House stands pat on initiative petition language

May 17, 2024


Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — The House dealt what might be the final blow Thursday to a resolution seeking to make it harder for voters to change the Missouri Constitution.

Presented with the Senate rejection of its amendments to the original resolution, the House voted along mostly party lines to send the resolution back with the offending language intact.

Senate Democrats have filibustered the resolution, which would need to be adopted by voters later this year even if approved by the legislature, for more than 70 hours on two separate occasions because of language in the resolution they feel is deceptive to voters.

Prospects appeared slim for Senate action Friday before the 6 p.m. deadline for the legislative session to end. Senate Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, who supports what has been a Republican priority to alter the process for amending the constitution, said her view is that the effort is dead for this session.

On Wednesday evening, Republicans couldn’t get enough votes to end the filibuster by Democrats. In resignation, they sent the bill back to the House, asking that they remove the amendments with the problematic language.

The resolution, which originated in the Senate, would increase the threshold of votes needed to pass a ballot measure from the current statewide majority to a statewide majority plus a majority in at least five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

A version amended by the House included language Democrats deem manipulative. Republicans have acknowledged that the added provisions are only in the resolution to get skeptical voters to approve it.

The language states that foreign entities cannot invest in Missouri initiative petitions and that only U.S. citizens can vote in state elections. Both things are already protected by law. The resolution’s handler in the House, Rep. Alex Riley, R-Springfield, couldn’t provide an example of a foreign entity interfering with a Missouri ballot initiative.

Rep. Joe Adams, D-St. Louis, called out how the proposal would disenfranchise urban voters. “They are trying to turn the people of Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia (and) Springfield into three-fifths of a voter,” he said, bringing to mind the formula for how enslaved populations were counted for taxation and congressional representation purposes before slavery was abolished.

The House could have avoided sending the resolution back by stripping the amendments and passing the resolution. That would have gone to voters as a simple proposition of whether they favored increasing the threshold of votes needed to amend the constitution.

The House debate exemplified the differences between the two chambers. In the Senate, Democrats filibustered the resolution for 50 hours this week until Republicans threw in the towel and sent the resolution back to the House. The resolution was debated in the House for a mere 30 minutes before the chamber voted to stand on its principles.

The drama in the Senate boiled over into Thursday as Republicans sparred on the floor.

First, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, offered an amendment to the Senate journal, which read in part: “(The vote on initiative petition reform) was interrupted by a stampeding heard of rhinoceroses running through the Senate chamber.”

He was referring to the term “RINO” or Republican in name only, which is often used by far right Republicans to attack fellow party members. In response, O’Laughlin sent the chamber into recess.

After the recess, Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, offered an amendment condemning the attorney general for defending several Freedom Caucus members in court with public dollars. That prompted angry retorts from Eigel about Cierpiot and led O’Laughlin to adjourn the chamber until Friday.