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GOP lawmakers move to make it harder to change Missouri constitution

GOP lawmakers move to make it harder to change Missouri constitution

Medicaid Expansion Missouri

Campaign workers David Woodruff, left, and Jason White, right, deliver boxes of initiative petitions signatures to the Missouri secretary of state’s office in Jefferson City on Friday, May 1, 2020.  (AP Photo/David A. Lieb)

JEFFERSON CITY — Citizens pushing for changes to the state constitution would have to earn support from two-thirds of voters to succeed under a proposal that earned first-round approval in the Missouri House on Wednesday.

As it stands, a simple majority is required to amend the state constitution. In recent years, voters have expanded Medicaid, legalized medical marijuana and changed ethics rules through the process, which bypasses the Legislature.

But under the change the House approved Wednesday, all three measures would have failed because they didn’t receive two-thirds support from voters.

“If they get to 62 or 63 (percent) that’s not necessarily bad,” said Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, the resolution sponsor. “They may have to come back and educate the people more if they feel strong enough about it.”

The resolution debated Wednesday also requires organizers to gather signatures from 10% of voters in each congressional district. Under current law, organizers must gather signatures from 8% of voters in six of eight congressional districts.

Rep. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, proposed an amendment that would say only citizens who are properly registered to vote may vote.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, noted that the state constitution already spells out who is eligible to vote.

“All this amendment would do is put the question on the ballot and really confuse voters,” he said. “By offering them something that’s already true, that’s already in our constitution, that they certainly won’t want to vote against, in order to get them to vote for a bunch of other things that they might want to vote against.

“Let’s be responsible, let’s not be dishonest and let’s not try and put something in the constitution that’s already in the constitution just to pull voters,” Merideth said.

Republicans added the amendment.

Rep. Bill Falkner, R-St. Joseph, offered an amendment dictating the ballot language that would appear on the ballot in 2022. That amendment would place a summary of Trent’s proposal at the top of the ballot.

It asks if the state should “allow only citizens of the United States to qualify as legal voters.”

The second line of the proposed ballot language outlines the new signature-gathering requirements. The last line contains the requirement that constitutional amendments must receive two-thirds support.

The effort to dictate the ballot language — leading with perhaps a more appealing line and then describing perhaps more controversial parts of the bill — mirrors a similar effort last year by Republicans to write the ballot language for a constitutional amendment doing away with changes to how the state draws its state House and Senate districts. Judges eventually threw out the Legislature’s language.

The measure still must receive one more vote in the House before it moves to the Senate for consideration. Voters would have the final say.

The resolution would only need the support of a simple majority of voters to take effect. Republicans voted down a Democratic amendment that would only allow the amendment to take effect if it garnered support from two-thirds of voters.

“We’re working with the current rules we have in place,” Henderson said.

The legislation is House Joint Resolution 20.

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