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Voters in 2016 could see a long ballot

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – If everyone were to miraculously succeed, the 2016 ballot could be one of the longest seen in Missouri’s history, but the process of getting a measure on the ballot is brutal. Just under 4% of all proposed constitutional measures from either initiative petitions or legislative proposals make it to the ballot.

In 2016, not only will a new president be elected, but in Missouri, a U.S. senate seat and a governor’s mansion will be in play. Beyond the standard fare of candidates up for election, Missouri voters may be seeing quite a few constitutional measures to vote on ranging from marijuana legalization to parental rights. A handful of initiative petitions are already gathering signatures, while the legislature has proposed dozens awaiting House and Senate approval.

From both the People of Missouri and the legislature, there are proposals addressing marijuana legalization and taxation, as well as ethics reform.

Just yesterday, a fourth initiative petition was approved by the Secretary of State’s Office for public circulation. Last week, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, held a press conference shedding light on his 56-page constitutional amendment addressing ethics.

INITIATIVE PETITIONS

In 2014, only one ballot measure came from an initiative petition – teacher standards. Sixty-five initiatives were approved for circulation by the Secretary of State’s Office (SOS) for the 2014 ballot, giving an initiative petition a chance of about 1.5% to make it to the ballot. Without the necessary valid signatures and groups willing to collect signatures from the public, many initiative petitions fail to take flight.

THE PROCESS

Missourians can submit an initiative petition, but its form for circulation must first be approved by the Secretary of State’s Office, as required by state law. The text of the submitted petitions, which are open for public comment for a 30-day period — a change Secretary of State Jason Kander made when he was elected — may not constitute the full and correct text as required under Section 116.050, RSMo.

Language approval ensures that the language that is presented for voter’s signatures is wholly honest for potential ballot placement. SOS has 23 days after approval of the form to draft ballot summary language, which the office takes to review public comments.

Public comment is currently open for the nine initiative petition causes: school board purposes and parental rights. Public comments can be submitted through a form on the SOS website, by calling, or via mail.

CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR OPEN COMMENT

Five initiative petitions were submitted by Jill Carter in Granby, Mo. The petitions address parental rights, and should it pass, would affirm the parental unit’s exclusive control over upbringing and bar the government from having any input in various aspects of childhood, ranging from abortion, to religion, to education.

The four other initiative petitions open for comment address the state school board and local school board. Submitted by Stacy Shore in Roach, Mo., these petitions would give local school boards independence from state control and changes the responsibility of local and the state school boards.

Once initiative petitions are approved by the SOS for circulation, they are taken to the streets. Changes to state statute must gather 5% of total votes cast in 6 of the 8 congressional district’s voting population from the previous gubernatorial election.  Changes to the state constitution must gather 8%. If the petition has the required amount of valid signatures from registered Missouri voters, it will be placed on the ballot with the ballot summary language written by the SOS on the election date the the governor chooses. Ballot measures proposed by the general assembly (joint resolutions) and referred to the voters are placed on the general election ballot by default, but can be placed on the primary or special election ballot by the governor.

APPROVED FOR CIRCULATION

There are currently four initiative petitions approved for circulation in Missouri – two relating to ethics and two relating to marijuana. Each petition would amend a different part of the Constitution in a different manner.

Constitutional Amendment to Article III, Relating to the General Assembly, version 3 2016-005, submitted by Democratic legal operative Bradley Ketcher, would establish campaign contribution limits, limit lobbyists gifts, close the revolving door from legislating to lobbying, prohibit political fundraising on the property of the General Assembly, require legislative records be open to the public and prohibit any law that disqualifies valid signature counting. Should it pass, the state auditor estimates an increased state annual operating cost of at least $62,000.

Constitutional Amendment to Article VIII, Relating to Campaign Contribution Limits is the second initiative petition approved for circulation which also addresses ethics. The measure was submitted by St. Louis attorney Todd Jones and it seeks to establish campaign contribution limits. Should this measure pass, it is estimated to cost the state an additional $118, 000 with an unknown cost to local governments.

The two initiative petitions regarding marijuana would affect Article 1 and Article IV of the Constitution.

The first, Constitutional Amendment to Article I, Relating to the Production, Sale, Distribution, and Consumption of Marijuana and Hemp Products, submitted by Show Me Cannabis’s Chairman Dan Viets of Columbia would allow the allow the production, sale, distribution, and consumption of marijuana and hemp products by persons at least 21 years old; permit the state to establish a tax and authorize regulations and licensing procedures for marijuana; change criminal provisions for marijuana offenses and allow individuals who have certain marijuana-related offenses to apply to have the records relating to the offenses expunged; and allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The state auditor expects the startup costs for the state to be $1 million with $4.9 million in annual operating costs, but with an annual revenue increase of $75 million.

The second, Constitutional Amendment to Article IV, Relating to Legalizing Marijuana, was submitted by Nicholas Raines of Kansas City. It was approved for circulation yesterday, and would legalize marijuana for personal, medical, and commercial purposes; release all persons who have non-violent, marijuana-related offenses from incarceration, probation, and parole, and expunge the records of their offense; and prohibit state funds and law enforcement from being used to enforce federal marijuana laws. Again, the state costs are expected to be close to $900,000, but the possible increased tax revenue is unknown.

The state auditor expects annual operating costs starting at $900,000 and an unknown increase in public health costs, possibly offset by unknown savings in the criminal justice system. Possible increased sales tax revenue is unknown. The fiscal impact to local governments is unknown.

LEGISLATIVE ROUTE

The two legislative sessions preceding a statewide vote allow legislators to make proposals via filings of joint resolutions. Both chambers must pass the resolutions for a measure to make it on the ballot. 

Currently, the House has 39 and the Senate has 14 joint resolutions filed to propose constitutional changes.

Less than 4% of proposed amendments from the legislature made it to the ballot. The window for legislative proposals to constitutional amendment is limited to the two regular sessions preceding the election date.

Last year, the House proposed 90 joint resolutions while the Senate proposed 57, and in 2013, the House proposed 35 and the Senate proposed 24 – a combined total of 206 proposals from both chambers between two sessions. This proposals ranged from taxation to daylight savings to voter identification.

The 2014 ballot only saw 9 ballot measures, 8 of which came from the legislature. The legislative proposal topics included electronic surveillance, “right to farm,” and reaffirming 2nd amendment rights.