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General Assembly takes initiative petition alterations under consideration

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly is considering a variety of proposals that would make alterations to the initiative petition process. The measures aim to up the threshold for changing the state’s constitution and limit the number of so-called frivolous petitions filed.

On Monday, the Senate embarked on a lengthy decision on requirements for constitutional amendments while a House committee presented a bill that is the culmination of roughly a dozen measures.  

The state Senate kicked off the week with a long debate on a bill that would increase the requirements to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot through initiative petition and the vote count for that change to actually pass. The bill was eventually laid over.

SJR 1, filed by Sen. David Sater, would require petitioners to gather signatures after 15 percent of voters in each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts as opposed to the current 8 percent requirements in six congressional districts. It was also up the necessary votes from a simple majority to two-thirds to pass on election day.

“Our state constitution is a sacred document and as far as I’m concerned, it should be very difficult to change because once it’s changed, it’s there forever,” said Sater. “We need a thorough yet accessible process for changing our state constitution.”

But Democrats argued that by increasing the requirements it will make it near impossible for citizens to petition the government and it will limit those actually able to participate in the process.

They pointed to a multitude of constitutional amendments that previously passed at the ballot box that would be affected by the change. Going off the proposed standard, they questioned if amendments such as Hancock, Carnahan, and Clean Missouri would have even made it to the ballot, let alone passed.

“It’s like we want you to have a voice, but not that much of a voice,” said Sen. Kiki Curls.

Measures making changes to the initiative petition process in the House got similar pushback.

Also on Monday, Rep. Dan Shaul presented HCB 10, which was a result of 10 bills the House elections committee heard last week.

It bill requires a $350 refundable fee for filing an initiative petition with the office of the Missouri Secretary of State. The fee is refunded if the petition is authorized to appear on the ballot within the two year period after a summary statement is prepared for the petition. It imposes an additional $25 per page filing fee for initiative petitions that are in excess of 10 pages long.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has testified in support of the measures looking to limit so-called frivolous petitions. He noted that in recent years, more of the state’s resources are being used on petitions proposed and filed but have no follow through on gathering signatures.

In the 2008 cycle, there were 55 initiative petitions filed, 25 were approved for circulation, and 3 made it onto the ballot. In the 2018 cycle, there were 371 initiative petitions filed, 148 were approved for circulation, and 5 made it onto the ballot.

Specifically looking at the initiative petitions for the 2018 election, one Missourian filed 60 petitions, another filed 57 petitions, and another filed 30 petitions. In all, only 32 different Missourians filed the 371 initiative petitions received by the Secretary of State’s Office.

“I think this is a process we can make better, we can make more secure, without taking away the ability of the people to petition,” said Ashcroft previously told the Missouri Times. “This ability to redress the government for grievances is important.”

Following the House hearing, Jobs for Justice, the campaign that successfully advocated for a wage hike at the ballot box in November, fought back against the changes with a veto letter from former-Gov. John Ashcroft.

Gov. John Ashcroft vetoed HB 268 in June 1991, pointing to rules crafted by legislators that were designed to increase the costs for citizens to circulate and qualify initiative petitions.

“It is through the initiative process that those who have no influence with elective representatives may take their cause directly to the people. The General Assembly should be reluctant, therefore, to enact legislation which places any impediments on the initiative power which are inconsistent with the reservation found in the Constitution,” Ashcroft wrote in his veto letter.