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House advances Clean Missouri changes after contentious hearing

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A House committee advanced legislation changing Clean Missouri after a heated hearing Thursday afternoon. 

SJR 38 — which passed out of the upper chamber before the COVID-19 pandemic essentially stalled legislative proceedings — bans lobbyist gifts to lawmakers altogether, lowers campaign contribution limits, and changes how the state’s redistricting process would work again. 

Approved by voters in November 2018, Amendment 1, dubbed “Clean Missouri,” changed the state’s redistricting process to require a new nonpartisan state demographer to draw legislative maps for the General Assembly following the 2020 U.S. Census. 

SJR 38 would instead place those duties in the hands of independent, bipartisan House and Senate commissions, similar to what was done in the past. It, too, would require voter approval. 

“I have no problem with letting the people of the state of Missouri look at an issue again,” Sen. Dan Hegeman, the Republican sponsor, told the House General Laws Committee.

Democrats have decried the Clean Missouri changes, arguing it “overturns the will of the voters.” And on Thursday, they added another complaint: the advancement of the resolution during the pandemic. 

Those opposed to the resolution questioned whether it was pertinent to take up the resolution while lawmakers are back in the capital city to focus on the budget and other measures to mitigate the fallout of coronavirus. Most legislators, including Hegeman, wore masks during the hearing. 

Rep. Peter Merideth noted the hearing room wasn’t as packed with members of the public as he would expect it to be.

“Why would that be? Well, because they are under a stay at home order where they’re advised not to be here taking part in a process, ironically, for a bill that is to undo a voter-driven initiative about transparency in the process,” Merideth said. “And yet here we are, on a day when they’re not supposed to be here, moving forward … to undo what they said they wanted.” 

The Capitol was open this week; visitors needed to pass through a screening, which included a temperature check, and were told to practice social distancing. The state, however, is still under a stay at home order until May 4. 

The General Laws Committee voted 9-4 to pass the resolution out after a nearly hour-long committee. Hegeman was the only person to testify regarding the legislation. 

“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Republican leadership has chosen to prioritize blatantly partisan legislation to overturn voter-approved redistricting reforms instead of focusing on the public health threat and economic devastation from COVID-19,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement following the vote. “By advancing their Dirty Missouri gerrymandering plan while the state combats this crisis, House Republicans prove that protecting their political power means more to them than protecting the physical and economic health of Missourians.” 

Although not part of the committee, Quade attended and questioned Hegeman on the legislation. She suggested waiting to see if the voter-approved changes worked before modifying them. 

Ahead of the hearing, the Clean Missouri campaign released a statement:

“Missourians are sick and dying, and our economy is in chaos. Our leaders should be finding ways to manage the pandemic and pull together, not advancing a plan to overturn the will of Missouri voters and put a radical gerrymandering scheme into the state constitution.” 

Members of the General Laws Committee include Republican Reps. Dean Plocher, Jered Taylor, Chuck Bayse, Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Travis Fitzwater, Ron Hicks, Jonathan Patterson, Nick Schroer, and Jeff Shawan. Aside from Merideth, Reps. Jon Carpenter, Tracy McCreery, and Wes Rogers make up the Democratic contingent of the committee. 


EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.