KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned a circuit court ruling Tuesday that required a rewrite of ballot language written by former Secretary of State Jason Kander.
The initiative petition summary statements were approved the day Kander left office and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft took over, dealing with initiative petitions submitted by labor leaders, namely AFL-CIO President Mike Louis, as an attempt to repeal a right-to-work law Gov. Eric Greitens was expected to sign. After Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the passage of SB 19 had changed the political landscape enough that Kander’s language had become insufficient.
In a unanimous opinion for the appellate court, Judge Gary Witt disagreed because the apprehension of considering future laws was an illogical burden to place on the secretary of state’s office.
“Missouri courts have never held that a summary statement prepared by the secretary of state must explain the initiative’s potential effect on existing or future statutes to be fair and sufficient,” Witt wrote. “The Initiative Petitions, by way of constitutional amendments, may well override some of the provisions of SB19. But, it is unnecessary for the summaries to include information regarding SB19 for voters to understand generally the impact of the Initiative Petitions.”
The court also comprehensively dismissed all of the claims of pro-right-to-work advocates who argued Kander’s original language was unfair, insufficient and grammatically incorrect. The plaintiffs argued Kander’s original language understated the impact of the laws with broad language.
“This Court agrees with the Plaintiffs that the Secretary of State could have written better Summary Statements containing more detail given the additional words available under the required 100 word limit,” Witt wrote. “We cannot, however, rewrite summaries that are fair and sufficient merely because they are broadly written so long as they are not misleading or deceitful.”
However, in the court’s final decision, they did find Kander’s summary statements for two of the proposed languages were too broad and rewrote them to provide greater specificity. For the most part, however, Kander’s statements will again be the summary statements on the initiative petitions.
The plaintiffs for that part of the test were led by Mary Hill, a former Republican nominee for state representative and right-to-work advocate.
Another part of the appeal included a contention that Kander had erred in taking input from the required public comment period all initiative petitions must undergo. The appellate court agreed with Beetem that Kander did not actually need to take public comments into account when drafting language for summary statements.
“There is nothing… that requires the public comments to be incorporated into the drafting of summary statements,” Witt wrote. “The Secretary of State is free to give as much or as little attention and weight to the comments as he or she so chooses… Though it may not be a wise decision and may cause additional litigation that could have been avoided if the Secretary of State had fully considered all public comments prior to drafting the Summary Statement, the legislature gives the Secretary of State the discretion to make that choice.”
This is a developing story and more information will be added throughout the day. The full case can be read here.