GOP lawmakers trying to make initiative petition process like Prop. A RTW repeal too costly, cumbersome to pursue

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CITIZENS HEARD: We Are Missouri collected 310,567 signatures on an initiative petition to place the phony “right-to-work” for less on the statewide ballot for voters to decide. Legislation being considered in the Missouri House and Senate would establish costly fees and burdensome stipulations to prevent grassroots groups and citizens from pursuing similar initiative petitions in the future. – Labor Tribune photo.

Legislation would add numerous fees, stipulations

Jefferson City – Missouri lawmakers are considering several measures backed by Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft that would change requirements in the initiative petition process used to place Proposition A to repeal “right-to-work” and other grassroots, citizen-led measures on the ballot.

Currently citizens in Missouri have the option of sending issues to a public vote if they get language approved through the secretary of state’s office and collect enough valid public signatures.

The number of petitions filed in Missouri has increased in recent years, from 129 in 2014 to 223 in 2016, and more than 330 for the upcoming November 2018 election.

Ashcroft says the proposed changes would safeguard initiative petitions from individuals that “want to bypass the legislature” because they “can’t get the laws they want.”

Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, says legislators are trying to make the initiative petition process too costly and cumbersome to pursue.

THE LEGISLATION

• House Bill 1289, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) would establish a 90-cent fee for each signature collected by paid circulators.

We Are Missouri’s initiative to repeal “right-to-work” collected 310,567 signatures to place the measure now known as Proposition A on the ballot. Under the proposed legislation, those signatures would have required We Are Missouri to pay more than $279,510 to proceed had all the signatures been gathered by paid petitioners, which they were not.

“The constitution of the state of Missouri is set up in such a way that the people can make their voices heard over the objections of the legislature,” Louis said. “Now the legislature wants to make the process of signature collection and ballot initiatives so high that it puts it out of the reach of everyone except for billionaires and big corporations.”

Proposition A is expected to appear on the August ballot. A majority vote of ‘No’ on Prop. A will defeat RTW.

• House Bill 1842, sponsored by Rep. Jay Houghton (R-Martinsburg) would require petition circulators to wear a name tag indicating whether they are paid and make it illegal to pay circulators based on the number of signatures gathered.

• Senate Bill 893, sponsored by Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) adds numerous fees and stipulations to the petition filing process, including:

• Font size – One requirement calls for the font on documents submitted to be double-spaced, and of a certain size, to ensure information is not intentionally hidden in small sized text.

• Filing fee – Another requirement would establish a $500 filing fee to discourage the filing of numerous similar petitions.

• Signature verification fee – Another 40-cent fee would be charged for each signature collected by paid canvassers to cover the cost incurred by election authorities and county clerks to verify the signatures. 

• Word count – The word limit on summary statements that explain the intent of the petitions would be expanded from 50-to-150 words.  Summary statements are attached to documents canvassers carry as they’re gathering signatures.

• Language – The language used to introduce summary statements would be changed from phrase “Shall the measure summarized be approved” to “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended.”

• Invalidating signatures – The bill further stipulates that if there’s a court-ordered change to language in the summary, all signatures gathered prior to the change would be invalidated.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL POLL TAX

Conservative lobbyist Woody Cozad of First Rule Incorporated says charging fees to file a petition, or for collecting signatures, amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax.

“Inch by inch, we are getting rid of the initiative petition,” Cozad said.

“You cannot place a fee on a constitutionally guaranteed right. All of us, all the taxpayers of the state just have to dig in our pockets and put the money into general revenue to pay the costs of guaranteeing the exercise of our fundamental rights.  We can’t do that with a user fee.”

(Some information provided by Magedeline Duncan, a University of Missouri School of Journalism student participating in the Statehouse News reporting program sponsored by the Missouri Press Association (MPA). The Labor Tribune is a member of the MPA.)

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