Republican legislators continue blatant attack on initiative petition process

Goal is to preserve their power, silence will of voters


Republicans in the Missouri Legislature are ramping up their blatant attack on the state’s initiative petition process, which would deny voters from having their voices heard at the ballot box.

The process, which has been a part of the Missouri constitution for over a century, allows the public to propose and enact or reject laws and amendments to the constitution by initiative independent from the General Assembly. It also empowers the public to approve or reject by referendum any act of the General Assembly.

“Instead of preserving the power of the people, they are attempting to stop us from directly participating in democracy,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Jake Hummel. “The process has been used recently to repeal so-called ‘right-to-work,” raise the minimum wage and expand Medicaid – all efforts to benefit Missouri’s working families that the legislature either pushed through or failed to act on.”

The Missouri AFL-CIO is tracking several GOP-sponsored bills that would make it harder, if not impossible, to amend the constitution by changing the initiative petition process. Last week, a third measure (HJR 91) to gut the process was approved on a voice vote in a House committee.

“This one makes it so if citizens want something on the ballot, they gather the signatures and do all the work, and it would then (among many things) have to go through the General Assembly allowing politicians to change it,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield).

Another measure (HJR 79), approved by the House, would require support from at least two-thirds of voters to amend the constitution as opposed to the current simple majority. It also would increase the number of signatures needed to put a proposal on the ballot from eight percent of voters in six out of Missouri’s eight congressional districts to 10 percent of voters in all eight congressional districts.

Meanwhile, HJR 70 would require that initiative petitions be approved by a majority of “registered” voters, rather than the majority of voters deciding on a particular issue. Currently, initiative petitions are approved by a simple majority of voters.

Representative Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) said Republicans were trying to trick voters into supporting the measure and that the phrase “majority of registered voters” is intentionally misleading.

“We are getting rid of (initiative petitions),” Merideth said. “You just know you can’t get the voters to vote for it if you actually say that.”

Democrat Russ Carnahan and Republican Tom Coleman, both former members of the Missouri House and U.S. congressmen, penned an opinion piece on the legislature’s efforts to limit voters’ constitutional rights in the Feb. 24 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We understand why most Republicans are bent on pursuing these misdirected changes,” they wrote. “We know the thinking of many legislators: They want all the power to pass laws, all the time – even when they don’t use that power for the people. In other words, supporters of these changes are telling voters: Leave us alone.

Richard Von Glahn, Missouri Jobs with Justice policy director, said the initiative petition process provides citizens a check on the Missouri legislature to make sure their voices are heard. (See related story on Page 2.)

He is encouraging everyone to call and email their legislators and tell them to leave our initiative petition process alone.

“It ain’t broke, and we certainly don’t need them ‘fixing’ it,” he said

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