Failure on constitutional ballot reform highlights end of Missouri legislative session

(The Center Square) – As House Speaker Dean Plocher asked the Missouri Senate to get to work on Friday, the chamber adjourned.

Plocher, a candidate for the GOP nomination for secretary of state from St. Louis, held a rare press conference before starting the final day of the 2024 session. He demanded the Senate pass a resolution to alter initiative petitions (IP), the way citizens vote to change the state constitution at the ballot box.

After a two-day filibuster by Senate Democrats ended on Wednesday, the Senate sent the bill to the House for a possible compromise version in a committee. On Thursday, the House resoundingly voted against any compromise on Senate Joint Resolution 74 and sent the bill back to the Senate.

“This is not our problem,” Plocher told reporters. “This is not our mess. I think the other side of the building has proven to be a mess year in and year out.”

The Senate adjourned without conducting any business on Friday.

“I thought it might be the best way to end the session,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, told reporters at a press conference. “I never know what might be going to come up. This being the last day, I thought it would be good to end in a cordial way. Yesterday was not that day.”

The Senate failed on Thursday to get through the mundane task of passing its journal from the previous day.

“I felt that the risk of leaving it open was less than the reward of ending early,” O’Laughlin said.

The legislature passed 46 bills, including 18 appropriations bills, during the session. Seventeen were from the Senate and 11 from the House. Not counting the appropriations bills, the 28 passed was the smallest number since 31 were passed in 2020 during the COVID pandemic.

Plocher and other Republicans prioritized initiative petition reform at the start of the session after it died in the Senate last year. The legislation would have asked voters to decide if changes to the state constitution should be approved by a majority statewide and in five of the state’s eight congressional districts. The ballot language started by asking if only U.S. citizens should vote on constitutional amendments and prohibit foreign countries from funding amendment proposals, both currently illegal.

“We wouldn’t let them trick people,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo said. “And, obviously, there were a lot of people on the other side of the aisle that felt the same way.”

Members of the Senate’s Freedom Caucus held a filibuster during the session to move IP reform ahead and threatened progress of other legislation unless the governor immediately signed into law a bill ending Medicaid reimbursements to abortion providers.

“It was always the plan to tank IP from the start,” Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, and a member of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters. “That’s why we started the filibustering and forcing this to the forefront.”

Rizzo said the session and its ending was “bizarre.”

“I don’t think Democrats won or Republicans lost,” Rizzo said. “Decorum won. I think the bullies lost. I think the [Senate] pushed back on being pushed around all year.”

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