Legislation requiring 60% of votes to change Missouri Constitution draws praise, criticism

(The Center Square) – A resolution creating a steeper challenge to change Missouri’s Constitution was panned by Democrats as limiting the voice of the voter on Thursday, while Republicans praised its protection of the state’s founding charter.

After the House of Representatives adjourned for the week, both parties met with reporters and commented on House Joint Resolution 43, sent to the Senate on Thursday. It passed 106-50 on Wednesday.

Currently, any constitutional amendment placed on the ballot by an initiative petition must receive a simple majority to pass. HJR 43, if approved by voters, would require citizen initiative petitions to get 60% of votes cast for approval.

Last November, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana. During the past few years, voters also defeated a “Right to Work” amendment, passed Medicaid expansion and increased the minimum wage.

After Missouri’s “trigger law” outlawed elective abortions hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, many speculated there would be an initiative petition to add abortion rights to the Missouri Constitution.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said the legislation goes beyond targeting any initiative petition to legalize abortion in Missouri.

“I think this has to do with the fact that, year after year, for well over a decade, the voters have voted for progressive issues at the ballot box,” Quade said. “The Republicans in Jefferson City don’t like that. They don’t like the voters’ voices being heard, and abortion is part of that conversation. But I really think this is about the past decade in our state.”

House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, said the legislation protects Missouri’s Constitution and is the result of five years of work.

“It’s a sacred document and you don’t want to change it willy-nilly,” Plocher said. “And we shouldn’t be changing our Constitution just because out-of-state money and interests that have very little connection to Missouri want to affect Missourians’ quality of life. (Voters) should be able to view how we change our Constitution. The threshold needs to be a little bit higher and the voters need to be better informed as to what people are trying to do to our Constitution.”

The first phrase of the ballot title states, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: Allow only citizens of the United States to qualify as legal voters …” Democrats called the placement “ballot candy” that deceptively stops voters from reading the rest of the ballot before they see the issue is about the percentage of votes necessary to change the Constitution.

“People are going to go to the ballot and they’re going to look and think, ‘Oh, this is what it’s about. It’s about citizens voting,'” said Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia. “That’s already in the statutes. Why are we talking about that first? Why are you putting it in there at all? Put it at the end if you’re going to. Why are why are we doing this by deceit? People deserve better than this.”

Plocher said the language needs to be placed first to establish proper voting parameters.

“It’s good language,” Plocher said. “It is clarification language. It might be in other parts of the Constitution, but I think this needs to be specifically enumerated with how we’re addressing our Constitution, that we are changing the Constitution. … We believe that you need to be a Missouri citizen, U.S. citizen, to actually engage in this process to vote in Missouri.”

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