By ED FINKELSTEIN
In an almost secretive effort to stifle the voice of Missourians, the Republican-controlled legislature is considering a bill to make it almost impossible for citizens to stop objectionable laws by making it harder to do Citizens’ Referendum and Initiative Petition campaigns.
The effort appears to be a direct attack on workers who want to give the public the chance to decide whether or not there should be a statewide vote in 2018 on the phony so-called “right-to-work” (for less) law. The proposed Citizens’ Referendum about to be circulated would authorize a 2018 public vote if it obtains the required number of signatures by Aug. 25.
As unions and other groups wanting to protect democracy gear up this week to collect signatures on the referendum petition demanding the public vote on RTW, the legislature is quietly pushing a bill that would severely restrict such efforts. Whether or not it will contain and “emergency clause” allowing for immediate implementation – thereby impeding the Citizens’ Referendum petition effort – remains to be seen.
“This is clearly an attack on American democracy. Trying to make it harder for citizens to object to a terrible law is as un-American as it gets. Trying to disguise it as improving ‘transparency’ is as disgraceful as the effort itself,” said Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis.
“Promoters of this effort should be ashamed of themselves. This is a new low even for this Republican Party. There are responsible Republicans who I’m sure can’t support this kind of new low.”
The bill would:
- Restrict the time period to file a petition to only after a general election.
- Severely restrict the time signatures can be collected to only nine months before the election date on which the issue would be decided. This would severely limit the time to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures needed across the state.
- Require signature collectors to be registered Missouri voters.
- Restrict signature collectors to only Missouri residents.
- Force collectors to display a badge indicating if they are a volunteer or paid solicitor.
- Prohibit paying signature collectors by the number of signatures they collect.
- Force groups to pay a $500 fee per petition filed, refundable only if the issue gets to the ballot. (Often groups file multiple petitions to ensure one gets through the authorization process.)
- Require the petition to be a printed in a specific type size and font.
“I hope Missouri voters will see through this veiled attempt to stomp on their rights as citizens,” added AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Jake Hummel.
“It’s amazing to me how far some Republican lawmakers will go to push their own distorted agenda by trying to effectively eliminate our voices in how Missouri should help its own citizens.”
The proposal – Senate Bill 389 – has already been heard and approved by a Senate committee and is awaiting debate in the full Senate – probably this week. In the House, a similar bill – HB1043 – had a committee hearing last week.
IMPEDE CURRENT EFFORT?
Should a final bill making signature collections more difficult include an emergency clause making it law immediately, it should not impact the current Citizens Referendum petition effort, attorney Jim Faul with the Hartnett Gladney Hetterman law firm, which represents the Missouri AFL-CIO, told the Labor Tribune.
“(While) the legislature may try to place an emergency clause on the bill, making it immediately effective…the proposed changes likely do not fit the constitutional requirements for an emergency clause. That aspect, as well as other issues with the bill, would have to be handled in the courts.”
(Some information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri Senate records.)
Former chairman of Missouri GOP condemns effort to silence voters’ voices
Woody Cozad, former chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, a champion of conservative causes and now a lobbyist, condemned this new Republican effort to stifle public input into the political process and candidly said that it would ruin many petitioners’ chances for success. He also said he felt it was unconstitutional.
“Because this legislature over the years has tightened and tightened and tightened the law on initiative petitions until it is virtually impossible to do it except with paid circulators in a pretty short period time (especially) if I can hold you up in court, I can make it impossible for you to get these things passed,” Cozad told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In a direct rebuke to his party, Cozad said:
“I think we’re past the time to stop trying to restrict the people’s fundamental right to make law for themselves.”