Senate, House move ahead on initiative petition changes

By Madeline Shannon and Aidan Pittman, Missouri News Network
Posted 2/20/24

JEFFERSON CITY — Republicans moved forward Tuesday on imposing limits to the initiative petition process in both chambers of the legislature.

The legislation has been a priority of …

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Senate, House move ahead on initiative petition changes


JEFFERSON CITY — Republicans moved forward Tuesday on imposing limits to the initiative petition process in both chambers of the legislature.

The legislation has been a priority of Republicans who are trying to restrict the initiative petition process ahead of a ballot initiative that could protect the right to abortion in the Missouri Constitution. Supporters hope to place that initiative on the November ballot.

The Missouri Senate, with an 18-12 vote, approved an amendment stripping so-called “ballot candy” provisions from its bill. That cleared the way for a voice vote, which gave initial approval to toughening the requirements for approval of initiatives by voters.

The House signaled its support for adding restrictions to the collection of signatures on initiative petitions, turning away a few amendments offered by Democrats.

The Senate resolution, which must be taken up one more time before it is sent to the House, moves away from a simple statewide majority vote to approve initiatives. In addition to that simple statewide majority, it imposes a second condition that an initiative must be approved by a majority of voters in five of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Democrats had been filibustering the consideration of the bill since last week, including overnight into Tuesday. They used the term “ballot candy” to describe provisions in the original resolution requiring voters to be U.S. citizens and state residents, both of which are already required by law.

Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, offered an amendment stripping that language from the resolution, leading to a split vote in favor of the amendment which broke the filibuster.

All Democratic senators, excluding Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, who was not present, voted in favor of the amendment with nine Republican senators joining them: Cierpiot; Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City; Rusty Black, R-Chilicothe; Justin Brown, R-Rolla; Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo; Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola; Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto; Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield; and Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis County, praised his Democratic colleagues for their work in removing the “ballot candy.”

“I think it’s good that we actually cleared the way and we tried to get past them trying to trick the voters into what they’re voting for,” Beck said.

The resolution requires a third reading in the Senate before it moves to the House.

Beck said Senate Democrats would be ready to filibuster again on the Senate floor should the House make any changes.

If approved by the legislature, the changes included in the resolution would need to be approved by voters statewide to become law.

In the House, a bill that was given initial approval focused on new steps restricting the signature-gathering process. House Bill 1749, introduced by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Cass County, would require the Secretary of State to restrict the public from viewing signatures on an initiative petition in the interest of preserving the privacy and identities of those who sign initiative petitions — a provision added Tuesday after approval of an amendment offered by Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-St. Louis.

The bill would require the provisions of the petition to be checked for their constitutionality before collecting signatures rather than after. It also states that petition circulators can’t be paid per signature for those collected on petitions.

HB 1749 also invalidates all signatures collected on an initiative petition if a court orders substantial changes to the title of the ballot initiative. According to the bill’s text, petition circulators have to be Missouri residents and anyone who signs the petition must use blue or dark ink for their signature.

“The majority of the parts of this bill are based on court precedent,” said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Cass County, the bill’s sponsor. “It keeps the integrity of the process, it keeps fraud out of the initiative process and it stops the out-of-state interests. Missourians should be in control of the Missouri constitution.”

Three amendments introduced by Democrats on the floor Tuesday were voted down, including one that would allow initiative petition signers to sign electronically and one which would require debate of initiative petitions on the floor of both the House and Senate. Another amendment would have allowed voters who sign a petition to use any color ink to sign as long as it was clearly visible.

Debate generated some contention, with one representative’s testimony interrupted when she tried to relate the issue to abortion.

“It’s a threat to majority rule. That’s what it boils down to,” Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said. “We know that thousands of Missourians are turning out right now to reclaim access to abortion in this state.”

To become law, the bill passed by the House must be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.