JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Both chambers of the General Assembly tackled reforms to initiative petitions Wednesday morning — although only one was able to successfully push through changes to the process.
Both bills up for perfection would overhaul the process for Missourians to have a direct say in state policy, but the changes centered on different steps in the process. The Senate considered tightening conditions for an initiative petition to make it on the ballot; the House looked at upping the requirement for filing an initiative petition.
The proposed changes to the process come after left-leaning groups used the initiative petition process to successfully push through three measures on the November 2018 ballot: ethics overhaul, minimum wage hike, and medical marijuana legalization.
The House made multiple changes to its committee bill before perfecting the proposal on a voice vote. The Senate debated a joint resolution for nearly two hours before laying over the measure.
On the Senate side was Republican Sen. David Sater’s SJR 1, a plan to narrow the ability to modify the state constitution through the initiative petition process. The resolution would require petitions be signed by at least 6 percent of legal voters in each congressional district, a change from the 8 percent currently required in six of the eight congressional districts. Most petitions would also require a 60 percent threshold vote to be implemented to pass the measures as opposed to a simple majority.
“I still feel it should be very difficult … to change our constitution, a sacred document,” Sater said. “I think only those issues with widespread, across-the-board support should make it in.”
And in the House, it was Rep. Dan Shaul’s HCB 10, which would require a $350 refundable fee for filing an initiative petition with the office of the Missouri secretary of state, that held the floor. 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 also imposes an additional $25 per page filing fee for initiative petitions in excess of 10 pages.
The measure is “somewhat of a collaboration of” an extended public hearing when the House elections committee heard several bills late last month.
Provisions added to the bill include allowing each political party to submit a list of election judge candidates, providing a word count on ballot measures, and decriminalizing the act of taking photographs of a ballot.
As debate in the House hit the one hour mark, tensions rose between Rep. Brandon Ellington and Shaul, who often attempted to talk over each other. The House eventually approved two PQs before the measure passed with a voice vote.
Democrats in both chambers pushed back against the reform measures.
“This bill goes against everything we have engraved on the wall,” said Ellington. “We are talking about direct citizen involvement … we don’t want to uphold that.”
Opponents argued against modifying changes to initiative petitions, lamenting the idea of making the process more difficult for Missourians and limiting the ability for them to participate in the process. It was noted the changes could limit grassroots involvement.
Sen. Jason Holsman also sought to restrict the General Assembly’s ability to amend or modify changes approved by voters — with an unsuccessful amendment requiring a three-fourths vote in both chambers after six years — in an effort to protect the will of the voters.
It’s worth noting: the Senate spent significant time in debate over potential initiative petition reform for the second time Wednesday morning, just hours after the body adjourned from an overnight filibuster.