Voters as nuisances: Missouri lawmakers thumb their noses at direct democracy

2011-01-27T21:15:00Z Voters as nuisances: Missouri lawmakers thumb their noses at direct democracyBy The Editorial Board stltoday.com
January 27, 2011 9:15 pm  • 

The people of Missouri are becoming an awful nuisance to their legislators in Jefferson City.

Missouri's state representatives and senators, after all, slog away for four long months a year (part-time, with a 10-day spring break), making the tough decisions about which bills written by which lobbyists they should pass.

But every now and then, some nervy Missourians get it into their heads to read the part of the state constitution about how to make laws without the Legislature. When they succeed, legislators then have to hole up with more lobbyists to figure out the best way to nullify the laws that the people passed without them.

The stellar example of this approach was the 2003 session in which state legislators reversed the results of a 1999 voter-initiated election that outlawed carrying concealed weapons. This year finds legislators still at it.

Exhibit A is a new law that sets minimum standards for treatment of dogs by breeders. After years of discoveries of horrifically abused animals and steadfast inaction by legislators, a citizens' initiative put the issue on November's ballot, and voters approved it by a narrow margin.

With the coveted title of Puppy Mill Capital of America at stake, a House committee this week has been considering ways to cancel the election results. One proposal simply would repeal the law. Another would exempt existing breeders. A third course, warmly received by many committee members on Tuesday, would eliminate such pesky provisions of the law as prohibiting dangerous overcrowding in cages, protecting dogs from bad weather and providing them veterinary care when needed.

Opponents of the law insist that city folk don't understand the livestock business and voted for the bill in ignorance. Some legislators regard the law as part of a plot masterminded by the Humane Society of the United States, a national group that provided $2 million for the Proposition B campaign. "The purpose of these groups is to keep us from eating any meat," said Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy.

It's our understanding that Missouri breeders are raising dogs to be sold as pets, not food.

Also getting a lot of attention from the Legislature this session is the task of overturning election results from 2008 that threaten to propel the state into the present. A citizen-initiated proposition approved by 66 percent of Missouri voters (1.8 million people) sets gradually increasing percentages of electricity that large utilities must generate using such renewable sources such as hydroelectric, solar, wind, fuel cells and biomass. The requirement for 2011 is 2 percent.

In passing the law, Missouri joined more than 30 other states that have established standards to help wean America from dependence on limited energy resources, including coal, oil, natural gas and uranium.

The law also authorized the Missouri Public Service Commission to write rules for utilities to follow. The PSC did so last summer after gathering information for more than a year and a half. To encourage the development of clean-energy businesses in Missouri, the law said its requirements "apply to all power sold to Missouri consumers."

PSC rules reflected that provision. A study by researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis projected that, as a result, the law would generate thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new economic activity in the state.

But earlier this month, House and Senate committees and the full Senate threw out the "sold to" provision. Utilities could avoid generating renewable energy here but still satisfy the requirements by buying certificates representing renewable energy generated, say, in California. Californians would get the sustainable energy, and Missourians would get pieces of paper.

This page has expressed serious concerns about abuses of Missouri's voter-initiative process, particularly when multi-millionaires like St. Louisan Rex Sinquefield can sink limitless funds into paying hired-gun companies to gather signatures.

But the solution to such abuses is to reform the process.

Instead, the Missouri Legislature prefers to defy the will of the people, trash duly enacted voter initiatives and bow to the will of special interests more to their liking.

 

Copyright 2015 stltoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

ACTIVATE YOUR DIGITAL SUBSCRIPTION

Get weekly ads via e-mail