Senators propose changes to ballot initiative success

February 17, 2023


Missouri News Network

JEFFERSON CITY — Raising the threshold for ballot initiatives, a way for Missouri residents to directly amend the state’s constitution, was discussed by senators on Monday.

Several senators said the recent legalization of recreational marijuana and Clean Missouri were examples of how voters can be misled by ballot initiatives, resulting in an amended constitution.

A series of eight bills and resolutions that would modify the process for amending the Missouri Constitution were heard by the Senate Committee for Local Government and Elections. Similar proposals have been heard in the House and await action on the floor.

As of now, a simple majority of the public vote is needed to amend the constitution with the initiative process.

Advocates for increasing the threshold for ballot initiatives — including Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville — claimed that it has become too easy to change Missouri’s Constitution.

Brattin’s proposal, SJR 17, would raise the threshold to require approval from two-thirds of voters among other limitations.

“It’s reprehensible that we have over 200 pages in our state constitution ... which has been changed 119 times,” said Brattin. He compared Missouri’s Constitution to the U.S. Constitution, which is more difficult to amend and has had only 27 amendments since the document’s creation.

Elizabeth Franklin, a resident of Missouri, questioned what the Missouri Constitution needed protecting from: “Shouldn’t we be celebrating this document with ideas from both the General Assembly and the people of this state?”

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, proposed a resolution that would require a majority of all Missouri registered voters to pass any initiative rather than a simple majority of the voters who show up to the polls.

Former Missouri legislator Bob Johnson defended the current process, calling it “sacred and trusted” as it “gives voters the freedom to determine the laws that govern us.”

Denise Lieberman from the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition said that the resolution proposed by Koenig requiring “a majority of all people registered to vote rather than the people who choose to vote undermines our process by raising the threshold to near-impossible levels.”

Other resolutions proposed limiting who could gather signatures for ballot initiative petitions to only residents of Missouri.

“Your right to free speech is not dependent on your status as a voter, or your status as a resident of the state,” said Lieberman.

Witnesses in support of raising the threshold for these initiatives included the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Opportunity Solutions Project.

Sens. John Rizzo, D-Independence, and Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, spoke out against these proposals during the committee meeting.

Rizzo responded to a witness’ reference of when Democrats had the majority in the General Assembly years ago and similar changes to the process of amending the constitution were proposed.

“The pendulum can swing hard and fast, so I would be wary of making changes like these,” said Rizzo.

Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, had a resolution in the committee as well but chose to remove it from the hearing schedule. He could not be reached for comment.