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Missouri Lawmakers Look To Undo Voter-Approved Initiatives

Boxes of signatures were delivered to the Sec. of State's office on May 2, 2018, for a ballot initiative that would raise Missouri's minimum wage.
File photo | Erin Achenbach | St. Louis Public Radio
Back in 2018, supporters turned in more than 120,000 signatures to get a minimum wage increase on the ballot. Now, Missouri lawmakers may act to partially undo it.

In the last month of Missouri's legislative session, lawmakers are likely to change — if not completely eliminate — some of the initiative petitions the state’s voters passed in November.

Republican leaders in both the state House and Senate said they are prepared to make changes to Amendment 1, an ethics proposal also known as Clean Missouri. The House has already passed a bill chipping away at the minimum wage increase, and the Senate has debated, though not approved, a measure that would allow younger employees and tipped workers to make less.

Clean Missouri's biggest change was to redistricting. It turned the process over to a nonpartisan demographer initially vetted by the state auditor — currently the only statewide office held by a Democrat, Nicole Galloway. It also required the districts to be drawn for competitiveness.

A state House committee last week approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, that asks voters to undo that change, as well as eliminate all lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. (Clean Missouri allowed for small gifts with a value of less than $5.) House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said he is committed to bringing it to the floor.

“I have a lot of fear on one person having that much power in the process — particularly one person that’s not in any way accountable to anyone,” he said of the demographer position.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he had not looked at the specifics of Plocher’s bill, but that “there’s pretty broad support within our caucus to potentially present the voters with some alternative that we think is better for the future of the state of Missouri.”

It’s not unusual for lawmakers to work to undo the will of the voters, said Sean Soendker Nicholson, who led the campaign for Clean Missouri. For example, he said, in the 1990s the General Assembly overturned campaign-finance restrictions that led to the “Wild West” in fundraising. And, in 2011, they proposed undoing a minimum wage increase that voters passed in 2006, though the effort ultimately died in the Senate.

“I think the really frustrating and outrageous thing is that too often, some of the folks here don’t think they answer to their voters back home,” Nicholson said.

Richard von Glahn, the policy director for Missouri Jobs With Justice, agrees.

“I think what's important is that legislators look at the fact that the highest-performing issues in the Missouri electorate were actually issues put there by voters, not political parties, and that should say something about the electorate in Missouri,” von Glahn said.

Nicholson, von Glahn and other advocates are also keeping an eye on legislation that could make it tougher for groups to get proposals on the ballot. Several would change the number of signatures needed. Others would require those groups to make a deposit with the Secretary of State, the amount of which would increase as the number of pages in the petition increased.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.