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Judge tosses Clean Missouri initiative off the November ballot

House Republicans talk during the last day of the legislative session. May 17, 2017
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
House Republicans talk during the last day of the legislative session on May 17, 2017.

A Cole County judge ruled Friday that a bid to overhaul the state’s ethics and state legislative redistricting laws contained too many subjects — and therefore can’t appear on the November ballot.

Proponents of the Clean Missouri initiative are appealing the ruling. But the clock is ticking for judges to make a final decision.

Earlier this year, Clean Missouri’s organizers submitted enough signatures for the multifaceted constitutional amendment. It would curtail lobbyist gifts, make legislative records open to the Sunshine law, make small changes to campaign-finance laws and substantially overhaul Missouri’s state legislative redistricting process. Opponents of the measure sued, contending it violated a constitutional prohibition against an initiative petition having too many subjects.

Cole County Judge Dan Green agreed with those opponents in his Friday ruling.

“The Defendant and Intervenors-Defendants claimed that covering public officials in the executive or judicial branch, or public officials in county and local governments, is ‘properly connected’ with the single subject of the General Assembly,” Green wrote. “This Court decides that the inclusion of changes to multiple branches of government violates the guidelines and precedence articulated in [a prior court decision].”

Green ordered Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to “rescind and withdraw his certification of sufficiency of the petition and issue a certificate of insufficiency for the measure." He also barred “all other officers from printing the measure on the ballot.”

Chuck Hatfield, an attorney for Clean Missouri, said he will “immediately” appeal the ruling.

“The Secretary of State properly certified the measure so that voters may consider the measure, and voters will have their say on Nov. 6,” Hatfield said. “We have always thought that this legal matter would be decided at the Appeals Court level. This is a speed bump, but the law is on our side, the people are on our side, and Amendment 1 will be passed in November to clean up Missouri politics.”

Eddie Greim, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs seeking to remove Clean Missouri from the ballot, said he wasn’t surprised by Green’s decision.

“We’re glad that the court has picked up on this fundamental flaw in the petition,” Greim said. “I think it’s been no secret since this petition was put forward over a year ago that there was a single subject problem with the petition. The proponents knew this. And the simple answer if they really wanted to enact everything in the petition was simply to use a different amendment for each thing that they wanted.”

Some critics of Clean Missouri contended that the lobbyist and campaign-finance restrictions were aimed at making the state legislative redistricting portion of the initiative more attractive to voters. Currently, a bipartisan commission is responsible for crafting state House and Senate districts. Clean Missouri would give much of the power to a demographer who would be tasked with drawing districts that emphasized “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.”

“Even now, they’re being smoked out a little bit. And people are talking more about the redistricting and what it means,” Greim said. “But the debate is coming a year too late, because they nestled it among all these other provisions.”

Greim said appeals on the case need to be concluded by Sept. 25 to get it on the ballot. In a statement, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said his office is "thankful that Judge Green made a timely, well-substantiated decision so the people of Missouri have clarity when they go to the polls in November."

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.