Saturday, May 11, 2024

Senate braces for showdown over push to make it harder to amend Missouri Constitution

By Anna Spoerre

With the state budget finally out of the way, Missouri Republicans are ready to turn their attention to a priority they’ve pursued since day one of legislative session: making it harder to amend the state constitution through an initiative petition.

Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin told reporters Thursday that Republicans intend to bring the initiative petition bill to the floor at noon Monday, five days before the end of session. However, the Senate on Friday afternoon announced they wouldn’t reconvene until 2 p.m. Monday.

(Photo- Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin of Shelbina speaks Thursday evening after passage of a $51.7 billion state budget as Sen. Lincoln Hough of Springfield waits for his turn to speak- Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).

State Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester, a member of the Missouri Freedom Caucus, said Republicans plan to put changes to the initiative petition process before voters this year, even if it means invoking a rarely-used process to quash a Democratic filibuster.

The proposal would require constitutional amendments placed on the ballot through the initiative petition process to pass by both a simple majority of votes statewide and a majority of votes in at least a majority of the votes in Missouri’s congressional districts.

State Sen. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican and Freedom Caucus member, said Republicans are ready to use “any means necessary” to pass the initiative petition bill.

Republicans have argued that Missouri’s constitution is too easy to change, and that passing this amendment would give more voice to rural voters. Fueling their concerns this year is a proposed initiative petition seeking to get on the November ballot that would enshrine abortion rights into the constitution.

Democrats counter that the change is a direct assault on the concept of “one person, one vote” making it practically impossible for citizen-led ballot measures — which are already costly endeavors — to ever be victorious.

Initiative petitions campaigns currently require signatures from 8% of voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to qualify for the ballot. To pass once on the ballot, a statewide vote of 50% plus one is required — a simple majority vote.

An analysis by The Independent found that under the concurrent majority standard being proposed by Republicans, as few as 23% of voters could defeat a ballot measure. This was done by looking at the majority in the four districts with the fewest number of voters in 2020 and 2022.

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, said Thursday that his party has worked in good faith on plenty of bills they opposed this session. And they are ready to sit down and let the initiative petition bill pass and be placed on the August ballot if Republicans remove the “ballot candy,” referring to provisions added that are unrelated to initiative petitions but included to make the proposal more appealing to conservative voters.

Alongside the initiative petition changes, the GOP-backed bill would ask Missourians to change the constitution to define legal voters as citizens of the United States as well as whether they want to prohibit foreign entities from sponsoring initiative petitions.

“They know if they have a straight-up fight over this issue, they lose,” Rizzo said. “Which is why they have to contort themselves into all these different shapes and sizes in order to fool people into voting for something that will take rights away from them.”

Koenig said there are three paths forward for Republicans: session ends without a vote on the bill, Democrats relent and allow a vote with ballot candy, or Republicans break the Democratic filibuster and force a vote.

In the Missouri Senate, with a long tradition of unlimited debate, moving to kill a filibuster is rare and typically results in a quick end to the legislative session.

The bill got initial approval from the Senate in February following a 21-hour-long filibuster by Democrats who only agreed to sit down once the “ballot candy” was removed.

A day later while sitting before the House Committee on Elections and Elected Officials, state Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, the bill’s sponsor, asked the House to reinstate the ballot candy, adding that Senate Republicans would be willing to kill a filibuster in order to defeat another filibuster by Democrats down the road.

Democrats cried foul, saying Coleman’s push represented a double cross after a deal was struck in the Senate. Nevertheless, the House ultimately obliged Coleman, passing the measure with ballot candy attached back to the Senate.

On Thursday, after the passage of the state budget, Coleman brought her bill to the floor for final passage. But after about 20 minutes of debate, she withdrew the bill for the day.

Brattin said his caucus colleagues agreed to end their 41-hour filibuster last week as part of an agreement to get both the budget and initiative petition changes across the finish line.

Republicans, Brattin said, are ready to use “any means necessary” to pass the initiative petition bill.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, O’Laughlin gave no indication about whether she was considering a move to cut off debate and force a vote on the bill.

Rizzo acknowledged that Senate Democrats will be “throwing caution to the wind” if they take up a filibuster, but said they’ve been left with no other option to try and protect citizens’ voices.

In the past two election cycles, two ballot measures stemming from initiative petitions – Medicaid expansion and recreational marijuana legalization – have passed despite opposition from the GOP majority in the statehouse. Meanwhile, hundreds of other initiative petition campaigns failed to land on the ballot in the first place.

Just last week, four initiative petition campaigns turned in signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office hoping to land a spot on the ballot. Perhaps chief among these is a measure that would legalize abortion up to the point of fetal viability in Missouri, where nearly all abortions are illegal.


Republican leaders since last year have said that if the initiative petition process doesn’t change, abortion would likely become legal again in Missouri.

“Instead of the legislature being happy they don’t have to deal with the issue,” Rizzo said Thursday. “They’re offended that the people would have the audacity to go around them.”

This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. Friday to reflect when the Senate plans to reconvene on Monday.

The Independent’s Rudi Keller contributed.


Anonymous said...

With the majority of the Democrats in KC and STL, I would prefer that those two areas not overrule the 80% geography of the voters. The Missouri Constitution should be amended rarely and not as way to overcome the representative government of the state.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Why should geography disenfranchise people? Of course you want your vote to count extra for no logical reason.

Anonymous said...

Geography? So now geography deserves a vote. I am shocked on a daily basis how quickly Missourians will give up rights for the Republican Party. Missouri has been run by a supermajority for at least a couple decades. My question for all of you is if the Republican Party is the party of the people, why isn’t Missouri the greatest place to live in the country?

Well I believe one person one vote. This whole Geography argument is a very slippery slope. The next thing they will tell you is that only land owning white men should make the decisions. My serious concern is that to many of you have drank the kool aide and would buy into their argument. That sounds absurd I know, but I am beginning to believe if the GOP says it many of you will support it.

Atilla de Avilla said...

"Land is people, my friend" ???????????

"Corporations are people" Still doesn't sound anything except "AlitoThomasish"

So is "Soylent Green"

We have really muddled up who is people!

Anonymous said...

Missouri Republicans SUCK

Anonymous said...

No, the people by majority should have the say. Because you live in a rural area does not give you more right. I live in rural Missouri, my vote is no more important than the person who lives in downtown St. Louis. That is 200+ year old thinking. Land owners should have the say??? Not in today’s society.

Anonymous said...

Missouri Democrats SUCK glad we got that out of the way