JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The issue of right-to-work is still up in the air in the Show-Me State, despite the passage of the legislation during the 2017 legislative session, and there are a number of questions still to be answered before voters make the final call on the issue.
Though Republicans managed to power the legislation through early in the year, it gave their opponents more than enough time to gather the signatures needed to call for a referendum on the law. And with more than 300,000 signatures, the law was stalled and left to the will of the people. But a number of scenarios could still play out in regard to right-to-work’s mission in Missouri.
An interesting turn of events could arrive with a date change for the right-to-work vote. Republican lawmakers are expected to put forward legislation that would move up the timetable, placing Prop A on the August primary ballot instead of the November general election.
The ballot measure in effect has been slated for November 6, 2018, but that only holds unless a different date is selected by the General Assembly.
Rep. Holly Rehder and Sen. Dave Schatz, the handlers of the right-to-work bill during the last legislative session, both filed resolutions (HCR 102 & SCR 49) before the deadline seeking to order the election to be moved to Aug. 7, 2018.
The intent, Republicans say, is to give voters a chance to weigh in on the matter as soon as possible.
To change the dates, the legislature would simply need to sign off on one of the resolutions.
Democrats, however, say the reason for putting the measure on the August primary ballot is for more political reasons. That’s because fewer voters typically hit the polls in an August primary than in a November general election.
But more importantly, leaving the proposition on the November ballot could play into the turnout for the general election. If left there, it could mean a higher turnout of Democratic voters, labor union members and supporters, who have historically leaned to the left. And in a year where Republicans are hoping to unseat U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, it could mean a boost in Democratic numbers.
Meanwhile, August elections typically see turnouts more conservative, while also withholding any potentially added support to McCaskill’s election.
Some good news for everyone involved is that the Secretary of State’s Office says that changing the date would not affect any costs or absentee ballots.
The battle of two ballots
Currently, the only ballot initiative appearing in the November 8 general election is Proposition A, which asks the voters if they want to adopt SB 19, the right-to-work legislation.
The legislature, however, has other plans in mind. Currently, SJR 40 and HJR 103, which have been referred to as the “freedom to work” proposals, are also awaiting a vote from the General Assembly. Those resolutions would offer an amendment to put right-to-work into the state Constitution.
But aside from actions of the legislature, there are other avenues being tried. Several constitutional amendments have been filed through the initiative petition process and are currently gathering signatures to land on the ballot.
The Secretary of State’s Office says that those petitions if having the necessary signatures would be placed on the November ballot unless the Governor were to decide to move it.
As the Missouri Consitution states: All amendments proposed by the general assembly or by the initiative shall be submitted to the electors for their approval or rejection by official ballot title as may be provided by law, on a separate ballot without party designation, at the next general election, or at a special election called by the governor prior thereto, at which he may submit any of the amendments.
Those filings have until Sunday, May 6, to turn in the necessary signatures, after which they would need to be certified by the Secretary of State’s Office and the local election authorities, a process that typically takes a couple of months.
But what would happen if two opposing initiatives appeared on the same ballot, and both passed?
That answer lies in the Missouri Constitution – Section III, Article 51, to be exact.
“When conflicting measures are approved at the same election the one receiving the largest affirmative vote shall prevail.”
Of course, the assumption would be after that one side would be the presumed loser, and would then turn to the courts in hope of some remedy.
If the resolutions in the Missouri legislature are brought forward, it would stand to reason that Democrats would be prepared to filibuster the resolutions.
So, the question then becomes: How does one filibuster a resolution in the House? Well, in simplest terms, it doesn’t matter that much, because it would most likely see the moving of the previous question and force a vote.
In the Senate, however, the resolution might face a filibuster, and to see how that could play out, one need only look to the last resolution that was filibustered in the Senate.
That was SJR 39, in which Democrats took turns standing against the bill for nearly 40 hours, which also ended with a PQ vote, passing the bill onto the House.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.