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House passes measures to raise threshold for initiative petitions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — An effort to increase the threshold for initiative petitions passed out of the Missouri House Thursday. 

HJR 79 increases the threshold of voter passage of initiative petitions to two-thirds rather than a simple majority. The resolution also requires initiative petitions to receive 10 percent of signatures from each congressional district to be placed on a ballot.

“I’m just very excited to see this pass and go on over to the Senate. It’s something I truly believe in. Our constitution should be a living document and not an ever-expanding document,” Rep. Mike Henderson, the sponsor, told The Missouri Times. 

Henderson said he considers the initiative petition process to be important but said it’s “used too often to expand things that can’t get through the legislature.” He said under the threshold set in HJR 79, 13 initiative petitions would have still been successful since 2000. 

“We’re not taking away the voice of the people, just tightening the parameters,” Henderson, a Republican from St. Francois County, said. 

Several Republicans, including House Elections and Elected Officials Committee chairman Rep. Dan Shaul, defended the bill on the floor Thursday, claiming this measure would prevent out-of-state interests from influencing Missouri policy.

But Democratic members insisted the measure would disenfranchise voters.

“The little guy is done in Missouri if this happens,” Democratic Rep. David Tyson Smith said. “If this passes, it will kill grassroots efforts in Missouri.”

And seven Republicans voted against the bill: Shamed Dogan, Bill Kidd, Suzie Pollock, Brian Seitz, Jered Taylor, Cheri Toalson-Reisch, and Sara Walsh. 

“I support initiative petition reform and the underlying bill, but think it should be implemented immediately because otherwise we risk giving special interest groups outside of the state of Missouri the ability to change our constitution,” Walsh said. 

She voted for an amendment from Taylor which would have changed the implementation date. The amendment failed. 

The resolution passed 98-53 and awaits approval in the Senate.