Missouri lawmakers consider making it harder for voters to change state constitution
JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers are trying again to make it harder for voters to submit and approve constitutional amendments at the ballot box.
A proposed resolution would increase the number of signatures needed to put a measure to a statewide vote, and raise the threshold to approve an amendment from a simple majority to two-thirds. If passed, the change would need to be approved by a majority of voters in November to go into effect.
The House elections committee heard testimony and debated the proposal by Rep. Mike Henderson, a Bonne Terre Republican, on Tuesday. It was one of several election reform measures passed by the Missouri House last session that fell short of approval in the Senate.
Henderson said he supports the initiative petition process, which allows Missourians to gather signatures to either overturn laws passed by legislators or directly amend the constitution, but believes there is currently "too low a threshold" for the latter. He called the two-thirds mark one that he "thought was reasonable."
"The Missouri Constitution is a living document but it should not be an ever-expanding document," Henderson said.
Currently, a petition seeking to amend the state constitution needs to be signed by 8 percent of voters from each of six congressional districts (just over 170,000 signatures total). Henderson's proposal would raise that to 10 percent of voters from every congressional district.
Other Republicans on the committee indicated strong support for the bill, including chairman Rep. Dan Shaul of Imperial. He argued that the current requirement of a simple majority vote puts "the constitution on the same level as dogcatchers." Grain Valley Republican Rep. Jeff Coleman took issue with the type of issues that voter amendments had put into the constitution.
"Do you think that bingo and marijuana belong on a constitution?" Coleman said.
Rep. Bishop Davidson of Republic, a new member to the elections committee, also indicated he would support the measure.
In recent years, voters have used the petition process to bring forward and approve several amendments, including legalized medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion and an election ethics package that changed how the state's redistricting process works. Lawmakers approved a ballot measure in 2020 that overturned most of the redistricting changes, which was okayed by voters.
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Democrats on the committee pushed back on the legislation, calling it unnecessary and reactionary.
"I believe it's an attempt to deny the citizens of this state participation in their democracy, I really do," said Rep. Joe Adams, a University City Democrat. "I want to make sure Missouri residents have all the rights they currently have and that they are protected, and I see this as an attempt to destroy those rights."
Lawmakers criticized in particular the role of outside money in the petition process. Deputy Secretary of State Trish Vincent, testifying to the committee for informational purposes, claimed that "if you have $3 million, you can get an initiative petition put on a ballot."
The proposal garnered support from a representative of the Opportunity Solutions Project, a Naples, Florida-based group. It was opposed by Missouri Jobs with Justice Voter Action and the League of Women Voters.