Senate leadership committed to initiative petition language

May 17, 2024



JEFFERSON CITY — Cindy O’Laughlin is the Republican in charge of the Senate floor. When she speaks people usually listen, when she acts people usually follow.

So it was news Tuesday when O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, affirmed to the Missourian her continued support for some of the language in a resolution that would make it harder for voters to change the Missouri Constitution.

Democrats have filibustered consideration of the resolution since the Senate went into session Monday afternoon because of the language O’Laughlin says she supports.

That language, which Democrats call “ballot candy,” states that no person can vote on a constitutional amendment unless they are a resident of Missouri and a citizen of the United States and that no foreign government or foreign political party can sponsor a constitutional amendment or provide financial support for or against one. Democrats point out that these restrictions already exist in state law.

Many ballot initiatives entice voters with misleading or confusing information. A ballot initiative this year to legalize sports betting in Missouri is promoted as “Winning for Missouri Education.” A ballot initiative passed in 2022 to legalize marijuana came with 39 pages of changes to the Missouri Constitution. Voters had to decide whether to vote “yes” or “no” based only on a 56-word question.

Democrats earlier this session ended a filibuster after that language was taken out of the resolution, leaving it clear to voters that it changes the requirements needed to pass a ballot measure to a simple majority statewide and a majority in five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

Democrats feel Republicans added those provisions in to trick voters into approving the change. Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, called the voting provisions an attempt to “deceive voters and derail the initiative petition process.”

Republicans have changed their messaging on the term “ballot candy” since the beginning of the initiative petition debate a few months ago. They used to, and still do justify the language as essential to free and fair elections in Missouri. Now, they say the language is necessary to get the proposition approved by voters.

O’Laughlin said she agrees that the provisions are “ballot candy,” adding that she wants them in the resolution so it has a greater chance of approval from voters.

“(‘Ballot candy’ is) what gets people’s attention and brings even more support, so why would we get rid of it,” O’Laughlin said as the Democrat filibuster rang through the Senate speakers.

She also said that she’s not open to engaging in a conference committee with the House to reach a compromise, as Democrats suggest. O’Laughlin said that ending the Democratic filibuster through the previous question, a rarely used tool where a majority of Senators can force a vote to end debate on a subject, is “always an option.”

Such options are getting more attention, as this is the last week of the legislative session.

The initiative petition changes passed out of the Senate three months ago after Republicans led by Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, joined Democrats to remove the “ballot candy.” The House then added it back in and sent it back to the Senate to reconsider.

Now, Cierpiot said he’s going to support O’Laughlin’s decision to try to keep the language in the resolution. The issue has hung over the legislature all session with no clear path for resolution just days before the session ends.