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GOP measure would raise bar on constitutional changes in Missouri

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Missouri State Capitol renovation complete

The exterior of the Missouri State Capitol after the completion of a $50 million renovation and construction project as seen at dusk on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Jefferson City. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — Republican lawmakers on Wednesday debated a proposal that would raise the bar for amending Missouri’s Constitution, an effort that follows the success of several Democratic policies at the polls.

The measure, discussed Wednesday by the state House elections committee, would require support from at least two-thirds of voters to amend Missouri’s Constitution. Currently, constitutional amendments are adopted if approved by at least 51% of voters.

“Right now, the threshold is too low,” Republican sponsor Rep. Mike Henderson, of Bonne Terre, told his colleagues. “The Missouri Constitution is a living document, but it should not be an ever-expanding document.”

Henderson’s proposal would go before voters for final consideration if passed by the GOP-led Legislature this year.

Republicans have been trying to make the initiative petition process harder following the recent passage of several Democratic-backed policies at the polls, including expanding eligibility for Medicaid.

Democrats called the effort to raise the bar for constitutional amendments shortsighted and raised concerns that it will limit direct democracy.

“It’s an attempt to deny the citizens of this state a participation in their democracy,” said Democratic Rep. Joe Adams of University City. “It’s to deny them the right of initiative petition to change the Constitution. I believe that it is unnecessary and unwarranted.”

Henderson’s proposal would also increase the number of signatures needed to put a proposal on the ballot.

Now, it takes 8% of voters from six out of eight congressional districts to put a measure on the statewide ballot. The pending measure would require signatures from 10% of voters in all eight congressional districts.

Under the current system, petition backers often ignore the most rural districts and focus on collecting signatures where the population is denser. That sometimes means petition gatherers spend a lot of time in urban areas but rarely visit rural areas, where it takes more time to collect the same number of signatures.

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