s initiative petition process to expand eligibility for the Medicaid health care program and allow medical marijuana.

“This General Assembly did everything to say no to Medicaid expansion, and our voters said yes,” Democratic Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern said. “That’s the real reason we’re here today.

Conservative and progressive Missouri organizations also slammed the proposal as a power grab by lawmakers.

“Missouri’s 115-year-old ballot measure process allows voters to circumvent partisan divides in Jefferson City and directly get things done for the people,” said Rob Schaaf, co-founder of Conservatives Against Corruption, in a statement. “The General Assembly should not support misguided efforts to erode this process.”

Some Republican House members also questioned a provision added to the measure that would delay its effect until January 2023.

Republican Rep. Jered Taylor said that unfairly allows initiative petitions that have already been filed, such as the push to legalize recreational marijuana, to operate under the current rules.

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“If we think it’s important for some of the changes to take effect in four years or two years, they should be important enough to take effect now,” Taylor said to House members. “Why are we letting special interests come into the state of Missouri and have a lower threshold this November and next November?”

Republican Rep. Dan Shaul, who supports the delayed effective date, countered that it would be unfair to change the rules mid-cycle.

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This story has been updated to correct the attribution of comments to Rob Schaaf and that the proposal would require signatures of 10% of voters who cast ballots for governor in the previous general election.