Legislation aims to silence Missouri voters
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Jefferson City – A bill making it harder for voters to change the Missouri Constitution has passed out of committee and is headed to the Senate floor.
The proposed measure, SJR 74, is a combination of several similar bills introduced by Republicans to sabotage the initiative petition process by ending majority rule on constitutional amendments by voters. It is sponsored by Rep. Mary Coleman (R-Arnold).
SJR 74 would require all proposed constitutional amendments to receive a majority of the votes cast statewide AND a majority of the votes cast in at least a majority of the state house districts. Any changes to the initiative petition process would have to be approved statewide by voters.
ATTEMPT TO SILENCE VOTERS
“Ending majority rule is just another attempt by Republicans to silence the voters and forge ahead with their own agendas,” said Jake Hummel, Missouri AFL-CIO president. “They are trying to take away Missourians constitutional right to petition their government when politicians fail to act. It’s a process voters have used over 100 years.”
Voters most recently used the initiative petition process to approve Proposition B, raising the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2024. In 2018, voters used a similar process to overturn a so-called “right-to-work” law Republican legislators had passed – that process also required a majority rule vote.
The Senate committee fast-tracked the bill to the Senate floor one day after holding public hearings on several bills to change the initiative petition changes. Typically, committees hold hearings on bills and then wait a week or more before taking further action.
Republicans say advancing changes to the initiative petition is urgent because of a pro-abortion rights campaign collecting signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
VOTING RIGHTS LOBBY DAY
Recognizing that urgency, the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition organized a Voting Rights Lobby Day in Jefferson City on Jan. 30. About 150 voting rights advocates met with legislators to tell them to protect the initiative petition process and share how it has bettered the lives of Missourians.
The event had the support of representatives from the Missouri AFL-CIO, Missouri NAACP State Conference, UAW Local 2250, Teamsters, League of Women Voters of Missouri, Missouri Jobs with Justice and many more groups.
Missouri Voter Protection Coalition Director Denise Lieberman said all the initative petition bills this session attack democracy in different ways, but they all share one key element.
“They end majority rule in Missouri and make it harder for Missourians to decide critical questions for themselves,” Lieberman said. “If an issue needs 60 percent or more in some convoluted formula to pass, what that really means is that a small number of people can overrule the majority of citizens on any issue. That’s just wrong.”
‘FORCE ANTI-WORKER AGENDA’
Richard Von Glahn, policy director for Missouri Jobs with Justice, said that majority rule has helped Missourians to increase the minimum wage, expand health care and protect collective bargaining.
“It’s an attempt by legislators to force anti-worker laws and their agenda on an unwilling population,” he said.
‘ALREADY COMPLICATED AND DIFFICULT’
Marilyn McLeod, president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, said the citizen initiative petition is the most direct form of voter participation in our democracy.
“This valuable and trusted process has been enshrined in the Missouri Constitution for more than 100 years and has been used for both conservative and progressive issues,” McLeod said. “It is already a complicated and difficult process. The League of Women Voters of Missouri opposes any attempts to make it more difficult to get a measure on the ballot or to raise the threshold for approval.”
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS
Hummel recommends calling or emailing your state legislators to tell them NOT to end majority rule in Missouri. You can find your legislators and their contact information at senate.mo.gov/legislookup/default.