Republican-led effort in Missouri House would make passing ballot initiatives much tougher

Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 6:47 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Whether it be recreational weed or Medicaid expansion, Missouri voters have bypassed the legislature and put laws into the constitution with a simple majority. But a joint resolution that passed the Missouri House of Representatives this week and is headed to the Missouri Senate would require 60 percent of voters to approve initiative petitions.

“We’re confused on why this is the number one priority coming out right now,” said Ashton Kuehnel, a grassroots organizer with the Sierra Club.

Kuehnel has been fighting against the Republican-led effort in the Missouri Legislature to make it harder to pass ballot initiatives.

“When people have to take the power and put it in their own hands for the people of Missouri, the legislature doesn’t like that. They want to hold on to that power,” said Kuehnel.

If the 60 percent threshold were in place over the last five years, items like recreational pot and Medicaid expansion that Missourians passed would have failed.

“So there’s a lot of things clearly a majority of Missourians want but are unpopular with the legislature and so they’re trying to undermine the democratic process there,” said John Payne, a campaign manager for Legal MO 2022, the campaign that helped pass the recreational marijuana ballot initiative.

The bill sponsor, State Rep. Mike Henderson (R-St. Francois County) argued on the floor this week that it’s just too easy to change the Missouri Constitution.

“I believe that the Missouri Constitution is a living document but not an ever-expanding document, but right now it has become an ever-expanding document,” said Henderson.

He said his constituents have told him that these ballot initiatives are often too confusing and therefore should be tougher to pass.

“I think Missourians feel like they’re hoodwinked, let’s say at times and aren’t given everything that is in it,” said Henderson.

Some, like Denise Lieberman, director & general counsel of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, put the bill in stark terms.

“A wholesale attack on direct democracy,” said Lieberman.

She said the current ballot initiative law is working and gives Missouri residents a voice.

“Something we all learned in kindergarten about fairness. When we say ‘no, you need much more than that’ what you’re doing is upsetting the will of the majority,” said Lieberman.

If approved by the legislature, the issue would then go to the voters, but the first line they’ll read states “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to: Allow only citizens of the United States to qualify as legal voters.”

It later mentions the 60 percent threshold. Opponents call it misleading.

If approved, the question would go on the ballot no later than next year’s general election.