Senate advances bill to hamstring initiative petition process – our voice – in Missouri

DEMONSTRATORS STAND OUTSIDE the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City on July 1, 2021 and hold signs urging Gov. Mike Parson to fund voter-approved Medicaid expansion – Photo by Tessa Weinberg/Missouri Independent


Jefferson City – In a clear attack on the democratic voice of Missourians, the Missouri Senate advanced a watered down but equally harmful version of SS HJR43 – a bill designed to trick voters into giving away their constitutional freedom to have a say in important community issues through the initiative petition process.

The measure now heads back to the House, where lawmakers can either send the question to voters or continue debate. The legislative session ends May 12.

“I think once again the politicians in Jefferson City think that the voters in Missouri aren’t smart enough to make decisions on their own, so they make it harder for us to make changes to state laws when we aren’t happy with what’s going on in the Capitol,” said Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council.

“The initiative petition process makes it possible for voters to have a voice in the legislative process and the Legislature keeps moving the goal posts to make it more difficult for that to happen,” White said.

The House in February approved a measure that would require 60 percent support from voters to approve a constitutional amendment, up from a simple majority.

Senate Democrats successfully blocked that plan, but were unable to stop the bill from advancing. A compromise approved April 27 would require 57 percent approval, or a simple majority statewide as well as a simple majority in five of eight congressional districts, to amend the constitution.

Legislators in the past have attempted to change voter-approved statutory changes, such as the 2018 law to raise the state’s minimum wage and a 2020 law to expand Medicaid.

“This is a clear and unprecedented move to end majority rule in Missouri.” said Caitlyn Adams, Executive Director of Missouri Jobs with Justice Voter Action.

Much of the debate focused on the ballot summary that voters will see. As passed by the Senate the first thing voters will see is a statement that reads “Allow only U.S. citizens to vote on initiatives,” despite the fact that this is already true in Missouri law and is the first box someone must check when filling out a voter registration form. “Some politicians in Jefferson City are hoping they can trick voters with racist language while they rig the rules for this power grab,” Adams concluded.

Missourians from across the state and political spectrum reacted similarly.

Mark Perrigo, a Republican voter and Laborer from Hallsville, Mo., said, “Rather than do a better job for the people of Missouri, those same politicians have decided to be sore losers and try to take away our ability to change things for our communities. I will be certain to campaign against this with my neighbors.”

The impact of the proposed changes could be profound for many Missourians whose lives have been made better through the initiative petition process.

“Like most Missourians, I work hard for my family, but I don’t get paid enough and went without healthcare for many, many, many years,” said Bridget Hughes, a fast food worker and leader with Stand Up KC and the Missouri Workers Center.

“I voted to raise the minimum wage and expand Medicaid,” continued Hughes. “Because of those initiatives, I was able to pay my bills and treat my cervical cancer. We need to keep the power in our hands. Politicians need to leave the ballot initiative alone.”

Opponents have characterized the effort as an anti-democratic power grab by Republicans who oppose many citizen-led initiative petitions.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) said that when confronted with shortcomings, Republicans don’t change course.

Instead, he said the end goal for the GOP is to “gain more power, to keep power and to consolidate it.”

(Some information from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)

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