JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A judge has ordered changes made to ballot language written by former Secretary of State Jason Kander regarding 2017 initiative petitions that would essentially repeal right-to-work in Missouri.
Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem ruled Thursday that while Kander had used unbiased language at the time he drafted the language for the initiative petitions, the passage of SB 19, Missouri’s right-to-work law, in February had changed the political landscape sufficiently that entirely new language would be needed to address the true changes the possible amendment would make to the state.
“The central effects of the IPs would be to repeal SB 19 indirectly,” Beetem wrote in his ruling. “Thus, SB 19 and the effect that these IPs would have on SB19 constitute essential context necessary for voters to understand the primary effect of the initiative petitions. Because the summary statements here do not provide this essential context necessary, they are unfair and insufficient.”
The change in language Beetem recommended are stark. For example, one of the initiative petitions with Kander’s language read: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prohibit impairing, restricting or limiting the negotiation and enforcement of certain collectively bargained agreements with an employer?”
The new language for the same petition reads: “Do the people of Missouri want to change the constitution to remove the right to choose whether or not to join a union (“right-to-work”) and allow union representatives to force an employee to make payments to the union as a condition of employment as well as organize and negotiate through a union representative.”
There were multiple petitions filed by Mike Louis, the president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, and many of them were also changed in a similar way.
The ruling also found Kander had not violated the mandatory 15-day public comment period required of all new initiative petitions. Kander approved the initiative petitions Jan. 9, 2017, his last day in office, just before Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft took over after his election last November. His office received Louis’ petitions just before Christmas.
Ashcroft’s office noted only a judge could rewrite ballot language or summary statements, but the office of the secretary of state cannot rewrite ballot language itself. Beetem requested proposed orders from all parties involved, including the secretary of state’s office, as well as plaintiff John Paul Evans Jr. and Louis who was a defendant/intervenor in the case to determine new language.