JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A 19th Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of Amendment 3, the Early Childhood Health and Education Amendment, Tuesday afternoon, a victory for the ballot measure heading into November’s election.
Judge Jon Edward Beetem’s ruling should allow the amendment to remain on the ballot through the November election, barring appeals by opponents. Beetem ruled that challenges to the substance of the amendment were not yet ripe. He also ruled against challenges to the certification of signatures because he said the signatures were properly collected under the statute.
Plaintiff Jim Boeving challenged the ballot measure over its ballot title. While he won his case and had the amendment’s title and summary changed, Secretary of State Jason Kander approved the amendment for the ballot last week.
In the Beetem’s ruling Tuesday, he said that while the title of the amendment had changed since petitions were collected, those petitions were collected according to statute. The ballot measure, he ruled, should remain on the ballot.
He said opponents wanted to “change the rules — not in the middle of the game but after the players have left the field.”
Another plaintiff Patty Arrowood tried to get the amendment removed from the ballot because of its content, arguing that it would give funds for religious purposes and violate the Blaine Amendment.
Amendment 3 would raise cigarette taxes to generate nearly $300 million by 2020 for early childhood health and education programs. The money would go into a lockbox so it could not be spent on other causes.
“Because this amendment is written into the Missouri constitution, it ensures that all the money it raises will go directly to early childhood education, and that Jefferson City politicians will not be able to get their hands on these funds or divert them to other programs,” said Jane Dueker, a spokesperson for Raise Your Hand for Kids. “It is the best and only proposal on the table to expand early childhood education and ensure that we make Missouri stronger.”
Because some of the funds raised would go towards early learning centers at religious institutions, opponents have argued that it would violate Missouri’s constitution.
But supporters point out that government fund can and do go towards religious institutions like the YMCA and the Salvation Army as long as they are used for charitable or nonprofit purposes.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the court agreed with the amendment’s supporters, including Raise Your Hand for Kids, which circulated the petition. They celebrated the victory and looked towards November, when they feel the numbers will be on their side.
“Today’s decision affirms the will of the more than 200,000 Missourians who signed petitions supporting ‘Yes on 3 for Kids’ and know that we must start investing in Missouri kids by expanding early childhood education,” Dueker said. “Missouri currently lags its neighbors and the nation in providing early childhood education, despite the fact that early childhood education is a proven way to reduce crime, grow the economy, and save taxpayer dollars.”
Recent polling by Raise Your Hand for Kids found nearly 2-to-1 support for the amendment. The polling also showed that 80 percent of Missourians want to vote on the measure.
It’s also supported by groups including the Missouri School Boards’ Association, Missouri State NAACP, the Missouri Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators, Associated Industries of Missouri, the Missouri Budget Project, the Missouri Retailers Association, and the Missouri PTA.
They criticized the lawsuit as a way for tobacco companies to keep selling cheap cigarettes in Missouri, instead of seeing their taxes raised to support early childhood education. Arrowood owns a convenience store that sells cigarettes in Joplin while Boeving owns a convenience store in Springfield.
“Now is the time for the cheap cigarette companies, who care more about their profit margins than Missouri kids, to drop their frivolous lawsuits,” Dueker said. “Now is the time for politicians to stop putting special interests above kids, and to recognize that Amendment 3 is the only plan to expand early childhood education in our state. The people of Missouri overwhelmingly believe they should be able to vote on this critical amendment, and their right should not be denied by these companies and special interests.”
While supporters were claiming victory, the measure’s opponents vowed to continue the fight.