Missouri Senate bills would change ballot initiative process

(The Center Square) – A number of bills filed in the Missouri legislature would change the way constitutional amendments and laws would make it to the ballot and the number of votes required to pass.

Currently, initiative petitions proposing constitutional amendments must be signed by 8% of voters in two-thirds of Missouri’s congressional districts. Once signatures are verified, initiative petitions proposing constitutional amendments must be approved by a simple majority of votes cast to take effect.

This year, Senate Joint Resolution 5, filed by Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, earlier this month, would require initiative petitions to be approved by at least 60% of votes cast to take effect.

Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed by Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, requires all constitutional amendments, whether proposed by initiative or by the General Assembly, to be approved by at least 60% of voters if they include imposing or increasing taxes or fees, or obligate the state to appropriate $10 million or more in any of the first five years after enactment.

Senate Joint Resolution 2, filed by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, would require approval of a simple majority of the total number of registered voters in the state to amend the constitution, but the amount of the majority would be determined by the number of registered voters at the time of the most recent state election.

“If they are going to take part of that process away, then they’re going to start changing the legislature,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, told reporters last week. “A lot of these things are going to happen, just momentum happens. And if they’re not going to allow a way around the legislature, they’re going to start changing the legislature. And last I checked, they’re in the majority. So if they’re going to change the legislature, it won’t be beneficial to them.”

Last year, the legislature was unable to pass legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. Enough signatures were gathered by citizens to put the initiative on the November ballot and it passed, despite strong criticism from Republican Gov. Mike Parson and other legislators.

Rowden disagreed with Rizzo’s assessment of the people’s voice being reduced.

“My chief concern has always been that anytime you’re asking the voters to do something that is complicated, it’s really easy for the other side just to say, ‘Hey, these crooked politicians are taking away your voice,’” Rowden said. “I don’t actually think that’s what we’re doing, but that message is pretty easy. So if that message has a bunch of money behind it, yeah, I think it makes it harder for that to pass. My decision to ultimately push for or vote for a bill would probably have pretty little to do with any interest groups in opposition or support.”

As bills start getting hearings in committees, Rizzo said long and thorough conversations will be in order.

“I definitely think that we will have a deep discussion about what it means to the people and, what I consider, taking their voice away,” Rizzo said.

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