GOP legislators fast-track four bills designed to stifle our voices and attack Missouri’s initiative petition process

Legislation would take away voter power, make it harder to change constitution

By TIM ROWDEN
Editor-in-Chief

MISSOURI REPUBLICANS are fast-tracking four bills aimed at making the initiative petition process harder, if not impossible, for voters to be heard.
– Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications photo

Jefferson City – Over the objections of Democrats and testimony against the measures by both Republican and Democratic voters, a House committee last week endorsed the latest attempt by Republicans to make it harder for voters to change the Missouri Constitution.

The House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials voted along partisan lines Jan. 25 to forward four related bills to the House floor to raise the threshold for both the number of signatures needed to place a proposed amendment on the ballot and the number of votes needed for an amendment to win approval.

The vote occurred one day after the committee held a public hearing on all four pieces of legislation, plus another bill which the committee did not vote on. The chair of the committee, Rep. Peggy McGaugh (R-Carrollton) even remarked that “quite a bit more” people had come to Jefferson City in opposition of the bills than in support, Progress Missouri reported.

WHAT’S AT STAKE
At stake is the process Missouri voters used to turn back “right-to-work” (for less) and raise the minimum wage in 2018, expand Medicaid eligibility in 2020 and legalize marijuana in Missouri last year.

The proposed changes would make it harder to place an amendment on the ballot by requiring signatures from seven percent of the voters in all eight of the state’s congressional districts, Kurt Erickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained. Currently, signatures are needed from eight percent of voters in six of the eight districts.

The bills include one which would require a 60 percent vote to pass constitutional amendments, and two bills that would require a majority of registered voters to pass amendments, rather than a majority based on the number voters who actually cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election, as it is now.

Opponents say that change would make it virtually impossible for a measure to win approval.

‘YOU WORK FOR US’
Voters on both sides of the political aisle spoke out against the changes in the committee hearing, as Progress Missouri reports:

“When we send a message to the legislature, we mean it,”  a witness from St. Charles, who self-identified as a Republican, said in the Jan. 24 public hearing. “I am embarrassed and scared of some of the representatives’ intentions, even in my own party… Get this straight, you work for us… Stop taking away our rights.”

“It is going against what the people want. You saw the great outpouring of opposition against these bills, even by the people who are supportive of the majority party,” said Rep. Joe Adams (D-University City) after the bills’ passage by the committee. “I believe you are turning more and more citizens against government by passing laws that the citizens do not want.”

Rep. Adams further critiqued the majority for pushing the bills through without giving committee members enough time to propose amendments or fully litigate the legislation.

Marilyn McLeod, president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, said they oppose any efforts by the General Assembly to make the ballot initiative process even more difficult.

“The citizen initiative petition process is the most direct form of voter participation in our democracy,” she said. “The people resort to the initiative petition, especially regarding changes to the Constitution, only because they feel their voice isn’t being heard.”

The bills passed to the floor on a party-line vote. All four bills received 11 votes in favor of moving the legislation forward and five votes against, with every Republican present voting in favor.



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