Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Democratic filibuster enters 2nd day over ‘ballot candy’ in initiative petition bill

By Anna Spoerre

A filibuster in the Missouri Senate exceeded 24 hours Tuesday afternoon, with Democrats continuing to demand that “ballot candy” about non-citizen voting and foreign fundraising be removed from an initiative petition bill before it goes to voters.

(Photo- Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, speaks about the second week of the legislative session in a press conference on Jan. 11, 2024- Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

With time ticking down as the legislature is set to adjourn at 6 p.m. Friday, Democrats argue that if Republicans are truly concerned with ensuring only citizens can vote in Missouri elections, there are at least two other bills close to the finish line that include that language.

The GOP could pass those bills, strip the ballot candy out of the initiative petition bill, end the filibuster and allow the Senate to function in its final days, said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo of Independence.

“We’re more than happy to let that through,” he said.

The bill that inspired this week’s filibuster would ask voters to make it harder to amend the Missouri Constitution through the initiative petition process. But it also includes proposals that would bar non-citizens from voting and ban foreign entities from contributing to or sponsoring constitutional amendments, both of which are already illegal.

Democrats say they will not allow the bill to move forward with even an iota of ballot candy.

“They’re trying to disenfranchise not Democratic voters or Republican voters,” state Sen. Brian Williams, a Democrat from University City, said Tuesday. “They’re trying to disenfranchise Missouri voters.”

The non-citizen voting prohibitions are also included in two bills that would amend the Missouri Constitution to ban ranked-choice voting.

The House passed its version of the ranked-choice voting bill in April, though it hasn’t been heard by a Senate committee.

The Senate also passed its version in April. A House committee approved the bill without making any changes, meaning it could be taken up and sent directly to the statewide ballot at any time this week.

The Senate sponsor of the ranked-choice voting measure, GOP Sen. Ben Brown of Washington, couldn’t be reached for comment.

But Republicans remain steadfast as of Tuesday afternoon that they want the initiative petition proposal to go to voters with the ballot candy included.

“We want to put something that Republican voters want to vote for,” said Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Manchester Republican and member of the Senate Freedom Caucus. “I think it can look in different ways; however, we don’t want to send this bill to conference. It’s hard to say exactly what’s going to happen, but we’re very limited on what we can do.”

If a compromise can’t be reached, Republicans have one tool at their disposal to end the filibuster: invoking a rarely-used procedural tactic called moving the “previous question.” This immediately ends debate and forces a vote, but Republicans know doing so could have long-term consequences on how the Senate functions.

Moving the “previous question” is still on the table, Koenig said, but it remains a last resort.

Not all Republicans are looking for a showdown over the initiative petition bill.

Asked Tuesday if he feels any personal urgency to pass the bill, state Sen. Justin Brown, a Rolla Republican, said: “I don’t.”

Senate Democrats have argued invoking the previous question would be an outrage, as they’ve worked in good faith with Republicans all session — including ending a filibuster of the initiative petition bill earlier this year after ballot candy was removed.

It would be especially outrageous, Democrats contend, because the Senate Freedom Caucus has used the filibuster and other procedural maneuvers to undermine GOP leadership in the chamber and cause gridlock.

A month after Senate Democrats ended a 21-hour filibuster when Republicans agreed to a paired down initiative petition bill, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman of Arnold, asked a House committee to put the ballot candy back in.

Senate Democrats said they’d been double crossed, so they retaliated by shutting down Senate business for the day.

Rizzo said if the Republicans invoke the previous question, the consequences could last into next session. While he is not returning to the chamber in 2025, Rizzo said Democrats should play by the Freedom Caucus’s rules next year.

“I would definitely try to do everything I could to be the most disruptive,” Rizzo said during his second filibuster shift Tuesday morning. “ … Because there is no reason to go to work if you’re not getting the stuff you want or work in good faith because it’s clearly not rewarded.”

The Senate gridlock stems from the likelihood that Missouri voters will have the chance to vote to re-establish the constitutional right to abortion later this year. A campaign to legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability in recently submitted more than 380,000 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, paving the way for the issue to land on the November ballot.

Republicans hope that by raising the threshold needed to pass citizen-led ballot measures, they will be able to defeat the abortion vote.

In a video posted to social media Tuesday, state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring, said he’d been up all night “defending liberty.”

“We’re going to make (the Democrats) continue to talk until they’re ready to see initiative petition reform go to the people of this state,” Eigel said. “And we’re going to protect our Constitution. We’re going to protect it from the abortionists who want to enshrine a culture of death into the founding document of the state.”

The Independent’s Rudi Keller contributed.

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